One of the largest habitat conservation purchases in the state's history has been completed with the acquisition of 13,000-acres of working forestland, recreational lands and wildlife habitat by the State of South Carolina.
This large block of forestland, previously owned by International Paper, was slated for sale as part of the company's decision to divest of all land holdings. Last August, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR) purchased a 59 percent interest in the 13,281-acre property known as Hamilton Ridge, which is located in Hampton County. The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy held title to the remaining 41 percent of the property while the DNR worked to obtain additional funding from federal sources. The DNR recently secured necessary funds to complete the acquisition and purchased all remaining interests from The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy.
DNR used funds from the S.C. Conservation Bank and the Heritage Trust bond bill legislation to acquire the initial interest in the property. The remaining funds came from the following sources: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration - $4,156,088; Recovery Land Acquisition (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service - USFWS) - $1,740,266; State Wildlife Grant (USFWS) - $50,000; North American Wetlands Conservation Act (USFWS) - $1,000,000; Coastal Wetlands Grant (USFWS) - $995,400; Forest Legacy (U.S. Forest Service) - $1,707,011. The total cost of the project was $23.5 million.
Last year, Governor Mark Sanford signed into law the Conservation Bond Act allowing the South Carolina Heritage Trust to borrow about $32 million for forest acquisition across the state.
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"The quality of life in our state is going to be an increasingly important part of South Carolina's competitive edge when it comes to the global race for jobs and investment," Sanford said. "The closing on this tract—along with our ongoing efforts to protect other ecologically significant land in the state—is an important step toward preserving the way we look and feel as a state and preserve our competitive advantage with respect to our quality of life."
"One of South Carolina’s greatest treasures is the natural beauty of our surroundings. We have a responsibility to help ensure our state’s natural resources are preserved for the benefit of future generations. Opportunities to preserve large tracts of land like this do not come about very often," said Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). "I commend the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and the DNR under the leadership of John Frampton for coming together to make this happen. I'm very pleased to see a commitment to protecting this environmentally significant tract of land and honored to be a part of the dedication ceremony."
In addition to providing recreational opportunities, these forests protect large tracts of habitat for several important wildlife and aquatic species, including such birds as the Kentucky warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, rusty blackbird, swallow-tailed kite, Swainson's warbler and others. The protection of this tract will also provide river corridor protection to eight miles on the Savannah River.
"This habitat protection initiative conserves some of our most ecologically significant landscapes," said DNR Director John Frampton. "South Carolina is known for its diverse forests, abundant waterways and wildlife related recreational opportunities. Thanks to the support of Governor Mark Sanford and his personal attention, these resources are now protected. We’re grateful to Governor Sanford for his strong commitment to quality of life issues and habitat protection in South Carolina. Furthermore, we greatly appreciate the commitment of conservationists in the state General Assembly who worked hard to secure funding from the South Carolina Conservation Bank and the Conservation Bond Act. We also want to thank the entire South Carolina Congressional Delegation in Washington, especially Senators Lindsey Graham and Jim DeMint, as well as Congressmen Jim Clyburn and Joe Wilson for their support of this project and for the federal funding."
The protected land is of special interest to Congressmen Wilson because it lies within the congressional district he represents, Frampton added.
"Today, we celebrate a victory--not just for South Carolina, but also for the nation," said Larry Selzer, president and chief executive officer of The Conservation Fund. "These magnificent lands, protected in partnership with Governor Sanford, Senator Graham, International Paper, our colleagues at The Nature Conservancy, and our collaborators represent the best of conservation, providing economic and environmental opportunity for future generations."
The Southern United States represents the most biologically diverse region in the country—and one of the most threatened. The continued fragmentation of Southern forests because of subdivision, land-use changes and development is one of the most pressing threats facing the American landscape today. Forests, both public and private, protect biodiversity, wildlife habitat, water supplies, recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts and jobs for more than 1.6 million Americans.
"This has been a great partnership, committed to conserving South Carolina’s natural heritage," said Mark Robertson, The Nature Conservancy’s South Carolina executive director. "Our partnership has accomplished something truly inspiring. Governor Sanford, the conservationists in the South Carolina General Assembly, South Carolina's congressional delegation, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and International Paper have worked together to create a lasting legacy. It will benefit generations of South Carolinians who love the state’s natural habitats and appreciate the recreational opportunities, the clean water, clean air and abundant wildlife they provide."
"Hamilton Ridge is one of South Carolina’s most extraordinary and magnificent forests," said Larry Selzer, The Conservation Fund president. "Thanks to the vision and leadership of Governor Sanford, the State of South Carolina and the Congressional delegation, and the commitment of The Nature Conservancy and International Paper, these important lands will protect wildlife habitat, enhance air and water quality, support local economies and provide exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities for future generations."
"Protecting large contiguous tracts of working forests like Hamilton Ridge offers the best opportunity to conserve these forest ecosystems for the future," said Marvin Davant, executive director of the South Carolina Conservation Bank. "The Conservation Bank is especially pleased to support this project, protecting critical forestlands and wetlands."