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Special Edition

! D E N U T Y A T S

The 2023 South Carolina Wildlife calendar will be sold via (2023 SCW calendar preorders will begin this summer/fall and mailed after calendars are printed in November 2022.)

DIRECTIONS “IN LIFE, RELATIONSHIPS ARE PRIMARY, EVERYTHING ELSE IS SECONDARY.” — RON DAVID, PH.D. The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources’ mission is to serve as the principal advocate for and steward of South Carolina’s natural resources. SCDNR website: Henry McMaster, Governor of South Carolina S.C. DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES BOARD Dr. Mark F. Hartley First Congressional District; Mount Pleasant Michael E. Hutchins, Vice Chairman Second Congressional District; Lexington Jake Rasor Jr. Third Congressional District; Clinton Norman F. Pulliam, Chairman Fourth Congressionval District; Spartanburg James Carlisle Oxner III Fifth Congressional District; Union Duane M. Swygert Sixth Congressional District; Hardeeville Jerry A. Lee Seventh Congressional District; Johnsonville S.C. DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES Robert H. Boyles Jr., Director Deputy Directors Angie Cassella Administration Division Col. Chisolm Frampton Law Enforcement Division Emily Cope Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division Ken Rentiers Land, Water and Conservation Division Blaik Keppler Marine Resources Division MAGAZINE STAFF Joey Frazier, Editor Cindy Thompson, Managing Editor Kathryn Badal Diaz, Art Director Phillip Jones, Photographer Emeritus

Equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from the programs and activities of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources is available to all individuals regardless of age, race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, status as a parent and protected genetic information. Please direct any questions to the SCDNR Office of Human Resources, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202, (803) 734-4400, or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Diversity and Civil Rights, 1875 Century Boulevard, NE, Atlanta, GA 30345, (404) 679-7080/7148. South Carolina Wildlife (ISSN 0038-3198) is published bimonthly by the Office of Media and Outreach of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, 1000 Assembly Street, Rembert C. Dennis Building, Columbia, SC 29201. July-August 2022, Vol. 69, No. 4. Copyright © 2022 by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. No part of the contents of this magazine may be reproduced by any means without the consent of South Carolina Wildlife. Manuscripts or photographs may be submitted to The Editor, South Carolina Wildlife, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167, accompanied by self-addressed envelopes and return postage. The publisher assumes no responsibility for unsolicited material. Subscription rate is $18 per year; Canada and foreign rate $24. Canceled subscriptions will not be refunded. Preferred periodicals postage paid at Columbia, SC, and additional mailing offices. Circulation: 1-800-678-7227; Editorial: (803) 734-3967; Website: POSTMASTER: Send address changes and inquiries to South Carolina Wildlife, Circulation Department, P.O. Box 167, Columbia, SC 29202-0167.

IT IS SUMMER, and though the heat and humidity hasten haze, my thoughts are drawn to the relationships between my sense of well-being and the time I get to spend outdoors. Some of us have, by now, perhaps found an opportunity to vacation out of town, seeking refuge in cool waters or higher elevations to escape the heat. Others head east to the refreshing breezes and salty waters of our Atlantic coast beaches. Along the way we may have reunited with long-lost friends or relatives over a long weekend, restoring and rekindling bonds that have become loose with time. In any case, summer is often viewed through the lens of taking a few days away from the routes and routines of everyday living, and such a break can be refreshing. As we approach the end of summer and anticipate moderating temperatures surely to come, my thoughts are drawn to the relationship between the calendar and the thermometer here in South Carolina. Whether we are conscious of it or not, our lives and routines may be considered in terms of systems — the higher angle of the sun overhead during summer, coupled with the prevailing southerly and southwesterly breezes bring humid air to our state, all combining in a system to make for long, hot, sweltering days. In the same vein, transformation of South Carolina’s landscape may be thought of as a product of systems which combine a friendly and neighborly citizenry, relatively favorable costs-of-living, and a pleasing year-round climate that beckons others to become Sandlappers, and these newcomers need to have a place to live, to work, and to obtain goods and services in support of their better life as South Carolinians. With this “systems thinking” in mind, we are pleased to offer you this installment of South Carolina Wildlife. Most of the stories in this edition relate to how we look at the big picture of conservation through the lenses of particular programs and practices. In the trade we talk a lot about ecosystems, and this issue features some specific pieces on how we work together to protect the best of the outdoors in what South Carolina has to offer. We feature a look at Geographic Information Systems and mapping, pieces on gopher frogs and quail habitat management, and the role of pollinators on the landscape. Additionally, we cover fens in the upstate — those wet, marshy areas that provide such refuge for many important species of wildlife — and take a look at the role that prescribed fire plays in maintaining optimal habitat for such a richly diverse mix of natural resources, particularly in the coastal plain. And so, as you go about your daily routines in the heat of a South Carolina summer, let me encourage you to consider the mysterious nature of your relationship with both the natural world as well as with your fellow wildlife enthusiasts. Because these relationships are central to who we are, I marvel at the complexities of both.

— Robert H. Boyles Jr., Director South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

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Rare Mountain Ecosystems

The Tortoise and the Frog

Let’s explore the world within a fen, which requires groundwater rather than precipitation to recharge.

Clues gathered from gopher tortoise and gopher frog movements signal vital connections to longleaf pine ecosystems in South Carolina.



X Marks the Spot

Focusing on the Big Picture

by Austen Attaway

by Joey Frazier Using GIS technology, SCDNR experts create a treasure map of sorts for our state's natural bounty.

South Carolina Wildlife magazine is dedicated to the conservation, protection and restoration of our state’s wildlife and natural resources, and to the education of our people to the value of these resources. Published by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. SCDNRWildlife website: 2 South Carolina

by Cindy Thompson

by Joey Frazier

For both land managers and landscape artists, the broad view is often the right approach.

WHAT’S COMING UP IN SCW September-October 2022

38 Connecting Corridors is the Focus by Micheal Hook

Creating small game habitat on your property will help piece together a more productive landscape for all wildlife. Connectivity is key!

46 Land of the Pines by Cindy Thompson

Let's go on a stroll through Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve to learn how controlled burns result in lush landscapes, much like the forestlands and savannas described hundreds of years ago.

Join us in the next edition of South Carolina Wildlife as outdoor writer and photographer Marie Goff introduces us to a variety of energetic, quick-witted, loyal and athletic retrievers. Photo by Marie Goff.


