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Article for September - October 2013

A Day In The (Wild) Life (continued)
by Joey Frazier

WMA Infrastructure

  • 575 miles of roads
  • 300 miles of trails
  • 54,000 acres of managed wetlands in 36 different waterfowl units
  • 350 miles of dikes
  • 25,000+ acres of prescribed burning annually
  • 300 miles of fire lanes
  • 10,000+ acres of agricultural plantings for annual food plots

Hunts of a Lifetime

Duck Hunters - photograph by Stewart GrintonWhile some of the properties in the DNR's Wildlife Management Area program are open to the public on a "first come-first serve" basis, in order to protect other critical resources from overuse and offer better quality hunting opportunities, the DNR devised a lottery hunt program in the 1980s. Lottery-drawn hunts on selected WMA properties are currently available for deer, quail, doves, waterfowl, turkey and alligator.

Patty Castine, the DNR's administrative coordinator in charge of the lottery hunt program, has been keying in the applications for these hunts by hand for thirteen years. Finally, with the 2013 season at hand, she’ll get some welcome relief.

"This year we are implementing a new online system," Castine says, "which will give applicants an option to apply online and use a credit or debit card to pay their fees."

The new system will be less labor intensive for Castine and more convenient for the hunters. Applicants will continue to accumulate preference points for each drawing they enter, guaranteeing their eventual selection for hunts they enter year after year. And for now, hunters can still apply with a paper application by mail or at any of the DNR’s regional offices.

Where the Sand Meets the Sea

Hunter at Botany Bay WMA - Sam Chappelear Botany Bay Plantation WMA and Heritage Preserve on Edisto Island, 4,687 acres of wildlife heaven, is the DNR's most visited property, averaging about 48,000 visitors per year, according to wildlife biologist Sam Chappelear, the coordinator for DNR’s Region 4 management programs.

"The beach gets a lot of attention," Chappelear says, "but it's the uniqueness of the entire property that draws so many visitors here. The success of this project is a direct result of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division and the Marine Resources Division working together to provide a unique experience for South Carolinians."

Many visitors do come for the beach, it's true, but others come for the walking trails or to see the site of Bleak Hall plantation or the ruins of Sea Cloud plantation. Visitors can also launch canoes to paddle in tidal creeks or fish in the surf. Freshwater fishing (for youth only) is available in Jason's Lake. Still others come for the youth dove hunts or the white-tailed deer hunts. The focus at Botany Bay is on the management of wildlife habitats. The challenge is meeting that goal while still providing great recreational opportunities for the public.

DNR technician Bruce Rawl, who worked as caretaker at Botany Bay Plantation for the former owner, gives this high-traffic property some much needed continuity, especially when it comes to management of the wildlife habitat and hunting opportunities. He is assisted by approximately one hundred volunteers — local residents who spend as many as 7,000 cumulative volunteer-hours per year greeting visitors, answering questions and taking care of any other needs that may arise. These volunteers, led by Bess Kellett, also help with wildlife management activities, such as marking nesting sites used by sea turtles and least terns.

"We couldn't manage this place and offer the public so much access without our volunteers," Chappelear says.

Band of Birders

Banded Bird - photograph by Glenn GardnerDNR staffers take advantage of technology when they can, but often the job still calls for a low-tech approach. Bird banding is one of those tasks, and biologists use walk-in traps and various types of nets to capture birds for banding without harming them. Once the data from captured birds are collected and recorded, then the technology kicks in — sophisticated computer models can help biologists estimate life spans, population dynamics and other valuable information.

Besides just attaching the band to a bird’s leg, technicians and biologists measure and weigh each specimen and sometime even take blood or DNA samples to determine the relative health of an individual or a species.

"The majority of the public thinks we only get data on bird movement from banding," says Billy Dukes, the DNR's assistant chief of wildlife. "But most of that information is already well established. We know where our ducks and doves come from and where they are going when they leave. The really important data we get from bird banding is information about survival and mortality. All of this information is very important, especially when you are developing national or regional harvest management strategies or making recommendations for annual hunting regulations for game birds."

Fire and Flood

As much as South Carolinians treasure their home state, they have not been quite so careful about protecting its landscape. For better or for worse, urbanization, growth and development have changed the face of South Carolina. With the march of progress came the following: vast savannas of longleaf pine harvested; mighty old-growth cypress swamps logged; rivers dammed to deliver electrical power; towns and cities built where native plants and animals once held dominion. Perhaps now the time has come for fire and flood to heal habitats and ecosystems that have suffered as a result.

It’s not quite so Biblical as it sounds, but any land manager worth his or her pillar of salt will tell you that a little inundation and conflagration can be a good thing, when properly used.

Greg Lynch, wildlife biologist and project leader for the DNR’s Upper Coastal Waterfowl project, which includes Samworth, Santee Delta and Santee Coastal Reserve WMAs, moves water to create habitat for many species of waterfowl, wading birds, raptors and more than a few alligators. To accomplish this task, Lynch uses tools first established in the Lowcountry during colonial times.

"We have more than a hundred miles of dikes and a hundred or so water-control structures on our project," Lynch says. "So there is always something that needs to be done. The work is hard and often cold and wet, but this group of guys pulls together and the job gets done."

Rice Trunk - photograph by Stewart GrintonLynch and his team of technicians build, repair and replace rice trunks in the dikes, structures brought here to move water for agriculture. Early rice planters used them, along with a series of hand dug canals, to move water to grow a crop. Today, Lynch uses the same technology to create habitat for waterfowl, wading birds and shore birds. But there is more to it than merely raising and lowering water levels — much more. Technicians, including Gilbert Allen, have learned to very subtly mold the environment in time with the heartbeat of the water birds that pass through this wet and wild habitat. And at the same time, just as a byproduct, they help to create breath-taking landscapes that can only exist in coastal regions.

DNR land manager Johnny Stowe likes to turn up the heat on some of the properties in his charge. Stowe, an expert on prescribed fire, knows that smoke in the piney woods does not have to be destructive.

In fact, prescribed fire — also called controlled burning — is necessary to recreate the longleaf pine habitats that once dominated more than ninety million acres across the Southeast, creating park-like vistas where bobwhite quail, red-cockaded woodpeckers and even diamondback rattlesnakes once thrived.

Although this natural habitat was degraded or destroyed — not by fire, but by fire suppression, unsustainable logging and agriculture — with foresters like Stowe leading the way, this native habitat continues to return throughout South Carolina.

Joey Frazier is editorial assistant for South Carolina Wildlife magazine. He also loves to hunt in the woods of South Carolina..

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© 2013 South Carolina Wildlife Magazine, September - October 2013 - 

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