2 deals to protect wildlife habitats

The protected tracts provide important habitat for migratory species such as this wood duck. Provided

The Nature Conservancy has announced two deals protecting 2,260 acres of delicate forest and wetland habitats near the Francis Marion National Forest, the Santee Coastal Reserve and the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge.

The conservancy spent $6.45 million to buy four tracts totaling 1,116 acres in Berkeley and Charleston counties from International Paper Co.

Michael Prevost, the group's Sewee to Santee Project director, said the Berkeley County parcel near Honey Hill supports limestone sink wetlands that serve as habitat for rare and endangered plants, such as pondberry.

All four tracts contain bottomland hardwood forest important to migratory bird species such as the swallow-tailed kite, prothonotary warbler and wood duck.

"Each tract provides a functional wildlife corridor with adjacent lands of the National Forest," Prevost said. The conservancy plans to sell those parcels to the U.S. Forest Service for inclusion into the Francis Marion National Forest.

In a separate deal, the conservancy announced that The Evening Post Publishing Co., parent company of The Post and Courier, has granted a conservation easement on 1,144 acres next to Old Georgetown Road in Charleston County.

The easement prohibits all commercial development and would permit only two new homes there. The pine forest will be managed to enhance upland forest habitat through selective timber harvesting and prescribed fire and to protect unique bay forest and pocosin-like wetlands.

The easement allows hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and equestrian activities, and Prevost said it also protects cultural resources, such as the nearby Hampton Plantation State Park. A 200-foot-wide forested buffer along Old Georgetown Road will protect the historical ambiance of a road that once served South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Pierre Manigault, chairman of the board of Evening Post Publishing, said the easement "represents a key component in the preservation of one of the state's most historic and ecologically significant corridors."

Prevost said the company and the Manigault family have donated easements protecting about 6,000 acres within the Sewee to Santee region, which includes 35 miles of protected barrier islands and one of the best-surviving examples of endangered longleaf pine forests.

Mark Robertson, the Conservancy's South Carolina director, called the 800,000-acre region "unquestionably one of the East Coast's premier ecological landscapes."