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Ducks Unlimited CEO joins NAWCA partners at Bennetts Point

Ross Catterton gives a driving tour of Bear Island with ducks flying overhead

Ross Catterton gives a driving tour of Bear Island with ducks flying overhead

The conservation calendar has been full this fall with events relating to the 25th Anniversary of the ACE Basin. Colletonian readers have been keeping up with how groups like DU and private landowners have placed conservation easements on properties, and how that has led to larger milestones. The North American Wetlands Conservation Act or NAWCA is a federal program that provides funding to make improvements to protected properties, and Bennetts Point and Bear Island hosted dignitaries to salute completed projects in the Lowcountry.

The lunchtime meal on Friday, November 21, at Bennetts Point was held at the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) Field Station. Dale Hall is the Chief Executive Officer for Ducks Unlimited based in Memphis, Tennessee and he made remarks at the NERR luncheon and then was given a special tour of Bear Island WMA by Dean Harrigal from the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. The tour included viewing NAWCA projects with lots of visiting migratory waterfowl flying overhead.

“The first Ducks Unlimited easement in the ACE Basin was at Mary’s Island, which is now part of the Donnelley WMA,” said Hall. “The wintering grounds here in South Carolina are extremely important to migratory waterfowl who choose to overwinter here. Why? Because the ducks need food sources to get the protein and fat that are necessary to sustain them when they return to the northern nesting grounds. Ducks returning in good shape have better eggshell development which is one positive step towards future waterfowl production.”

The NAWCA luncheon brought many partners to the NERR Field Station including U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy and SCDNR. State Senator Chip Campsen spoke about how he hopes to increase funding for the S.C. Conservation Bank in 2015 and to add wetlands acquisition to their activities. SCDNR Director Alvin Taylor shared how he sees opportunity after opportunity for more management and conservation work in the Lowcountry through future NAWCA projects.

The bulletin listed 45 organizations and land tracts that had already participated through NAWCA, with Ducks Unlimited serving as the event organizer. DU began the S.C. Lowcountry Project over 20 years ago to raise awareness about wetlands conservation. Today the project gets national recognition for the work they have done across 14 coastal counties on federal, state and private properties. DU estimates that fully 31 percent of their conservation efforts in the Atlantic Flyway occur in South Carolina.

So how does NAWCA work? Every federal dollar provided by NAWCA must be matched by at least one dollar from non-federal sources. Of course there is a competition for these federal conservation dollars, so proposals must be submitted by writing a grant that details other matching dollars. The grant with the biggest match, or bang for the buck, is usually awarded the contract. Since it began in 1989, NAWCA has impacted millions of acres of habitat across North America.

DU’s Dale Hall gave special recognition to a NAWCA partner from Georgetown County. Arcadia Plantation placed their 3600-acre tract of land under conservation easement with Ducks Unlimited. This protected 11-miles of river frontage wetlands, but the donated easement value also provided matching funds to protect an additional 40,000 acres in that area. This is not only an example of leveraging NAWCA dollars, but how conservation on a landscape scale in South Carolina is setting the table for wildlife and people to coexist for generations to come, both in the Santee Delta and the ACE Basin.

At Bennetts Point, Mark Robertson from The Nature Conservancy shared that he sees a strong conservation ethic in South Carolina that is unique. Citing a stat that South Carolina is third in the number of total wetlands behind Louisiana and Florida, he challenged attendees to be mindful that wetlands can be lost where conservation is not present. Robertson also cited that S.C. ranks fifth in states with the least wetlands loss overall.

After the luncheon, attendees headed over to Bear Island Wildlife Management Area which is a state-run wetlands area. Bear Island is home to many different species of birds, but is important to S.C. hunters as a longtime public duck hunting lottery destination. This was Dale Hall’s first visit to Bear Island and we toured their 28 impoundments from a wagon towed by a DNR pick-up. A few thousand wintering waterfowl got up and flew overhead, instantly showing the CEO of DU that Bear Island is an important piece to the puddle duck puzzle in the ACE Basin.

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

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (385 Posts)

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