Alvin Taylor knows firsthand that managing South Carolina's natural resources is much larger than deciding how many fish a person should catch or how many deer a hunter can harvest.
The director of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources regularly travels from his Yonges Island home to the library in Hollywood to fill jugs so his family will have fresh drinking water. The well at the family home is contaminated by salt water.
From headquarters in Columbia, Taylor, 61, manages nearly a thousand employees in DNR's five divisions: outreach and support; land, water and conservation; law enforcement; marine resources and wildlife; and freshwater fisheries.
It was a job he was not expecting or seeking. During his 30-plus years with DNR, all spent at Fort Johnson on James Island, Taylor had moved through the ranks to head the law enforcement division.
When previous director John Frampton retired, Taylor was asked to serve as interim director and on March 17, 2012, was appointed director.
"I thought I was busy. I told somebody I had a good job about three years ago. Somebody should have warned me," Taylor said with a laugh.
Taylor entered a job that requires a delicate balance of managing the resource as well as the resource user.
Sen. Chip Campsen, R-Charleston, who chairs the Senate Fish, Game and Forestry Committee, said Taylor helped calm the waters at DNR following Frampton's retirement and has done a good job of creating consensus.
The two have a multi-dimensional relationship, Campsen said, through the General Assembly, as fellow members of East Cooper Baptist Church and as friends.
"As (late Gov.) Carroll Campbell famously said, fins, feather and fur is what will get you in trouble in South Carolina politics," Campsen said.
"I think (Campbell) was right," he added. "Messing with someone's hunting and fishing opportunities or rights can really get you in trouble. It's a delicate balance. Alvin, because he was head of law enforcement, brings a lot of street smarts to the whole lawmaking process.
"Alvin will tell you this is the way it's going to work out in the field. I think he has a lot of respect from DNR folks, particularly from the law enforcement crowd, which is where he came from," Campsen said. "He's got a good, common-sense approach. He's very pragmatic and you need a lot of pragmatism in the political realm, to realize what is doable and what isn't."
While Taylor's office is in Columbia, he said he tries to get home as often as possible to spend time with his family.
Taylor, a Clemson graduate, and his wife Marian, who graduated from the College of Charleston, both grew up in Marion County. They were married in 1976, two weeks prior to his being hired by DNR. They have two children, one who lives in Charleston and one who lives in Seneca, and four grandchildren.
"They are all outdoorsmen. They all enjoy hunting, fishing, boating," he said of his family. "They grew up around it and their spouses are the same. They like to get out and hunt and fish."
Taylor said when he was in law enforcement, especially during the years he headed up the boating division, "The last thing I wanted to see on a weekend was a boat. But now that my attentions have shifted, I like to go out in the boat. I've got a 16-foot Bentzcraft I've restored and a 24-foot pontoon boat, which is a little odd for the coast. We like to put the grandchildren on it, go out to the beach, to Deveaux Bank."
Born for the job
Taylor grew up on a tobacco farm in Marion County, and he said the lifestyle led him to where he is today.
"I talk a lot about a dad who quail hunted and practiced quail management and didn't even know it," Taylor said. "I grew up fishing the Pee Dee River, riding my bicycle to Buck Swamp to fish in a hole in the swamp.
"I think the agency has a huge responsibility to the youth of this state to try and give them those experiences. It's not as easy as it was when I was growing up. I could pick up my shotgun and go shoot a dove in the cornfield or I could quail hunt with my pointer. I could do all those things. I had family support as well.
"There are fewer opportunities now, so I believe if we are successful as an agency, it's going to be through proper management of our wildlife, it's going to be making sure we make good decisions on those things. But it's also going to be on how we educate our youth and giving them those opportunities because you can't understand it if you haven't experienced it."
Taylor said one goal is to make South Carolina's fish and game laws more uniform across the state.
DNR's "Take One, Make One" program is aimed at youth, but Taylor said there are adults who are just now discovering South Carolina's natural resources.
DNR is partnering with South Carolina Parks, Recreation and Tourism in promoting "Undiscovered South Carolina."
"Who knows how to discover South Carolina more than DNR?" Taylor says. "We're trying to promote all those areas, but that's a double-edged sword. We want people to see Jocassee Gorges, see the beauty, but at the same time, you have more visitors and you have more work maintaining."
DNR manages more than a million acres of public land, properties that once were visited primarily by consumptive users, hunters and fishermen who helped fund the acquisition of the land.
Today, South Carolinians visit wildlife management areas such as Botany Bay and Donnelly for activities including bird watching and hiking. South Carolina is eighth in the country in the number of registered boats.
Water issues may be one of the biggest challenges facing South Carolina, he said. The recent eight-year drought, salt-water intrusion into water wells and states battling over water rights are all issues South Carolina faces.
"Water is extremely important to the economy of the state, from an economic standpoint of attracting businesses and industry and certainly for recreational users," he said. "As we start talking about managing water, they have been doing that out West for years.
"When all your wells have salt water and you have to invest to have fresh water for residents, then it (water quality) starts meaning something."
Taylor loves his job, and says most DNR staffers feel the same. He would like to see better compensation for DNR employees. There is very little turnover.
"It's fun. It's aggravating, sometimes. But at the same time there's no better place to be than where I am," Taylor said.
"I am very blessed. There will be criticisms. There will be praises. But at the end of the day, I'm very blessed to be where I am, to have had this opportunity as a career."
Reach Tommy Braswell at 937-5591.