GEORGETOWN COUNTY, S.C. (Dec. 20, 2022)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced the purchase of an additional 2,248 acres to expand the Wee Tee State Forest on the Santee River. The acquisition adds to the 5,700 acres protected by OSI along the Santee River in 2021 and represents OSI’s latest significant victory on behalf of the Santee River Wilderness Corridor — South Carolina’s largest and most intact wilderness area.
Nestled within the Santee River basin, the newly protected “RMS-Wadmacon Creek” property (RMS-Wadmacon) features miles of riverfront flanked by diverse and intact bottomland hardwood forests. These forests shelter 116 wildlife species of conservation concern while delivering critical clean water to downstream fresh and saltwater marshes, which famously host most of the state’s wintering waterfowl.
“OSI is proud that this remote, wild, and exceptional property will forever help sustain waterfowl and water quality,” said Dr. Maria Whitehead, OSI’s Vice President of Land in the Southeast. “But it’s not just for the birds. It’s for people too. Land protection at this immense scale will also mitigate climate change by storing almost two million metric tons of carbon and absorbing flood waters during extreme weather events.”
The Santee River Wilderness Corridor stretches 75 miles from the Wee Tee State Forest to the Atlantic Ocean on the floodplain of the North and South Santee Rivers. It includes 32 percent of the state’s coastal marshes, as well as managed wetlands that support a large portion of the state’s overwintering waterfowl.
RMS-Wadmacon has breeding, nesting, nursery, and foraging habitat for 116 species of conservation concern, including rare insects such as the Monarch Butterfly; bats including the Eastern Red and Southeast Bat; and many more.
In addition to the Wee Tee State Forest, the Santee River Wilderness Corridor includes significant properties such as the Yawkey Wildlife Preserve, South Carolina Department of Natural Resource’s Santee Coastal Reserve and Santee Delta Wildlife Management Area, Francis Marion National Forest, and Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Four of only five designated wilderness areas in the state can be found just south of the lower Santee River in Francis Marion National Forest and Cape Romain. Perhaps in contrast to some definitions of “wilderness,” a long legacy of human interaction with nature can also be found in the focus area, including relic Indigenous shell middens and mounds, canals, and dikes of the rice economy, and over a century of timber-managed forestlands.
With its history of sustainable forest management, RMS-Wadmacon remains largely in exceptional forest condition and, according to Dr. Whitehead, the word “wilderness” can be used to describe its current condition without diminishing the significant historic or cultural context of the region. “It is important to acknowledge that even land that has “wilderness” qualities today, often holds a significant and, in the case of the Santee, tragic human history,” she notes.
Funding for the project was made possible in part by the Yawkey Foundation, Wyss Foundation, and the Knobloch Foundation, and the South Carolina Conservation Bank.
Benefits to Climate & Habitat
RMS-Wacmacon is comprised of forested wetlands, which currently store an estimated 1.9 million metric tons of carbon in trees and soil. If properly managed, the newly protected land is expected to sequester an additional 161,000 metric tons of carbon by 2050. Forests, their trees, and soil are critical to storing carbon; and, when managed correctly, forests can also play a critical role in capturing the carbon emissions that are being produced today.
Like the lands protected by OSI in 2021, RMS-Wadmacon has breeding, nesting, nursery, and foraging habitat for species of conservation concern, including rare insects such as the Monarch Butterfly; bats including the Eastern Red and Southeast Bat; fish including the American and Hickory Shad; and birds including the Swainson’s Warbler, Swallow-tailed Kite, Prothonotary Warbler, Bald Eagle, and American Black Duck.
Additionally, this stretch of the Santee is designated by US Fish & Wildlife Service as “critical habitat,” supporting federally endangered Shortnose Sturgeon and Atlantic Sturgeon, whose protection advances the sturgeons’ Recovery Plans under the Endangered Species Act.
About the Santee River Wilderness Corridor
The Santee River Wilderness Corridor — which drains an area the combined size of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire — gathers rainfall and seepage from the alpine forests, balds, and hollows of the Blue Ridge Mountains, carving thousands of rivulets, brooks, and streams that rush down the escarpment between Boone, North Carolina, and Table Rock Reservoir in South Carolina.
Altogether, the Corridor represents virtually every coastal ecosystem type in South Carolina: fully one-third of the state’s salt marsh and estuarine habitat; miles of barrier island beaches, intertidal mudflats and sandbars; thousands of acres of Atlantic maritime forest, natural freshwater marshes, historic rice fields, bottomland hardwood, and cypress-tupelo swamps; and some of the most extensive longleaf savannahs and flatwoods in North America, interspersed with Carolina bays and ephemeral depression meadows.
Protection of RMS-Wadmacon secures more land for a region that is rich in ecological, Native American, Colonial, and African American history. Just west of the current route of U.S. 17 runs the Old Georgetown Road, once called the King’s Highway, and known as the Great Catawba Trading Path prior to European and African settlement – an important trade route for Native American tribes traveling between the Carolinas.
During the 1700s and 1800s, the Santee River Delta and Pee Dee watershed region relied heavily on African American slave labor to produce the majority of the nation’s rice crop. Today, many of the region’s residents are descendants of this tragic legacy.
Since the Civil War, the timber industry has been a dominant source of livelihood within the region. The resulting patterns of large privately held and managed timberlands continue to this day. This history of timber ownership in the landscape has created a significant conservation opportunity. When modern timber holding companies divest of large tracts, conservationists can work quickly to secure the lands for conservation and public recreation.
The Open Space Institute protects scenic, natural, and historic landscapes to provide public enjoyment, conserve habitat and working lands, and sustain communities. Founded in 1974 to protect significant landscapes in New York State, OSI has been a partner in the protection of more than 2.3 million acres in North America, including more than 70,000 acres in the Southeast. Visit OSI online at https://www.openspaceinstitute...