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Army Corps of Engineers, hunting ducks and managed tidal wetlands

 

Dr. Travis Folk, LTC Edward P. Chamberlayne and Dr. Ernie Wiggers at Nemours

What does the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have to do with hunting ducks in rice fields? Since the Corps oversees the permitting process for work on the dikes that encompass these managed tidal wetlands, one might say the buck (for ducks) stops with them. Private landowners in the ACE Basin led the efforts to partner with the Corps in order to streamline the permit process, for the greater good of habitat management.

Dr. Travis Folk of Green Pond is a biologist at Folk Land Management and an avid proponent of proper impoundment management. Folk and Dr. Ernie Wiggers from the Nemours Wildlife Foundation have spearheaded a two-year process to formulate a new General Permit from the Corps to assist landowners. The finalized permit came down on July 10, 2012 from LTC Edward P. Chamberlayne, Commander and District Engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

A formal announcement held on the grounds of Nemours Plantation on August 15 included a host of other groups that had contributed to the process. The Nature Conservancy, The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, SCDNR, the State Historic Preservation Office and Ducks Unlimited to name but a few. Private landowners with an interest in hunting ducks also provided a groundswell of support for this cause, and early teal season is set to begin on September 15.

While the technology that aides tidal wetland management is the same used since the 1700’s, the rice trunks that either allow or deny tidal flow into impoundments, they do require a constant vigilance for maintenance. Before the issuing of the new General Permit, any work to trunks or dikes would have to be covered under a nationwide Army Corps permit, which often included a lengthy wait for permit approval.

Now the 100 or so plantations along the coast of S.C. that have tidal impoundments can use the new general permit to improve their capabilities. The general permit covers replacement, relocation or installation of existing and new water control structures. Also, it allows for construction of bulkheads associated with water control structures, and re-topping of functional field dikes. Perhaps most important of all, the general permit allows for emergency construction of contraction embankments, allowing for the quickest possible fix to any impoundment breach.

The 10,000-acre Nemours Wildlife Foundation located along the Combahee River uses their managed tidal wetlands to serve as a scientific study area. Graduate students have shown the public that these impoundments are critical in the role of a whole range of birds, and not just ducks! These historical impoundments have a history of wildlife benefits and they served as a refuge for bald eagles, wood storks and white pelicans.       “Research by graduate students at Nemours Wildlife Foundation identified over 100 species of birds using managed tidal impoundments during the winter and spring,” said Wiggers. “We know that migratory waterfowl winter here in the Lowcountry, but folks may not know that shorebirds stage on these same areas after the ducks have migrated north again. The amount of biological diversity and the abundance of life using these wetlands is remarkable, and sometimes underappreciated.”

During the General Permit luncheon at Nemours Plantation, a large delegation of Corps employees accompanied LTC Chamberlayne for a brief speech outside. Standing under the grand oaks that overlook the managed tidal impoundments along the Combahee River, it was refreshing to hear a common theme being uttered from both government personnel and the land managers that work with them. In this case, Colletonians should be proud of the wetlands heritage that comes along with being home to the ACE Basin.

 

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com

 

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (340 Posts)

Jeff Dennis is a Lowcountry native. Read his blog at www.LowcountryOutdoors.com