DEPARTMENTS 11 20 45 52 56

Certified Solar Habitats Field Notes: Ecosystems in S.C. State Wildlife Action Plan Drones for Habitat Management Carolina Sketchbook

Cover photo of Santee Coastal Reserve WMA by SCDNR Videographer Andrew Busbee. SCW digital publications: Toll free number 1-800-678-7227

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SWAMP PINK growing in an upstate fen. 4 South Carolina Wildlife

Rare Mountain

Ecosystems To ensure that rare and unique ecosystems remain healthy, botanists, biologists and technicians work in teams to manage them. Let’s explore the world within a fen, which requires groundwater rather than precipitation to recharge. T E X T BY AU S T E N AT TAWAY PH OTO S BY AU S T E N AT TAWAY A N D J E S SI CA E G A N JULY / AUGUST 2022 5


n ecosystem is the foundational interactions between plants, animals, climate and landscape to form a bubble of life. Your backyard is part of an ecosystem — the soil under your grass hosting insects, earthworms, fungi and bacteria that work together to break down dead material that is transformed into nutrients to fuel new life. An ecosystem can be as large as a forest that stretches across the landscape for thousands of acres or as small as the area under a rock. Some ecosystems are rare because they need very specific elements to function, such as a certain elevation, amount of rainfall, minerals in the soil, amount of sunlight and the list goes on. One of these rare ecosystems is called a fen. As one of the rarest wetland ecosystems in South Carolina, a fen is a sight to behold. Whether on top of a waterfall flowing over a granitic outcrop, a seepage along the margins of a dammed-up pond, or in a marshy clearing amidst hundreds of acres of oak-hickory forest, fens seem to occur within the most beautiful landscapes that South Carolina’s mountain region has to offer. A fen is a type of wetland occurring as depressions or low-lying seepages along a stream, or along the narrow margins of a stream flowing over bare rock and are often carpeted by a layer of bright green sphagnum moss. Fens depend on groundwater, rather than precipitation, to recharge and maintain saturation. Since this type of ecosystem is rare, the plants that require a fen habitat type are also rare. Fens are rare due to the lack of flat, open depressions and wet rock outcrops that occur in the mountains. They also require regular disturbance, such as fire, to maintain their open habitat characteristic. Over time, without regular disturbance, these wet openings are invaded by trees and shrubs that eventually choke out the sunlight that these rare communities require to persist. However, as with most threatened ecosystems, these fragile communities are also very susceptible to human alteration. Increased impervious surface, such as paved surfaces and roofs, associated with land development can alter water flow by creating increased surface water runoff, 6 South Carolina Wildlife

MOUNTAIN SWEET pitcher plants in an upstate fen.

altering water flow paths, and depleting groundwater recharge. Increased runoff may deliver too much water and sediment to these communities. Likewise, a decline in the water table due to altered flow paths can result in water-level reductions To protect these rare and fragile communities, SCDNR, specifically the Heritage Trust program, has partnered with public and private landowners, performing vegetation surveys, and providing management recommendations so that these communities may persist into the future. When appropriate, SCDNR may acquire properties that contain these communities so that they are permanently protected. Examples of these include Ashmore and Watson-Cooper Heritage Preserves in Greenville County. In the mountain region of South Carolina, we have two different ecological communities of fens, a montane bog and cataract bog. The word “bog” is a misnomer as these communities are indeed fens, rather than bogs. A montane bog is a sphagnumdominated opening occurring in seepage channels along streamside flats. These openings are generally surrounded by a dense wall of shrubs (i.e., rhododendron) that are hard to walk through. In South Carolina, SCDNR owns the property

holding the state’s only known montane bog, which supports the Federally Threatened swamp pink (Helonias bullata). A member of the lily family, swamp pink is a beautiful, unique-looking plant. A pink cluster of flowers with blue stamens sits atop a twelve-inch-long leafless stalk, which sits within a dense basal rosette of flat, glossy leaves. Another rare fen in the South Carolina mountains is the cataract bog. These communities can occur on top of a waterfall flowing over a granitic outcrop or along the margins of small streams that run over smooth rock surfaces. These sites are ideal for a fen habitat because: light is abundant (due to the open rock outcrop), soil moisture is abundant (due to the adjacent stream and seepages) and woody growth is slowed (because the fen is on shallow soil overlaying the rock). Since cataract bogs are rare, they are a hotbed for rare plant species. Rare plants that occur within the cataract bog community include limeseep grass-ofParnassus (Parnassia grandifolia), the Federally threatened white fringeless orchid (Platanthera integrilabia), and rare carnivorous plants such as round-leaf sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), and the Federally endangered mountain sweet pitcher plant (Sarracenia jonesii).

SWAMP PINK (Helonias bullata) in a montane bog. JULY / AUGUST 2022 7


grass pink orchid (above and right). Swamp pink (below) with woody encroachment.

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We have worked hard to protect the remaining fens that we have left in the state. But protection is just one piece of the management puzzle. Fens are threatened by invading woody plants which shade these sensitive plants, keeping them from getting the sunlight that they need. These woody plants also change the hydrology of the ecosystem by sucking up the water that is necessary for the survival of these sensitive plants. This encroaching woody growth is most likely a result of changes in fire frequency in the uplands surrounding the fens. To ensure that the fens we have in South Carolina remain healthy and can persist into the future, we must put a lot of effort into managing them. My team of technicians and I use methods such as “daylighting,” or removing hardwoods and shrubby plants, and prescribed fire to accomplish this. While these may sound like simple tasks, they are not. This past winter a team of SCDNR biologists, technicians and botanists set out to daylight isolated populations of mountain sweet pitcher plants in northern Greenville County. This required hiking a mile or so through thick forest and up and down mountains with chainsaws and loppers to get to the plant sites. We were in search of cataract bogs that occur along a stream that periodically cascades down bare granitic rock. Cutting hardwoods is challenging work, but doing it while staring down a waterfall makes it much more challenging! While at the sites, we cut back limbs of large trees and cut down smaller trees to allow the pitcher plants more light. When we cut down trees, we carefully apply herbicide to the cut portion of the stump so that it doesn’t grow back. Ideally, this will keep woody growth out of the area, but nature always finds a way and eventually it does grow back. Our work is never done! Sometimes we must recruit other staff to accomplish our daylighting goals. Back in September, we decided that it was time to cut back hundreds of alder trees that had grown up and were shading out our largest mountain sweet pitcher

PRESCRIBED BURNS prevent woody plants from growing in sensitive ecosystems.

plant population. With two technicians this work would have taken a week. We asked for the assistance of five additional regional staff and after a full day of pulling, cutting, chopping and herbicide application, we successfully uncovered the pitcher plants and allowed them the sun that they so desperately needed. In addition to daylighting, we also use prescribed fire to manage the woody plant growth surrounding and within fens. This past February we burned a forty-acre area around a pitcher plant site. Conducting a prescribed burn in the mountains is much different than burning a longleaf pine stand in the

coastal plain. The topography is steep and fuel moisture is inconsistent. This area will be periodically burned and we will add new burn blocks around other cataract bogs, keeping the woody plants from growing into these sensitive ecosystems. We will continue to commit ourselves to restoring and maintaining these sensitive ecosystems through land acquisition, daylighting and prescribed fire. In my opinion, it is the most challenging, yet rewarding work there is. Austen Attaway serves as a biologist in SCDNR’s Upstate region. JULY / AUGUST 2022 9

A LONGLEAF PINE SAVANNA supporting yellow pitcher plants (Sarracennia flava).


