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OSI-Protected Land in South Carolina Safeguards Habitat for Critically Endangered Species

Photo Credit: Patrick Moore

LANCASTER COUNTY, SC (November 5, 2018)—Building on more than 12,000 acres of conservation success in South Carolina, the Open Space Institute (OSI) has purchased the 159-acre “Ardrey Tract,” adjacent to the Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve, and conveyed it to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), utilizing the Lynches River Conservation Fund. The property contains a half mile of frontage on Flat Creek, which holds the only remaining population of the state and federally endangered Carolina heelsplitter (Lasmigona decorata) mussel that is showing signs of recent reproduction.

“This groundbreaking project is an example of the kind of success possible when public-private partnerships utilize land conservation to protect critically endangered aquatic species and provide public access,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of OSI. “We commend the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the Lynches River Conservation Fund for achieving an outcome that protects land for both habitat and recreation.”

South Carolina’s rivers are some of the most biodiverse in North America, containing more than 100 species of freshwater mussels, more than half of which are considered threatened. The Carolina heelsplitter is considered the most sensitive and endangered of these mussels.  If conservation measures can be taken to save the heelsplitter, an entire suite of aquatic species will also be protected.

Only 154 known federally endangered Carolina heelsplitter mussels remain in the wild in eight distinct geographic population/basins in South Carolina and North Carolina, six of which are located in areas where OSI has protected land over the past three years. 

Thought extinct until they were rediscovered in 1987, heelsplitters are the sustained focus of state and federal restoration efforts. With 64 individual mussels at last count alive on Flat Creek — more than half of the known remaining in the world — the Carolina heelsplitter relies on the silt-free stream bottoms that are critical to their feeding and breeding cycles, making riparian land protection a critical component in their survival and recovery.

The property will be added to the Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve — managed by the South Carolina DNR — and will be opened to the public for recreation. “The addition of this 159-acre tract is a homerun for natural resources, providing public opportunity for enjoyment and protection of critical habitat to aid in Carolina heelsplitter recovery,” said Emily Cope, Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Deputy Director of DNR. “What makes this even better, is we were able to accomplish this with the assistance of a unique grant opportunity and partnership with OSI.” 

Using a grant from the Lynches River Conservation Fund, administered by Central Carolina Community Foundation, the South Carolina DNR acquired the property from OSI. The property will undergo an ecological transformation into native vegetation and be opened to the public for recreation.

The Flat Creek population of heelsplitter is small but reproducing, and the concerted study and conservation efforts of state and federal agencies appear to be helping the species hold on.

Forty Acre Rock Heritage Preserve features a 2.4-mile trail that passes by a waterfall and cave, and is used for hiking, walking and birding. The land also provides habitat for prairie warblers, indigo buntings, red-tailed hawks, vireos, cottontail rabbits and deer.

Since 2013, OSI has protected more than 12,000 acres in South Carolina, from the mountains to the sea.

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