CHARLESTON, S.C. — More of South Carolina’s coastal plain near Charleston, containing some of the most important ecosystems in the U.S., will be protected permanently from development.
The Lowcountry Open Land Trust (LOLT) said Thursday that it is protecting an additional 10 properties, totaling more than 2,500 acres, in the upper Edisto River Basin and Four Holes Swamp watershed. The properties include the donation to LOLT of a conservation easement on 154 acres from the Grooms- Hoover family of Berkeley County and the protection of 428 acres of mostly wetlands by restrictive covenants with the Army Corps of Engineers. These two properties alone, a complex of wetlands, uplands, bluffs, and ravines, fill nearly a square mile in the heart of Francis Beidler Forest, which is owned and operated by the National Audubon Society.
The announcements were made at Norfolk Southern’s Brosnan Forest timber and wildlife preserve near Dorchester, S.C., where South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, state and local legislative officials, leaders of various conservation organizations, and landowners gathered to recognize Norfolk Southern’s recent donation of a conservation easement on 12,488 acres of Brosnan Forest to the LOLT. The donation is thought to be the largest conservation easement given by a corporation in South Carolina and one of the largest in the Southeast.
“The Brosnan Forest conservation easement is serving as a catalyst for other donations in this corridor that will secure the future of these vitally important natural resources,” said Will Haynie, LOLT executive director. “Norfolk Southern’s gift of conservation is the best thing that could have happened to boost our collective efforts.”
Brosnan Forest is especially significant because 6,000 acres of its longleaf pine habitat shelter 79 family groups of endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers, making it the world’s largest population of these birds on private property under single ownership. It also includes about 800 acres of fields planted in rye, wheat, oats, and clover as food for wildlife, including non-game and game species, and 120 acres of lakes and ponds stocked with bass, bream, and catfish.
“Norfolk Southern and its predecessors have owned and managed much of the Brosnan Forest lands for more than 160 years,” said Norfolk Southern CEO Wick Moorman. “We believe it is our responsibility to support and encourage sustainability practices that will protect and conserve natural resources for generations to come. Our partnership with LOLT will help preserve Brosnan Forest’s natural and historic value for the future.”
“Norman Brunswig, executive director of Audubon South Carolina and manager of Francis Beidler Forest, has cultivated relationships with landowners in this corridor for decades,” Haynie said. “The Lowcountry Open Land Trust works alongside Audubon to negotiate and hold the conservation easements that protect the natural resources near Francis Beidler Forest and Brosnan Forest as well.”
“No conservation action in Four Holes Swamp and the Upper Edisto River is more important, strategic, and consequential than the conservation of Brosnan Forest,” Brunswig said. “This bold and generous step by Norfolk Southern creates critical mass for habitat conservation in middle Dorchester County, empowers other landowners to follow its lead and will inspire conservationists and conservation funders everywhere to take a second look at what is being done to protect vital habitat in the Four Holes-Edisto Watershed.”
The LOLT is working on conservation easements with other landowners near Brosnan Forest and Beidler Forest that could protect an additional 1,000 acres. Beidler Forest and the surrounding rural lands make up a 450,000-acre watershed for Four Holes Swamp within the larger Ashepoo, Combahee, and Edisto (ACE) Basin, one of the largest intact coastal ecosystems on the East Coast.
The recent donations bring the total easement acreage held by LOLT to 72,740 acres during the past 23 years. The Lowcountry Open Land Trust is a land conservation organization based in Charleston, S.C., that focuses on preserving rural land in the coastal plain of South Carolina.