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Connecting pollinators with a modern power grid.



oing green could result in veritable wildlife deserts, especially as it concerns solar farms that continue to dot the Palmetto State’s rural landscape. As renewable solar power continues to gain popularity across the Southeast, conservationists such as the SCDNR’s Lorianne Riggin saw an alarming trend — a lack of public commenting opportunity, which meant the SCDNR did not have an opportunity to provide input on impacts to natural resources. All the while, these “farms” were gaining ground and a new land use means more competition for habitat and wildlife. As the Director of the SCDNR’s Office of Environmental Programs, Riggin discovered through casual conversation with an SCDNR conservation partner, Audubon South Carolina, that they had similar concerns as the solar industry boomed in South Carolina. “In 2018, with the SCDNR’s support, Audubon South Carolina went to work to get a voluntary certification program bill passed into law,” Riggin said. The Solar Habitat Act allowed the Department of Natural Resources to establish a framework for a voluntary Solar Habitat Certification program to encourage the planting of native pollinator species underneath the panels and/or around the solar site. While the SCDNR supports renewable energy, according to Riggin, this new land use can compete with the needs of wildlife. “Solar farms can adversely affect valuable natural resources if they are not properly planned and constructed,” she said. “However, solar developers have the opportunity to provide increased benefits to our natural resources by developing their solar sites wisely and managing them to create habitat that is suitable for a wide variety of wildlife.” According to the 2015 SCDNR State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP), open cover


lands, often referred to as early successional habitat, have declined dramatically in the last seventy years, she explained. Planting native pollinator plant species at solar farm sites helps to mitigate the decline of early successional habitat, as well as reduce soil erosion, protect water quality and enhance the aesthetic beauty of a solar farm. The program started in 2020 and is


slowly growing. We have one Certified Solar Habitat Site, the Santee Cooper Jamison site in Orangeburg, and five other sites “in progress” status. Riggin said that her hope is that “Solar Habitat Certification will allow an opportunity to make renewable energy even greener.” Visit to learn more! JULY / AUGUST 2022 11



Clues gathered from gopher tortoise and gopher frog movements signal vital connections to longleaf pine ecosystems in South Carolina. 12 South Carolina Wildlife

and t h


G O R F JULY / AUGUST 2022 13

THE GOPHER TORTOISE seeks out loose soil to burrow underground, providing refuge for more than

three hundred fifty species in the pine forest.

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ak trees laden with moss, lush ferns and flowering vines mask the movement of a white-tailed deer picking its path through the forest. The odds are fairly good that this species is finding what it needs to survive — food, water, shelter and space to roam. However, not all species are suited for the same habitats or ecosystems. The design of a plant or animal just might determine where the plant or animal prefers to be. Amidst the rushing rapids of the Catawba River, the strong root system of the enchanting rocky shoals spider lily enables it to flourish between river rocks and withstand swift currents. Their showy, white flower petals offer a perfect landing spot for bees, butterflies and dragonflies that dance and dart overhead. Further upstate, the cliff-dwelling green salamander is using its sticky toe pads to scale mountain rocks and scoot up sturdy trees as it snares insects for dinner. Now, let’s venture through the Sandhills region of the Carolina landscape to observe the design and relationship of the gopher tortoise and the gopher frog. As their names imply, they seem to enjoy the comfort and protection of a cool underground burrow. The gopher tortoise’s stumpy feet are perfectly suited for plowing through this sandy environment. It seeks out upland longleaf pine forests with loose soil, suitable for burrowing. In this unique ecosystem, wiregrass, passion flower, prickly pear, gopher weed and butterfly pea offer food and cover for the slow-moving tortoise. Close by, a gopher frog hops along, seeking out tunnels and grasses for safety. The burrows of the gopher tortoise and tree root systems of the forest provide ideal hiding spots for the stout frog. When it is time to lay its eggs, the gopher frog will navigate in and around root divots, tree stumps and grass clumps to seek out wetland pockets in the forest. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Herpetologist Andrew Grosse monitors reptile and amphibian populations in South Carolina. The ecosystems of frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards and salamanders overlap with a myriad of other species. So, Grosse often teams

up with other wildlife biologists and botanists to work toward a common goal: connecting and properly managing habitats. Longleaf pine forests are often at the core of collaborative conservation efforts. Longleaf Pine Ecosystems “Longleaf pine ecosystems once covered around 90 million acres in the Southeastern United States,” Grosse explains. “Fires burned naturally through the landscape periodically, creating a continuous corridor of diverse and unique habitat types, including an understory composed of various grasses, herbs and wildflowers. This was good for pollinators.” Unfortunately, more than 95 percent of native longleaf pine forestlands have been lost and converted to, well, you name it. “Everyone wants the high, dry areas, so the demand is high for these lands,” he says. Fragmentation of longleaf pine ecosystems is a growing challenge, due to urban expansion and other land uses. As a result, piecing together and restoring pine forest corridors is an ongoing mission of the SCDNR, to prevent the further decline of native flora and fauna populations. This involves extensive annual planning and multi-management practices. “Burning is an important management tool to help keep the vegetative midstory under control and allow sunlight to extend to the forest floor,” says Grosse. “This promotes herbaceous ground cover vegetation, which provides food and shelter for wildlife.” For species like the state endangered gopher tortoise, open canopy pine forests with a thick and diverse herbaceous understory and dry, sandy soils are essential for their persistence in South Carolina. Wildlife biologists work to maintain this ecosystem for gopher tortoises, which are dependent on the diverse herbaceous understory for food and the dry, sandy soils to dig their burrows. “Gopher tortoises dig extensive underground burrows where more than three hundred fifty other species seek refuge from predators and extreme temperatures,” according to Grosse.

The gopher tortoise is a keystone species — which means that other species depend on it to survive, and if it was removed from the ecosystem, the ecosystem would drastically change. One of the species that frequent the tortoise’s burrow is the gopher frog, which depends on underground hideaways for protection in the forest. Within this ecosystem, old stumps can also become a mecca for wildlife that need hiding places, Grosse explains. “Stumps provide refuge for many of the small and cryptic, but equally important, species on the landscape,” he says. “As stumps decompose or burn, they provide multiple holes, tunnels or chambers of underground refugia that are essential. Think of them as underground hotels offering short-term and extended stay opportunities. Not only do many species in the longleaf pine ecosystem depend on underground refugia for survival but many return to the same stump year after year. For gopher frogs, specifically, upland refugia, like stump holes, is only part of the story. To successfully persist on the landscape, gopher frogs also need isolated, ephemeral wetlands to reproduce.” Wetlands are of critical value to the gopher frog and a multitude of other species, and longleaf pine forest ecosystems often envelop or are adjacent to these important pockets of water. Wonderous Wetlands Marshes, estuaries, mudflats, ponds, fens, swamps, coastal reefs, bogs, lakes, floodplains — there are all sorts of wetlands! This vast system of wonderous wetlands captures nutrients and the sun’s energy to produce rich habitats that support living things, big and small (including humans). As mentioned earlier, flora and fauna are designed to thrive in specific ecosystems that are suited to their needs. Wetland ecosystems are essential to a vast array of species, such as the gopher frog. Grosse describes a variety of wetland types and the species that depend on them. “While all wetlands might be used JULY / AUGUST 2022 15

