“Three if by land, two if by sea…”
I’ll admit to mangling the quote, but this week’s news includes assaults more serious than even the British on South Carolina’s natural resources — land, wetlands and water.
- On the positive side, the first item is a superb editorial from the Beaufort Gazette exhorting the county to use the gun range controversy (which has essentially been put out of its misery) to stimulate a conversation about the land conservation goals of Beaufort’s Rural and Critical Lands program, one of two consequential local land protection programs in the state. As the Gazette puts it, the County “must remember the successes of the ACE Basin in its first 25 years: Look at the big picture (which really needs to include adjacent counties); focus on large tracts; and focus on conservation easements rather than purchases of land (this keeps the land on the tax roll and keeps traditional uses in place while reducing density and protecting waterways).” The final measure of the program’s impact will be the extent to which it further secures the Lowcountry landscape — its farms, forests and wetlands — for subsequent generations.
- Speaking of land protection programs, the S.C. Conservation Bank continues to provide exemplary results — now more than 200,000 acres of land permanently protected across the state — at remarkably low prices. And year after year it continues to face the threat of extinction in (and by) the Legislature. The editorial from the Post and Courier urges the Legislature to pass Senator Chip Campsen’s bill adding a small amount of funding to the Bank to protect isolated wetlands that currently lack protection. These are not the “puddles and ditches” detractors call them. Some are unique habitats like Carolina Bays, depression meadows and other repositories of biological wealth. Please let your representative and senator know you support Senator Campsen’s bill and ask him or her to actively promote it this session.
- If Dorchester County Senator Sean Bennett is successful, the Coastal Zone Management program, now approaching its 40th year of operation, would be emasculated in that county, removing 90% of the county’s land, or about 500,000 acres, from oversight. This area encompasses the headwaters of the Ashley River, the Francis Beidler Sanctuary at Four Hole Swamp and the protected Brosnan Forest property owned by Norfolk Southern. The State reports on the Senate hearing on Bennett’s bill, followed by an excellent report from Channel 2 featuring the Conservation League’s Myles Maland. Senator Bennett, after assuring the Senate Agriculture Committee that he was, indeed, an environmentalist, proceeded to explain that the program was slowing down economic development. This, in spite of the fact that by virtually every measure of economic growth, Dorchester, with the program in place, has been one of the fastest growing counties not only in the state, but in the nation. And in spite of the fact that the coastal counties, all with the program in place, are growing faster than the non-coastal counties with no program.
- In a similar lapse of logic, Senator Paul Campbell expressed an interest in removing part of Berkeley County from the program, noting that although Ladson was growing, Bonneau and St. Stevens were not. Senator Campbell could not explain why comparing fast-growing Ladson, which is subject to the Coastal Zone Program regulations, to slow-growing Bonneau, which is also subject to the regulations, proved that the regulations were the factor inhibiting growth.
- Senator Greg Hembree jumped on board with the idea that part of Horry County might need to come out of the program as well. Notably, some years ago, Science magazine identified Horry as one of the most biologically diverse counties in the nation, precisely because of the extensive Carolina Bays in that area. These are the very wetlands that would lose protection. The bill was carried over. Now is the time to let your senator know what a bad deal it would be for the future of the coastal environment.
- The next item, from Channel 2, reports that Folly Beach has become the fifth municipality to pass a resolution opposing offshore exploration and drilling. The others include Port Royal, Beaufort, Island of Palms and Edisto Beach. This week the Bureau of Energy Management held hearings on the efficacy of exploration and drilling, which hundreds of people attended. Among their concerns were the impact of the seismic air guns, which can deafen and kill marine life in the blast zone.
- And finally, speaking of marine life, the magnificent adolescent leatherback sea turtle, Yawkey, rescued by the South Carolina Aquarium after he stranded last week, was released back into the ocean. The Washington Post article reports on the release and includes photographs of this beautiful marine giant.