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

Aerial view of upland forest habitat

The forests of the ACE Basin are a vital part of the ecology, economy, and beauty of the region. Forestry is part of the Basin's cultural heritage and is vital to its present economy with 43 million dollars in forestry-related revenue in Colleton County during 1994 (Colleton County Land Use Planning Task Force 1997). Forest survey reports for 1993 indicate that 56 percent of the land cover (1,128,960.4 ha, or 457,069 ac) in Colleton County is classified as timberland (Conner 1993). This acreage is dominated by upland planted pine and forested wetlands with evergreen upland forest, mixed upland forest, and deciduous upland forest being less important. Hardwood dominated forests constitute only 1.4 percent of the total forested area. Westvaco Corporation and Georgia-Pacific are the two largest industrial foresters in the ACE Basin; however, most of the total forested acreage (70%) is owned by nonindustrial private landowners.

Forestry efforts are primarily directed at growing loblolly and shortleaf pines, followed by oak, gum, and cypress trees. In the ACE Basin study area, 457,681.1 ha (185,296 ac) are classified as upland planted pine based on the 1997 National Wetlands Inventory. This constitutes most of the total forested land cover. In addition to directed efforts to grow pines by converting scrub oak and other low-quality hardwood stands, natural reseeding of idle or abandoned agricultural land has also favored establishment of loblolly-shortleaf pine. The overall volume of Colleton's standing timber increased an average of 6-8% (Colleton County Land Use Planning Task Force 1997). Sawtimber also increased, with pine constituting 74% of the total board feet for all species. These trends reflect an improvement in tree stocking as a result of intensive forest management.

Forestry practices have been associated with a number of negative effects over the years. These include impacts to habitat, water quality, biodiversity, and scenic vistas. Effects of forest conversion to pine monocultures include reduction in diversity of forest-dependent animals and canopy/subcanopy vegetation (Meffe and Carroll 1994). Forestry has had a major impact on "natural forests" because of monoculture of loblolly and shortleaf pines as opposed to the native slash pine. A common forest management practice in the southeastern United States and Colleton County is the establishment of loblolly or slash pine plantations. After years of rapid growth, these plantations are harvested to produce fiber, lumber, and wood-based chemicals. The affect of even-aged pine plantations on the quality of wildlife habitat has become an issue in forestry.

Contrary to early forestry practices of clearing and abandoning the land, there is presently a trend toward sustainable forestry through the protection of watersheds and wildlife habitat, conservation of soil, and maintenance of aesthetics while continuing to harvest trees. One approach being used in the southeastern United States involves development of selective harvesting techniques that ultimately produce uneven-aged stands of pine-hardwood as well as understory diversity (Hunter 1990). Several federal forestry assistance programs and landowner assistance programs are available to foresters in the ACE Basin to help them make sound management decisions based on sustainable forestry. An example of an industrial landowner that is practicing sustainable forestry in the ACE Basin is Westvaco Corporation, the single largest private landowner there.

The outlook for forestry in the ACE Basin reflects advances in science and technology, balanced with conservation. These technological advances will continue to help forest landowners meet increasing needs for renewable wood and paper products for local and global markets. An increasing awareness of forest ecology and protection of soil and water in concert with sustainable forest management will help maintain the integrity of forests and contribute to the quality of life in the ACE Basin.