periodically by a suite of species, how long a wetland holds water, or its hydroperiod, determines what species can persist in that area,” Grosse explains. “More permanent lakes and ponds tend to have more fish, which can be significant predators to many frog and salamander species. However, these more permanent wetland types attract species like bullfrogs, green frogs, water snakes, yellow-bellied sliders and alligators that can co-exist. Drains or wetlands that meander through the landscape can create important travel corridors and may harbor state threatened spotted turtles.” In the longleaf pine forest ecosystem, wetlands may appear to be oddly-shaped pockets of water cradled between trees or in a grassy area. During rainy seasons, temporary wetlands will often form in low-lying areas, catching the overflow of floodwaters or drainages and creating new life. This is Mother Nature’s water purifying system and nursery.

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“Isolated, ephemeral wetlands can vary in size and function and be incredibly diverse,” Grosse says. “Species that use these wetlands are completely dependent on the timing and amount of rainfall during the year which determines their reproductive output and success. Additionally, the vegetation structure in each wetland can be an indicator of how suitable it is for different species. Wetlands with a thicker canopy may shade the wetland basin, providing more open water habitat with important leaflitter substrate. “In contrast, isolated ephemeral wetlands with an open canopy tend to have a diverse herbaceous understory, which is incredibly important for hiding, egg attachment and feeding. Adults can hide in and call from the thick vegetation while tadpoles feed on the algae that grows on the vegetation’s surface. “Finally, the wetland edge, or ecotone, is important for reproductive adults to hide,

IN THE PINE FOREST, the gopher frog may travel long distances, from upland areas to wetlands, to lay eggs.

but also provides a place for newly formed frogs and salamanders to hide before making their trek into the surrounding uplands.” Open- canopied, isolated ephemeral wetlands are disappearing throughout the Southeast as a result of development, habitat alteration and lack of management, therefore, restoring or creating new wetland pockets for wildlife is a critical mission of the agency. Grosse describes a recent wetland restoration. “Selected trees were removed to reduce canopy cover and thick midstory growth that prevented sunlight from reaching the wetland basin. At the same time, we work with land managers to include these wetlands in their controlled burn plans, burning preferably when they are dry, to create and maintain the open habitat that is critical to so many species. In well managed wetlands, we can look into additional conservation strategies

that directly impact individual species that use these areas, such as egg collection and captive rearing of tadpoles or larva for release. In short, this process of growing frogs and salamanders in captivity helps bypass their larval stage in the wild, when they are extremely vulnerable, in the hopes of giving them a better chance at survival and recruitment into the adult population.” Grosse adds that the absolute biomass that can come from one wetland is astounding. Some frogs will produce tens of thousands of eggs each year. And within the pine forest ecosystem, frogs are also an essential source of food, ensuring the persistence of many other species. Tracking Wildlife As this story is unfolding, we can see that all species can’t be lumped into the same forest or wetland. Therefore, wildlife biologists continuously conduct surveys to monitor the life cycles of wildlife species to

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WILDLIFE BIOLOGISTS release gopher frog metamorphs in an effort to help increase populations in the pine forests.

The gopher frog grows to a stout size, as shown above. Spadefoot toad on left, compared to gopher frog on right.

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determine their status, preferred habitat and distribution on the landscape to develop best management practices for those species and their habitats. Monitoring species populations is essential to steer land management efforts and gauge success. So how is this done? There are a variety of different techniques used to monitor reptile and amphibian populations. Grosse works with many collaborators and landowners on public and private lands throughout the state. “First and foremost, monitoring numerous species across the state isn’t possible without the help of so many dedicated coworkers and collaborators,” he says. “Additionally, we use a variety of techniques, some more hands on than others. Techniques including acoustic recorders for frog calls and wildlife cameras can be set up and left alone for longer periods of time, while other techniques like trapping or radio telemetry are typically more hands on and labor intensive. All techniques have their pros and cons, and some work better than others for different species.” Grosse monitors a host of reptiles and amphibians, learning from their cues to determine how we can support their landscape requirements. Some species, such as gopher tortoises and southern hognose snakes, require dry, sandy habitats while others can live their entire lives in wetlands. The most challenging, however, are those that require both uplands and wetlands to survive, like the gopher frog. “Not only do gopher frogs need both suitable, well managed uplands and isolated ephemeral wetlands to persist, but they only move to the wetlands to breed

during extensive rainfall events, typically in the winter,” Grosse explains. “Some have been documented using stumps that are more than two miles away from their breeding wetland. This sort of data further emphasizes the importance of wellmanaged, contiguous habitats and the far reach that well managed wetlands can have on the ecosystem.” Pathways for Conser vation Over time, through ongoing research and collaborative conservation efforts, wildlife biologists, botanists and other professionals are determining which ecosystems, habitats and land management practices work best for native flora and fauna. Sometimes the research reveals that regulations are also needed to help protect plants and wildlife that have been overharvested or in danger of being lost due to encroachment. For a species like the spotted turtle, habitat loss, alteration and fragmentation, in addition to anthropogenic impacts from roads and illegal collection, has led to declining populations throughout the state. As a result, spotted turtles are state threatened and protected in South Carolina. According to Grosse, “It’s not just spotted turtles. Turtle populations are declining worldwide, largely due to their demand overseas and in the pet trade. Worldwide, over half of the turtle species, are either extinct or threatened with extinction in the wild.” It goes beyond turtles, too. Many of South Carolina’s reptiles and amphibians are highly sought after by collectors. In the past, weak regulations made South

Carolina a hot spot for illegal collection. Fortunately, in 2020, South Carolina passed new legislation that added protection for all reptiles and amphibians by setting possession limits, limiting transfer of individuals and prohibiting export from our state. “This was a huge win for our reptiles and amphibians and the state of South Carolina,” says Grosse, “The reptiles and amphibians of South Carolina are part of our natural heritage, and this was a strong first step towards ensuring they remain on the landscape for future generations to enjoy.” Par tnerships for the Future The SCDNR encourages public and private landowners to work together to make wise land and water management decisions. Safeguarding the natural resources of the Palmetto State is a vital mission. From steep mountain ridges to lush rolling hills, hardy sandhills and rich saltwater marshes, countless unique ecosystems exist here. Some ecosystems are intact while others have become fragmented by different land uses over time. In response, wildlife biologists, botanists, foresters and other professionals are working together to help rebuild and maintain critical natural landscapes that support South Carolina’s native species. As a result of these ongoing conservation efforts, we are hopeful that species like the gopher tortoise and gopher frog will be able to maintain their unique partnerships in the pine forests of South Carolina. Cindy Thompson is managing editor of South Carolina Wildlife magazine. JULY / AUGUST 2022 19


