Characterization of the Ashepoo-Combahee-Edisto (ACE) Basin, South Carolina

Resource Management Issues and Goals

Wildlife habitat management issues and goals are directly linked to private landowners and include fragmentation of upland habitats, increasing total acreage and size of monoculture forest stands/agriculture fields, urban sprawl, and human use conflicts and interactions with wildlife. Timber management practices can be used to enhance wildlife habitat and are generally successful in the ACE Basin. The size of natural communities is an important consideration in managing for habitat quality. The larger tracts have higher species diversity and contribute to habitat connectivity across the landscape. High quality habitats in the ACE Basin include a mix of wetland and upland communities adjacent to rivers and streams. Riparian habitats in the ACE Basin are intact and provide critical linkages between large landscape units.

Bald eagle nest

An important issue facing managers in the ACE Basin involves landowners that are reluctant to cooperate in management practices for endangered and threatened species because of regulatory measures and economic losses. Financial incentives must be found to motivate these landowners to restore, rather than destroy, habitat critical for the recovery of endangered species. Very few bottomland areas in the Basin are protected. Increased timber harvest and conversion to other uses especially threaten these areas. Local landowners and decision makers are encouraged to consider the needs of sensitive species and manage for biodiversity at the species and community landscape levels.

Cumulative impacts on wetlands are perhaps the most significant issue facing managers not only in the ACE Basin but also on a regional and national scale. These impacts result from many incremental activities and become significant when viewed in aggregate. Managers face deficiencies in making cumulative impact projections and lack historical data. There is also a general lack of statutory guidance, as well as other types of legal barriers when making environmental decisions on cumulative impacts. Managers tend to minimize their authority in consideration of these impacts because of legal interpretations by the courts. It is recommended that managers develop long-term perspectives for monitoring coastal ecosystems and develop systematic approaches for detecting and quantifying cumulative impacts.

The functional resource values of well-managed impoundments are recognized in the context of manipulated wetland ecosystems in the ACE Basin. The re-impoundment of wetlands that once were impounded and managed during the era of rice culture has been a long-standing management issue. Special Area Management Plans (SAMPs) have been considered as a regulatory mechanism to resolve this issue. SAMPs have been successfully used elsewhere in estuary planning and are recognized as effective mechanisms to control development while providing long-term protection to sensitive wetlands. The benefits of SAMPs are well documented and include the prediction of cumulative impacts in a particular watershed. However, there are also a number of concerns over the effects of impoundments on coastal wetlands and their functional relationship to estuaries. Concern is further grounded in the federal and state policies that call for "no net loss" of wetlands. It appears that before any real progress can be made on the issue of re-impoundment of formerly impounded wetlands, the science of functional relationships in salt, brackish, and freshwater marshes must be improved.

Forest management issues in the ACE Basin include careless or inappropriate application of forest management practices by some landowners. The public often misunderstands management practices such as prescribed burning, clear-cutting, intensive pine production, and drainage. Thus, negative perceptions of forest management techniques are present in the local community. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) launched by Westvaco in the ACE Basin has set the standard for the local forest products industry. SFI is a system of principles, guidelines, and performance measures that integrate the perpetual growing and harvesting of trees with the protection of wildlife, plants, soil, air and water. In addition, the local forest management community has worked with the ACE Basin Task Force in developing Best Management Practices (BMPs) for forestry, which are recommended for private landowners in the ACE Basin. These guidelines assist landowners in practicing good stewardship on forest lands and protecting the water quality of nearby streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Most of the BMPs address the protection of water quality and requirements of Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. All forestry practices must comply with the Endangered Species Act. There is an overriding challenge in the ACE Basin to balance the demands for wood products and ecological benefits derived from forest ecosystems. The private landowner must have an incentive to do this.

Nonpoint source pollution poses the greatest threat to the ACE Basin's water quality. There is insufficient knowledge and public awareness of the impacts of land use practices on water quality. Detailed information on water quality is not readily accessible and reporting on water use is incomplete. Recommendations include the development and implementation of BMPs for all land use activities that potentially impact water quality. Areas within the ACE Basin with the highest nonpoint source potential should be targeted for BMP education and the conservation of riparian zones encouraged. Issues, opportunities, and challenges related to fisheries management in the Basin also center on water quality and habitat protection. The riparian zone is critical to a healthy fish population and private landowners, including those in the agriculture and forestry sectors, need to work cooperatively in reducing impacts to these areas.

Although the ACE Basin is rich in history and historic resources, an intensive archaeological survey has not been conducted. Many unknown sites probably exist in the area but are not officially recorded. This lack of information, coupled with increased development pressures, poses a real threat to valuable cultural resources in the area.