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#06-239 September 11, 2006

Historic habitat protection project nears completion

The largest habitat conservation purchase in the state’s history is one step closer to completion with the acquisition of 39,000 acres of working forestland, recreational lands and wildlife habitat by the State of South Carolina, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

In March, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the State of South Carolina announced an agreement to purchase two forest parcels: 25,668-acres in Marion County known as the Woodbury tract and 13,281-acres in Hampton County known as Hamilton Ridge, from International Paper. Last week, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy jointly acquired the properties, and an undivided interest in the land was immediately transferred to the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The closing brings the total amount of land protected during Governor Mark Sanford’s administration to nearly 78,000 acres—more than any previous administration in South Carolina’s history.

Video of Hamilton Ridge and Woodbury Tract.

DNR used $10 million from the S.C. Conservation Bank and about $20 million from the Heritage Trust bond bill legislation to acquire a majority interest in the property. The remaining interest will be purchased when additional federal funds become available, next spring.

Earlier this year, 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.
“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 these tracts—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.”

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 these tracts will provide river corridor protection to 27 miles on the Great Pee Dee River, 11 miles on the Little Pee Dee River and eight miles on the Savannah River.

“This monumental 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 during the negotiations process with International Paper, 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 anticipated federal funding.”

The protected lands are of special interest to Congressmen Clyburn and Wilson because they lie within their congressional districts, Frampton added.

“This historic transaction demonstrates the compatibility of environmental, recreational and economic interests and is a testimony to International Paper's legacy of sustainably managing healthy, working forestlands and protecting special places in the forest for 108 years,” said David Liebetreu, International Paper’s vice president of forest resources. “It’s an honor to collaborate with The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy and the State of South Carolina to protect some of the state’s most ecologically significant forestlands so they can be enjoyed today and for generations to come.”

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.

“The Hamilton Ridge and Woodbury tracts are two 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 the Woodbury and Hamilton Ridge properties 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.”

- Written by G. Michael Willis -              
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