Ecosystems In South CarolIna



What is an ecosystem? Envision a creek where frogs, fish, turtles, birds, insects and plants flourish. This is a biological community of living organisms that interact with each other in their natural environment. Ecosystems can be large: mountain forests, meadows, longleaf pine savannas, blackwater rivers, coastal marshlands or the Atlantic Ocean. Ecosystems can also be small: farm ponds, Carolina bays, backyards, gardens or even roadsides and gullies. Ecosystems encompass abiotic and biotic components. Abiotic (nonliving) factors include soil, water, sunlight and wind. Abiotic elements support biotic (living) organisms such as plants, reptiles, amphibians, birds, fish, mammals and microscopic organisms. Within ecosystems, each season brings new life, and food chains are constantly in motion. Good soil, fresh water and sunshine enable plants to grow. A diversity of plants produce nutrients, oxygen and shelter for multitudes of other life forms. Some living creatures are carnivorous, meaning they eat animal matter, while herbivores get along just fine eating plants. Omnivores are opportunistic eaters, obtaining energy from both plants and animals.


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Mountain Ecosystems





Food chains, predatorprey relationships and other interactions within an ecosystem can be altered by natural occurrences such as a flood, tornado or drought. Unfortunately, over many centuries, human encroachment has had the greatest impact on ecosystems. Fragmentation, or division, of ecosystems into smaller units has been detrimental to plant and wildlife populations. Picture a parking lot or paved road that is replacing woodlands beside the creek where you use to go fishing or bird watching. An essential part of this natural ecosystem has been lost, and habitats are now fragmented. Species and numbers of wildlife decline. Sounds of frogs and birds can no longer be heard as in past years. And the diversity and abundance of fish no longer exists in the creek. Essential components of soil, water, air, shelter and space have been altered, and this fragmented ecosystem can no longer support species as before. JULY / AUGUST 2022 21

Piedmont and Sandhills Ecosystems




Periodic prescribed burns open the forest floor to enable native species, such as the bobwhite quail, to traverse and thrive.


Upland forests, freshwater wetlands and swamps, grassy fields, streams and coastal marshes can be very fragile. Human occupation and activities have already impacted many of these habitats and ecosystems. South Carolina Wildlife magazine articles, as in this summer special edition, regularly discuss how to create or protect natural habitats to support native plants and wildlife. Cultivating and connecting natural land corridors can reinforce or expand diverse ecosystems in South Carolina.


Coastal Ecosystems






The South Carolina Department of Natural Resources strives to protect, conserve and properly manage the diverse, unique and vital ecosystems of the Palmetto State — many of which are found no other place in the world. Every city park, town square, backyard garden, farm field and forest land is critically important. How can we work together to make a difference? Develop and connect natural corridors, and correctly manage habitats to provide food and shelter for an optimal number of wildlife species. Plant and maintain gardens, backyards, roadsides and idle lands for pollinators. Minimize use of pesticides. Eliminate pollution of soils and waters. Together, we can safeguard the natural bounty found in the Palmetto State and maintain a healthy quality of life for all living beings. Visit to learn more.







SCDNR drone photo by Danielle Kent. Red-cockaded woodpecker (above) and Oconee bell flower



outh Carolina covers more than 32,000 square miles, and within its boundaries you will find mountains, rolling hills, a coastal plain and beaches. If you look a little closer, you will discover hardwood ridges, cypress swamps and fertile lowlands. Some of our state is covered with agriculture, some with old growth forests, a little more with sand hills of scrubby oaks. Upon even closer inspection you will find bobwhite quail living in areas that also support red-cockaded woodpeckers and Venus flytraps on the sandy rim of Carolina bays, where black bears now roam. All this is connected by riverine and forest corridors through ecosystems of inter-dependent habitats and species. Unfortunately, an increasing amount of the Palmetto State is covered by concrete and asphalt, and businesses and residences, leaving less room for the birds and the trees and the squirrels and creeks. Conservationists are keenly aware of the shrinking wild lands around our state and around the country. Here at the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, a few professionals are collecting all that information about species, habitats, land types and their collective locations, then storing it in databases that makes the information shareable in the form of online maps made with GIS (Geographic Information Systems), and those maps may be the key to saving our natural resources locally, regionally and even globally. Day in and day out, you will find Joe Lemeris quietly standing at his workstation, a cup of hot tea in one hand, a computer mouse in the other, as he carefully studies images on his monitor at the SCDNR’s headquarters in Columbia. To a casual observer, he seems to be always looking for something. However, if anyone at the agency knows where to find things — important things such as rare plants, unusual wildlife or interesting natural features — it’s Joe. In his role as one of the agency’s GIS and data managers for the Heritage Trust program, Lemeris not only knows where threatened or endangered species are located, he likely knows why. “I have a biology background with degrees in environmental management and conservation biology,” Lemeris said as he explains how he came to the SCDNR from the State Park Service where he worked previously as a resource management JULY / AUGUST 2022 27



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biologist. Today, as he puts it, his “bread and butter is focused around the rare and endangered species database.” Lemeris and his colleagues manipulate verified natural resources data that is submitted by wildlife biologists, botanists and maybe even members of the public. These digital documents are created from layers of information that tell a story about a particular subject using “location intelligence.” Conservation GIS is important to the SCDNR because it offers a better understanding of challenges facing the natural world. With this set of tools, Lemeris and his team assist the agency in protecting not only imperiled species, but critical habitats as well. It’s a complicated concept. Think of it like this: on a base layer, you might have a map of roads for a particular area. On another layer, you might find buildings and on a third layer you might see vegetation and waterways. Compile all that data into one map, and it will look similar to popular “Google Earth” maps, telling you a bigger story than simply offering you a route to a desired location. Even this explanation is an over simplification. On Lemeris’ maps, scientists, engineers and decision makers, can see much greater detail, such as what kind of trees are in a specific location — maybe a pine savanna in one area where redcockaded woodpeckers are known to nest as compared to an old growth wetland of cypress and tupelo trees that offer shelter to a multitude of species, or the bay trees often associated with the sand-rimmed Carolina Bay formations where rare plants such as Venus flytraps still grow. But this story is about so much more than finding a rare plant or endangered animal. This is really about the protection of our natural resources, and this concept was underscored in a very important way in 1974 when South Carolina became the first state to form a Heritage Trust program, an integral part of SCDNR’s broad scope of responsibilities. “We were the first in the country to come up with this concept,” Lemeris said, “but it spread like wildfire across the United States and into every province in Canada, all with this singular function: to identify species of 30 South Carolina Wildlife

