If you are a hunter, fisherman, birdwatcher, kayaker, hiker or outdoor enthusiast of any kind then you should know what the South Carolina Conservation Bank is doing for you. The South Carolina Conservation Bank has conserved 294,126 acres of highly significant lands located all over our state in almost every county in South Carolina since its funding started in 2004. This has been accomplished at an average cost per acre of $519.99 to the Bank. 88,070 of these acres have full general public access wherein people can hunt, fish, paddle, hike, camp, and many other forms of outdoor recreation of their choice any time they want to within the regulations that may apply to these areas. In fact, 66,876 of these acres are now owned and operated by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and are managed in their Wildlife Management Areas (WMA) and are available statewide for these traditional values. We are trying to establish these core areas that are great for both people and our wildlife as it provides both habitat for wild creatures and for people to use. We all know too, that in order to have the quantity and quality of wildlife that we take for granted in South Carolina that we have to have both quantity and quality of habitat to go with it. Biologists tell us that while we must maintain our core areas of quality habitat we must also provide travel corridors, food supply, fields, forests, wetlands, buffer areas, and areas of open space for our wildlife to move to when pressured out of the core areas for many reasons in order to have the diversity of wildlife and wildlife habitat that we all want and expect in our beautiful state. These areas may, in fact, be as, or more important than the core areas.
So, other than funding the acquisition of these large open public areas what else has the Bank done to accomplish the things necessary to provide habitat for our wildlife? Well, for instance, the Bank has funded 211,342 acres of conservation easements on lands owned by private landowners located all over South Carolina that provide countless thousands of miles of creek frontage; hundreds of miles of frontage on our major rivers such as the Santee; the Cooper; the Savannah; the PeeDee; the Waccamaw, the Wateree, and the Great Blue Ridge Escarpment; and the ACE Basin all of which are now protected lands. Not only is the protection of these large areas of wetlands and forest areas good for our water quality; flood control; water quantity; and our economy; this mosaic has provided the much needed open space and travel corridors for countless wildlife to thrive and prosper in. We all know that wild things such as deer, turkeys ducks, quail, doves as well as myriad songbirds, rabbits ,foxes, turtles and just about anything else that you can think of that lives in the woods (or on our highways) does not have a Post Office Box. They don’t stay in one place. Home to them is where they find the right amount of food, shelter and less intrusions from man. They move from place to place from day to day regardless of who owns the land wherever they may be at that particular sunrise or sunset. They don’t check the court house records to see whose lands they are on. In order to accomplish having these core public access areas as well as the necessary open space and buffers around them and scattered about the State that wildlife,(as well as people) need, the Conservation Bank has partnered with the Department of Natural Resources; PRT; and SC Forestry and many national conservation organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, the Conservation Fund, and dozens of other 501-c-3 qualified land trusts around our state to work together with these private landowners to protect these thousands of acres of valuable wildlife lands in perpetuity. For a small amount of the fair market value of their lands they are provided an incentive by the Conservation Bank. In return, these landowners voluntarily agree, in perpetuity, not to ever develop these lands and that they will stay the same as they are today forever. The countless wildlife openings, food plots, wetlands, and agricultural fields will remain there just as they are now. And so will the hardwood bottomlands and the swamps and sedge ponds, too. These landowners will forever be the best managers of these lands because they care about them. They are willing to give up millions of dollars in their land values to be able to keep it just as it is today. Like the rest of us, they care about their lands and the wildlife it sustains. Many of these old farms and forests and swamps have been in the same family for generations and it matters to them. So, for all of these reasons there is a real good chance, because of what the Conservation Bank has done, that the wildlife that lives here will continue to thrive, and, just maybe, the next deer or turkey or wood duck that you or I will hunt or see will come from one of these lands that would not have been there without what the Conservation Bank has done.
The Bank has also protected 19,963 acres of small family farms in South Carolina. It is the only State Agency offering our farmers monetary incentives for conservation easements to save them from urbanization. Aside from the countless jobs created by agriculture, forestry, tourism, and outdoor recreation that these areas of our economy create which are invaluable to us, they also provide the food and fiber it produces for our markets and for our sustenance. Just reflect a moment and think about it the next time you ride by a picked corn or wheat stubble field and see a flock of mourning doves; or see a big whitetail buck standing in a the morning mist in a soybean field; or hear the squeal of a summer duck going to roost in the local bottom land ponds and wonder if it will be there next year; or maybe even next month. And here is the real kicker: the Conservation Bank has leveraged its grant funding with its partners so that after 14 years in existence, the State has gotten back more funds directed to our state economy than it paid for the grants to begin with! Imagine…. That you spent $135 million dollars to protect almost 300,000 acres of the best lands you could find to protect for wildlife in our State and when it was all said and done you got over $144 million back for doing it! And you did it all with two full time employees…..