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Carolina Wildlife Syndicate Seeks Focus on Francis Marion Forest

The recent history of the Francis Marion National Forest just north of Charleston is well known after being brutalized by Hurricane Hugo. Now in 2018 more forestlands in Southwest Georgia have taken a similar blow from Hurricane Michael. What lessons can be applied from the Hugo model to help the renowned quail hunting grounds in Georgia to recover quickly. With ten times more debris on the ground after a catastrophic hurricane, prescribed fire seems a likely solution. The recently formed Carolina Wildlife Syndicate, made up of public land hunting enthusiasts, supports the use of prescribed fire in the Francis Marion and applauds the new Good Neighbor Authority program.
On December 12, 2018 the U.S. Forest Service announced a new 10-year conservation partnership with the S.C. Forestry Commission and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. Rather than listing this as a Memorandum Of Understanding, the agreements are called the Good Neighbor Authority and Stewardship Contracting. With 250,000-acres of land, and still growing, the need for inter-agency cooperation is ever present, but the overlapping management plans in place thus far have not gelled when it comes to wild game species recovery.
The Francis Marion is the largest single Wildlife Management Area in South Carolina, and SCDNR states that habitat restoration efforts can now be accelerated on any bobwhite quail focal areas located on these federal lands. The new agreement allows them greater freedom concerning large-scale land management practices such as timber harvesting, or thinning, to improve habitat. This will include the use of prescribed fire, but the Carolina Wildlife Syndicate is critical of improper prescribed fire in the Francis Marion that can have detrimental effects on quail.
Davis Strickland of Mount Pleasant is the founder and lead moderator of the Carolina Wildlife Syndicate (CWS). “The CWS was created to unify the public and private land hunters, to provide a voice to communicate with each agency and the associated political networks,” said Strickland. “The CWS is not a warm and fuzzy operation, we are focused on protecting our hunting heritage, and we support traditional and aggressive wild game production management techniques on the ground. There must be enough game for the average hunter to have a reasonable chance of success.” The new Good Neighbor Authority program was shaped with lots of input from CWS over the past 12 months.
“We support the new agreement in the Francis Marion and view this as just a step towards proper habitat management for bobwhite quail,” said Strickland, a wild game management consultant. “We support the use of traditional prescribed fire which must include proper timing, return intervals and fire intensity. We have documented areas of intense thermal pruning in the Francis Marion where fire is applied every two years, and that practice must be modified.”
“The new agreement is an opportunity for CWS and public hunters to get on the same page with these government partners about food plots too,” said Strickland. “There are several hundred food plots in the Francis Marion, and getting them all to the point where they are benefitting wildlife is quite a challenge. Local chapters of Quail Forever and the National Wild Turkey Foundation are already on board to help with planting. CWS believes that habitat management for the four keystone species of bobwhite quail, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and waterfowl will provide an umbrella of habitat that is beneficial to all wildlife.”
The newly announced agreement does pertain to the Sumter National Forest too, the other U.S. Forest Service property in the Palmetto State. The CWS is focusing on the Francis Marion, but is also generating input about the Long Cane section of the Sumter Forest. The CWS is also interested in increasing public hunting access for waterfowl to more WMA lands in the state, to help meet the pent up demand for state lottery waterfowl hunts. Alabama and Florida have both started similar syndicate groups now, where grass roots public hunters are seeking their voice.
“We cherish the Francis Marion partly because of its central place in the restoration of wild turkeys, using birds captured there to repopulate the rest of the state,” said Strickland. “The habitat back then was likely a mix of pine and hardwood forest lands, and the edges found between them were the true home to all the game species that thrived there.” The Carolina Wildlife Syndicate has an active forum located on FaceBook and their moderators routinely post updates on evolving management practices.

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

Jeff Dennis, Contributor (349 Posts)

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