WILMINGTON, NC (August 20, 2018) – Nearly 3,000 acres of wetlands, critical bottomland hardwood forests, and seven miles of Waccamaw River frontage have been saved thanks to a grant from the Open Space Institute (OSI) to the North Carolina Coastal Land Trust. In addition to providing important habitat to a number of rare plant and animal species, the newly-protected property has been classified as “climate resilient,” in that it will serve as habitat refuge, even as the climate changes.
The North Carolina Coastal Land Trust protected the land — called the “Waccamaw River Partnership” project — after years of effort. The Waccamaw River Partnership project, when connected to nearby conserved properties, creates one of the largest conservation corridors in the state of North Carolina.
OSI helped to protect the land through its Resilient Landscapes Initiative, which is made possible with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Resilient Landscapes Initiative seeks to build capacity of land trusts working to respond to climate change.
Since 2007, OSI has helped to protect 8,223 acres in North Carolina by providing $15.8 million in grants and loans. The Waters of the Waccamaw project was the third project to close in the Greater Pee Dee River focus area with support from the Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund, which has helped protect 22,489 acres in the southeast as of September 2018 including 3,276 in the Greater Pee Dee. Projects in the Greater Pee Dee have helped expand private protected lands, game lands, and land trust preserves.
“The protection of the Waccamaw River project is a crowning achievement in the larger effort to protect North Carolina lands that will shelter plants and animals, even as the climate changes,” said Peter Howell, executive Vice President of OSI. “We congratulate the Northern Carolina Coastal Land Trust for their momentous efforts to conserve this beautiful landscape.”
“The Waccamaw is special in more ways than you can count,” said Janice Allen, Deputy Director of the Coastal Land Trust. “It’s not just that the Waccamaw River system contains some of the most beautiful and extensive cypress swamps and blackwater bottomland hardwood forests in the state. It’s truly unique; due to its rare water chemistry and geology, many of the plants and animals that flourish in the Waccamaw are found nowhere else on Earth.”
The 3,000-acre property is located directly across the river from the Columbus County and Juniper Creek Game Lands, which encompass more than 28,000 acres and connect to 17,000 acres of The Nature Conservancy’s Green Swamp Preserve.
After conserving the land, the Coastal Land Trust transferred approximately 1,000 acres of the property to the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, which will be added to the Columbus County Game Lands and be managed as public game lands; the Coastal Land Trust will retain the remaining 2,000 acres for management as a nature preserve.
The 1,000 acres now owned by the Commission will be managed through timber thinning, prescribed fire, and restoration of distinctive remnant forest types that will benefit many species of wildlife such as white-tailed deer, wild turkey, wood stork, and Swainson’s warbler. The waters of the Waccamaw and wetlands on this tract support many rare plant and animal species, including several fish, mussels, and snails endemic to the Waccamaw River system.
Considered one of the Southeast's wildest and most beautiful rivers, the Waccamaw River runs approximately 140 miles across southeastern North Carolina and eastern South Carolina. A sportsman’s paradise, the area also delights birders, as rare warblers and swallow-tailed kites are known to live in the area. The Waccamaw River in North and South Carolina has been designated a National Blue Trail by American Rivers to promote outdoor recreation and conservation along the waterway.
Completion of the Waccamaw River Partnership project required the support of a dozen leading conservation funds, agencies, and philanthropists, testifying to recognition of its nationally significant conservation values.
Beginning with funds from a 2012 judicial settlement of a Clean Water Act case brought by the U. S. Attorney against Freedman Farms, a corporate hog farm, the Coastal Land Trust eventually secured grants from a total of 12 different funders including OSI, the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s North American Wetlands Conservation Act program (two grants), National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (two grants, one through the North Carolina and Virginia River and Waters program, and one through Walmart’s Acres for America program), NC Clean Water Management Trust Fund, NC Wildlife Resources Commission (a federal Coastal Wetlands Conservation program grant), Fred and Alice Stanback, NC Attorney General’s Environmental Enhancement Grant program, Enviva Forest Conservation Fund, The Conservation Alliance, and Merck Family Fund.