At the end of July, several members of the Audubon SC team spent time with the SC7 project, led by Tom Mullikin. SC7 travels across the state each year to highlight the most important natural places in South Carolina, and this year we were fortunate to have them visit the Audubon Center & Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest (Beidler Forest) and the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary.
Beidler Forest is an 18,300 acre sanctuary located in Four Holes Swamp that boasts the world’s largest old-growth, cypress-tupelo, swamp forest. The landscape that makes up Beidler Forest has provided refuge for both birds and people in its long history. Migratory species like the Prothonotary Warbler use Beidler as a place to nest as part of their long annual journey that spans from South Carolina to Colombia, South America. Beidler Forest was also utilized by freedom seekers as a refuge from slavery and has been recognized as an Underground Railroad Network to Freedom site by the National Park Service. Additionally, the water that passes through the swamp at Beidler Forest makes its way into the Edisto River and eventually the ACE Basin, highlighting how the land use decisions and conservation of wetland habitat around Beidler have implications on downstream ecosystems. The forest also provides flood mitigation, carbon storage and water quality benefits to birds and local communities, in addition to wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities.
Protecting wetlands and habitat like this across the state is a key strategy to improving the state’s resilience in the face of increasing flooding, a policy recommendation highlighted in the SC Office of Resilience’s statewide resilience plan released earlier this summer. The creation of the office and the statewide plan was a recommendation that came out of the SC Floodwater Commission, which Tom Mullikin also chaired. Audubon SC staff have been active contributors to resilience planning throughout the last several years, as well as doing on-the-ground work to protect habitats important for birds and climate resilience. We were able to discuss the robust role Beidler Forest plays in protecting birds and South Carolinians with the SC7 team and look forward to seeing Beidler featured in this year’s documentary.
In addition to visiting Beidler, SC7 hosted a roundtable discussion near Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary that Audubon SC staff helped lead with several of our partners including SCDNR, Coastal Expeditions Foundation, and Coastal Conservation League. The roundtable participants discussed coastal bird conservation and potential policy solutions, with an overarching goal to find the "next Crab Bank." Crab Bank is a landmark public-private partnership project that reestablished a bird sanctuary by using dredged sand to restore important nesting habitat in Charleston Harbor. Projects like this are a win-win for birds and people. Audubon SC has been actively pursuing another project like this near Cape Romain and was thankful for the gathering of minds that SC7 brought together to continue the collaborative momentum of Crab Bank.
Beneficial use of dredge material is one of many nature-based solutions that Audubon supports to mitigate storm impacts and benefit birds. This strategy reuses sandy material that is already being removed – usually for a navigation project – to renourish a beach or coastal area. This practice can result in cost savings for taxpayers who ultimately pay for many of these projects, in addition to the resilience and habitat benefits of restoring beaches, barrier islands, and marsh areas. We were glad to see both nature-based solutions broadly and beneficial use of dredge material specifically mentioned in the recommendations from the statewide resilience plan as well.
It is great to see conservation and government representatives coming together around commonsense solutions to protect the natural resources birds and people rely on here in South Carolina. We thank Tom Mullikin and the SC7 project for highlighting the beautiful places around the state, especially our very own Beidler Forest.
To learn more about Audubon’s Center and Sanctuary at Beidler Forest or to plan a visit, click here. Don’t forget to check out the Silver Bluff Sanctuary near Aiken, SC, which is open to visitors as well.