JASPER COUNTY, SC (June 2, 2021)—The Open Space Institute (OSI) closed Thursday, May 20, on one of the state’s most important and costly conservation properties, the 3,800-acre Slater tract in Jasper County. The acquisition price was approximately $16 million, making OSI’s purchase of the property among the largest conservation investments in state history. OSI intends to transfer the property to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) as funding becomes available.
“The Slater property fully incorporates every characteristic that justifies land protection in South Carolina,” explained Nate Berry, OSI Senior Vice President and Southeast Office Director. “It expands public access in an area where public lands are relatively scarce; it protects water quality and fisheries in the Port Royal Sound estuary and the Broad River; it secures habitat that is essential for hundreds of varieties of plants and animals, and it helps mitigate climate change by storing hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon.”
The property encompasses 3,800 acres of mature upland pinelands interlaced with bottomland forests and cypress/tupelo swamps. Eleven miles of the Coosawhatchie river and its tributaries flow within the borders.
The swamp and upland forests on the tract serve to mitigate downstream flooding and to sustain water quality in Port Royal Sound, one of the largest and most important estuaries on the East Coast. Slater is the anchor property for a larger initiative in this region to permanently protect habitat for rare, threatened, and endangered species of plants and animals.
Among the rare ecosystems on the property is a sand ridge that hosts a large and growing population of gopher tortoises, one of the northernmost colonies in South Carolina and one of the largest in the Eastern U.S. Gopher tortoises, a federally designated “at-risk” species, excavate extensive underground burrows that provide habitat for dozens of other animals, making the tortoise a “keystone” species in this fascinating ecosystem. The tortoise population of 150 individuals will continue to expand under OSI’s and SCDNR’s stewardship, enhancing a critical stronghold for these charismatic, docile, ancient reptiles.