CLOCKWISE FROM TOP RIGHT: A sunrise from Wateree River HP, an upper Santee swamp,

concern and track their populations over time and location.” Although technology at the time was not on their side, developers were aware of the need for a scientific or standard methodology of collecting information to make compilations and comparisons produce predictable results over a range of locations. According to Lemeris, data from North Carolina can be combined with data from South Carolina or Virginia or Georgia to produce consistent data-driven maps with reliable results. “You have to have a standard method

for collection and maintaining these data in order to make any sense of it across the entire range of species,” Lemeris said. Further, he explains how biologists use this information to rank species and ecosystems from critically imperiled (S1) to secure (S5). Even more interesting is how the “story” these maps tell is rooted in the relationships of species to their locations. Each state operates independently within its own government, according to Lemeris, but, because of the methodology, the data can be shared through an organization called NatureServe, a network hub of

a sandy rim and a pine savanna at Lewis Ocean Bay HP.

sorts for natural heritage programs and conservation data centers (as they are called in Canada) across North America. All this data can be used in a variety of ways, Lemeris explained. Besides using the data simply as a system for locating species and habitats, it can also be used for regulatory purposes for our agency to respond to or comment on proposed or ongoing projects that may create impacts on a species of varying concern or on a complete ecosystem. Sometimes, governments may propose new roads that may bisect a critical feature such as a Carolina bay or a county may consider

a new boat ramp that might impact old growth cypress trees or even cultural/ historical resources. In these cases, decision makers, as well as scientists and engineers, look to the SCDNR’s GIS resources for guidance through the stories their maps can tell about our state as they weigh the potential gains or consequences of projects on our landscape. It’s an ongoing program as the data is best if kept current. As new features are discovered, the data gets updated. If a project calls for a search for a possible species, up-to-date web maps offer the most

accurate clues about where to look. All this information gives our GIS team the ability to create what Lemeris calls distribution maps of places where a particular target may be found, thereby offering predictability before actual ground surveys for species take place. This saves a lot of time and money, too. “For example, we know there is only one population of swamp pink in the state. Or maybe not. Maybe others are simply undiscovered,” Lemeris said. “If your data for that species is good enough, you can use GIS to predict where a species could possibly exist reasonably well.” Now using a web-based GIS platform developed by ESRI, GIS professionals can house all their data and publish it online, according to Lemeris. There are even websites with forms for the public to submit location information that must first be verified and then put into the database. Biologists are now able to use the cellular devices to input data in the field creating much less work back at the office. With all this data at our fingertips — well, at Joe Lemeris’ fingertips — we are even able to predict marsh migration into the future as we record rising sea levels. So, whether we need location information about the past, present or future of a species, or its relationships to the surrounding environment, GIS offers the SCDNR a reliable tool for conservation. And the maps look pretty cool, too. “Although my background is analytical, I am very interested in all of the natural world,” Lemeris said. “GIS gives us the data we need for our work to be successful, but the maps also offer a little something for my artistic side, too. It’s this blend of the scientific and the creative worlds that really gets me excited.” Joey Frazier is editor of South Carolina Wildlife. CHECK OUT THIS SCDNR VIDEO: HOW SCDNR USES GIS MAPPING FOR CONSERVATION JULY / AUGUST 2022 31


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ometimes you just “can’t see the forest for the trees.” British poet John Heywood gets credit for this little literary gem — words he first wrote in a similar phrase in 1546. Today, landscape artist Philip Juras might agree with Heywood’s proverb. Juras paints southern landscapes, and at least some of them have a unique characteristic — you might call those works historical landscapes. Juras paints them with a broad view (the forest) and less intimate detail (the trees) that might distract from the beauty of the grasslands and prairies that were common in the Palmetto State from a time long before Heywood penned his famous quote. 34 South Carolina Wildlife

“I usually paint places that actually exist today,” Philip Juras said. “But I want to paint them the way they looked when Europeans first came to North America — the way the landscape looked when William Bartram traveled here.” One of his paintings that features a South Carolina setting is titled “Keowee Valley,” (see page 32). That piece depicts a river valley in what is now Pickens County long before a lake ever existed there. “I just want to know what places used to be like,” Juras said. He admits to being inspired by nature, but just as much, Juras seems to be guided by history. He even published a book of

his historical landscapes in 2011, The Southern Frontier: Landscapes Inspired by Bartram’s Travels. For much of that project, he explains how he visited sites that offered him a glimpse of the past, small parcels where native grassland remnants still exist, to get a feel for the scene and the lay of the land. His historical paintings are not just created in his imagination; Juras relies on research to paint the way a particular scene could have looked, particularly grasslands, before they were converted to agriculture or invaded by hardwood forests. The grasslands of the southeast disappeared with the settlement of the

continent in the 18th and 19th centuries as the longleaf pine savannas of the coastal plain were clearcut and settlement encroached on prairies and glades of the piedmont and mountains. Once the land was tamed and the ancient history of frequent burning was extinguished, the grasslands withered, replaced by a fire intolerant canopy that shaded out the plants important to many grassland species such as red cockaded woodpeckers and bobwhite quail. With settlement, fires once started by lightning strikes, along with those set by Native Americans, occurred less frequently and, in time, even the fires used by settlers to manage the land disappeared

as well. Today, land managers, such as SCDNR Wildlife Biologist Johnny Stowe (page 46), have become experts in the use of prescribed fire to recreate, at least in part, some of the grassland features that were home to so many plant and animal species that are today extremely rare. Although Juras grew up in a suburban setting in Augusta, Georgia, he explains that his was a family that valued being out in nature. They spent a lot of time in National Forests and Heritage Preserves, escaping the sameness of the suburbs for natural spaces rich in native plants and animals, places where nature has run its course for millennia. For the family, and especially for Philip, the attraction

continues to this day. “Where that started is hard to remember,” Juras said. “It may have been when I found a broken arrowhead in our backyard. My family spent a lot of time outdoors and, when you focus on nature, that brings you to look to the past, what the world was like before the roads and farms and buildings existed.” Even more profoundly, Juras realized that knowing the successes and failures of history only makes one want to take those lessons to shape a better future. And, to some degree, his art is the art of conservation — a look at the ecosystems that once dominated the Southeast and, sadly, now only dot our landscape.

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Juras even paints the controlled burns used by both the Georgia and South Carolina natural resources departments, as he sees not only beauty in the colors of the smoke and flames, but hopes to underpin the message that fire is important on southern landscapes to preserve the ecological past, as we hope to create a better tomorrow for new generations. “My paintings of wildfires are a real challenge artistically,” Juras said. “When a fire is going in front of you, it’s a very fast-changing scene. So, I am forced to paint very quickly using broad brush strokes. I stay focused on the colors and the composition, not intricate details.” Juras explains that he has learned from land managers and wildlife biologists that broad strokes are good for the conservation of many species, too. It’s a concept some call landscape management. And fire is often an integral part of the prescription for healthy ecosystems. Just as Juras uses a brush to wash over a canvas, Johnny Stowe and his colleagues

often use a swath of flames to “paint” a landscape. With broad strokes of fire or the thinning of trees or light discing of hardpan, even the most stubborn scrubby landscapes can be transformed into the lush grasslands of Bartram’s day. And the echoes of the past one might see in Juras’ paintings will be the whisper of hope for a brighter future where our children and grandchildren might be able to think more about enjoying the natural world instead of fretting over the need to save it. In a way, the landscape paintings that Juras creates should be a stark reminder of the big picture nature will paint for us if we just let it. “Working on any painting is always a journey, and you don’t always know exactly where it is going,” Juras said. “I generally have a good idea because of the kind of work I do, but you don’t really know where it’s going until you get there.” Joey Frazier is editor of South Carolina Wildlife.

To learn more about Philip Juras, visit https://www.philipjuras. com. His work will be on display in Augusta, Georgia during an art exhibit, The View From Here: Three Master Painters Consider the Landscape: Recent Work by John Cleaveland, Julyan Davis, and Philip Juras, from June 11 to September 11, 2022 at Morris Museum of Art, Augusta, Georgia. JULY / AUGUST 2022 37

Connecting Corridors is the Focus BY MICHAEL HOOK


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BOBWHITE QUAIL and other small species travel through corridors that offer shelter and food, as shown above. There are five SCBI focal areas in South Carolina (see map) that serve as anchors for statewide habitat connectivity.


ver the years, you may have heard that the S.C. Department of Natural Resources has been working hard to restore quail and grassland bird habitat across the state. If you remember, the effort began in earnest in 2015 with the birth of the SC Bobwhite Initiative (SCBI). The SCBI aims to promote, encourage and create early successional habitat in a manner to change bobwhite quail and other grassland bird species populations at a landscape level. Prior to this effort, bobwhite restoration was seen as a shotgun approach with some habitat work being completed in various and unrelated portions of the state. This approach was wholly unsuccessful at restoring the landscape for birds across the state. Yes, you could enhance the population at a local level, but it was never enough to change the trajectory of the population at a statewide level. With the advent of the SCBI, the approach changed, and the trajectory of the bobwhite’s population has changed as well. The chief manner in which the SCBI’s approach was different was connectivity. In

the past when an island of early successional habitat was created, it was never at a scale in which it could really enhance the population across the landscape. No matter how good the habitat was and no matter how many birds were created on the property, the excess birds had nowhere to go in the neighboring community if they tried to expand their range. This was the downfall of the shotgun approach. The habitat created was simply too far away from other good habitats to be effective in creating more than a local population boom. The SCBI’s new approach looked to remedy this issue by creating a network of connectivity. Connectivity is important not only at a landscape level, but it is just as important at the individual property level as well. You do not have to have 100 percent of your property in prime bobwhite quail habitat to have a covey of quail. You do have to have the three elements necessary for bobwhites to survive, but they can be spread out across your property. Bobwhites need brood habitat. That is,

they need a place the adults can take the chicks to find bugs in the summer once the chicks are hatched. Brood cover is generally thick, native forbs and weeds that have an umbrella-shaped growth structure with a low stem density at the ground. This structure gives the chicks cover from above, while being open enough to move around unimpeded underneath while chasing the abundant bugs in the leafy canopy. Bobwhites need nesting cover. They need a place for the adults to lay eggs in the spring and summer. Nesting cover is generally composed of native warm season grasses. These bunch grasses provide a tuft of dead grasses left over from the previous year, which is perfect for burrowing a nest into, while the tall new growth creates a canopy of cover over the birds protecting them from avian predators. Finally, bobwhites need escape cover. Escape cover is simply hard, woody cover that the birds can utilize to escape from the myriad of predators that bobwhites encounter every day. Most of the time escape cover comes in the form of blackberry brambles or native plum patches. All three of these elements have to be present on a property for bobwhites to exist, but, as stated above, they do not have to cover your property. The key to successful bobwhite management on a single property is to have all three habitat types in close proximity to each other and connected by some means of suitable habitat. A good example of this is when a farmer has a field border around his field to provide much needed habitat for quail. The field border is only a small portion of his property, but it plays a significant part in the health of the bobwhite population on his property because that field border provides a constant link to the various habitat across the property, ensuring that the bobwhite has all essential habitat types available with relative ease. The landscape level vision of the SCBI is very similar to the farmer’s approach, just at a larger scale. In South Carolina, there are currently five focal landscape regions where work is being completed. These landscape regions are spread around the state and consist of a two to three county area. The idea is to create an anchor property in a JULY / AUGUST 2022 41


42 MICHAEL South Carolina Wildlife SMALL

certain landscape within the state that can act as a building block for the bobwhite population in the focal region. These anchor properties, also known as focal areas, are properties where intensive bobwhite management will occur. These areas can act as demonstration areas for landowners who are interested in learning how to manage their own properties for bobwhite quail and other early successional species who use these types of habitats. If done correctly, these focal area properties can become a source for bobwhites across the local landscape. Once the focal area is up and running, local farm bill biologists are on the ready to assist private landowners to create habitat on their own land. In South Carolina, there are farm bill biologists who work in each focal landscape to assist landowners on a daily basis. These farm bill biologists are available to meet with landowners on their own property to provide technical habitat assistance and to also assist in finding funds available for much of the habitat creation associated with managing for bobwhite quail. This effort is put in place to create the connectivity that is so vital to the bobwhite quail. By concentrating efforts within a few counties surrounding a quail focal area, good habitat is spread evenly across the landscape, creating corridors of good habitat. As more private landowners create habitat on their property, no matter how large or how small, a patchwork of quail habitat is created. It is not a blanket of habitat but a network of nodes, streams and chunks of habitat. If you need a visual of this, simply think of the branches of a tree radiating from the trunk. A squirrel might not be able to jump from trunk to trunk, but it can definitely use the limbs and branches to go from tree to tree no matter how small the tip of the branch ends up. The same holds true for the bobwhite. As long as there are patches existing across the landscape, bobwhites can utilize it to move from areas of existing habitat to another existing habitat no matter how small the patches are on individual properties. This patchwork of habitat created in today’s SCBI focal regions mimics the patchwork of habitat that used to exist across the state many decades ago when there were abundant

PARTRIDGE PEA, a favorite food of bobwhite quail (opposite) and other granivorous

species, blooms during late summer and fall.

small farms and woodlots that created quail habitat by their unsophisticated farming and timber management practices. In other words, we now have to work a little harder and everyone has to be cognitive of the fact that we all need to do a little work to create the conditions that we used to create accidentally many years ago. You may wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze? Is all this effort to bring bobwhites back across the state worth it? We certainly think so. Remember, bobwhite quail is only one of a long list of species that use these early successional habitats. When is the last time you heard a whippoorwill or a meadow lark? They use the same habitat as quail. So does Bachman’s sparrows, monarch butterflies, flatwood salamanders, fox squirrels, Appalachian cottontails and gopher tortoises. They are all in decline just like bobwhite quail. And guess what? They all use similar habitats. So yes, while we are trying to create quail habitat across the state, it’s actually more than just quail. It’s about helping an often-underserved habitat type that is in severe need of assistance. So even if landowners within these focal regions attempt to create quail habitat and never see or hear a bobwhite quail, they have likely created habitat for some creature that dearly

needed it. The SC Bobwhite Initiative is currently in its seventh year of existence. It took some time to whip the anchor properties into shape and pumping out quail like they should be. It has taken some time to speak with landowners and get them to buy into creating quail habitat. Over time, a couple of landowners have become sparkplugs to the local focal regions by showing their friends, families and neighbors what they were doing and how they were being successful. Slowly but surely, good early successional habitat has been created within these focal regions. The habitat isn’t perfect on every property, but it doesn’t have to be. A network of suitable quail habitat is being laid down across the state, and the bobwhite quail is being heard in many places that it hasn’t been heard in a long time. This couldn’t have been done without the private individuals who put in the time and effort on their properties to create the connecting quail habitats across the state. SCDNR Small Game Program Leader Michael Hook, page 39, serves on the National Bobwhite Technical Committee and South Carolina Bobwhite Initiative. JULY / AUGUST 2022 43

WASHO RESERVE at Santee Coastal Reserve WMA. Photo by Andrew Busbee. 44 South Carolina Wildlife

The Plan: Where Conservation Begins TEXT BY JOEY FRAZIER


hat do gopher frogs, shortnose sturgeon and wood storks have in common? All of these species appear in the South Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan (SWAP). The real question is this: what is a state wildlife action plan in the first place? “SWAPs are guidance documents that offer a proactive approach to the conservation of species of concern,” said Anna Huckabee Smith, the SCDNR’s State Wildlife Action Plan coordinator. She further explains how the plan addresses threats by mitigating for them before species become “critically imperiled.” Unfortunately, some species already are listed as endangered or threatened through the federal Endangered Species Act, and the SWAP offers strategies for the recovery of those species, too. Of course, implementing the strategies proposed by the SWAP costs money. Luckily, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has grant funding available annually to help states with their individual conservation plans, and the SWAP is required for states to receive that funding. Further, the plan ensures that state agencies properly prioritize management actions which often cover non-game species that may not have dedicated funding sources. There are eight components to every wildlife action plan, including: distribution, threats, mitigation actions, monitoring plans, a revision process (at least every ten years), implementation strategies and public input. She explains that South Carolina’s SWAP includes 494 animals and 332 plant species for a total to 826 species. Although SWAPs include both fauna and flora, plants are not eligible for funding unless they are part of a “whole habitat approach,” according to Smith. Just writing and revising South Carolina’s State Wildlife Action Plan is a big job, but Smith and her colleagues realize that it is not enough just to know about the plants and animals that face threats to their very survival.

WOOD STORK with chicks. Photo by Christy Hand.

“Biologists within the agency and our university partners take those ideas [from the SWAP] and create projects funded through State Wildlife Grants and Competitive State Wildlife Grants (multi-state) to address these needs,” Smith said. “Another way is to utilize the SWAP to help identify habitat types across South Carolina’s ecoregions that should be protected from conversion to incompatible uses [development].”

The down-listing of wood storks from endangered to threatened in 2014 represents one recent SWAP success story. “The SWAP brings attention to tracked species, habitats and their plight,” Smith said. “This can result in media posts and articles related to these rare or declining species and their habitats, which could directly or indirectly lead to new protections for those species.” Visit to learn more. JULY / AUGUST 2022 45



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thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community,” Aldo Leopold wrote in his collection of essays, titled A Sand County Almanac. Leopold spent a lifetime learning from nature while studying mankind’s mark on the natural landscape, and many of his essays were the culmination of these reflections. From his fieldwork with the U.S. Forest Service to, in 1933, becoming the world’s first professor of wildlife management, his life’s work would eventually pave the way for countless biologists, botanists, foresters, ecologists and other professionals who have followed in his footsteps. Harnessing the inspiring words of Leopold and legends like him, Johnny Stowe sets out each morning to restore South Carolina forestlands and savannas to their former glory, gleaning direction from the landscape and images that Native Americans and early explorers once illustrated. Serving as Region Two 48 South Carolina Wildlife

Heritage Preserve manager for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Stowe seamlessly wears the hats of both forester and wildlife biologist. There is a balance in his approach to land management that produces great results — restoring ecosystems that support a diversity of native flora and fauna. And with the aid of his drip torch, he is sculpting and safeguarding native landscapes for the future. When on a walk alongside Stowe in the longleaf pine forests of the South, you’ll likely learn a thing or two about the history of this native ecosystem and how to properly manage it. He may reflect on lessons learned from professors during his formative college years at the University of Georgia. He will also point to clues from the past, evidenced in the soil, water, flora and fauna that are part of the landscape. All these things he loves to share with folks, for the simple joy of passing down words of wisdom from his elders and mentors, and to

pass along a fiery torch earned from many years of experience in the field — applying controlled burns to manage the land. GAINING INSIGHT FROM OUR PAST Let’s take a brief look back in time, before we move along. Throughout history, the planet, and especially the landscape of Southeastern North America, has

SCDNR’S JOHNNY STOWE and Savanah Hebler survey Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve, where they apply prescribed burns to clear brush and enable sunlight to reach the forest floor. Pitcher plants, bobwhite quail and many other species thrive here as a result of periodic controlled burns.

intrinsically been connected to frequent fire, whether caused by lightning, or by man. The South’s iconic longleaf pinelands are vastly important to the native flora, fauna and people of the region. Over many millennia, this rich ecosystem has developed an inextricable link with fire. Pinus serotina, or pond pine, as described in 1803 by André Michaux, is an example of a species dependent on fire. Pond pine produces

tightly closed cones which retain seeds until exposed to fire, and moreover, it is a prolific sprouter, another adaptation to being burned again and again. During a tour of Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve, Stowe stops to pick up one of the pond pine cones waiting to open on the forest floor. “Longleaf pine ecosystems are firedependent forests, woodlands and savannas that once covered 25 to 35 million hectares from Virginia to Texas and way down into Florida,” he explains. “The ecological integrity of these ecosystems, including high levels of biodiversity, is dependent on fire every one to five years. But longleaf landscapes vary from place to place, and the way-cool species found with longleaf in the Carolinas are often different than those found elsewhere. The one common thing they are adapted to, and need, is the

ecological imperative — wildland fire.” In addition to fire caused by lightning, man has applied fire to the landscape for thousands of years. “Fire is an ancient part of who we are as humans. It is part of our innermost core,” says Stowe. “Native Americans used fire to create and maintain wildlife habitat, to drive wildlife when hunting, to stimulate berry and nut production, to fire-proof their villages, in rituals and ceremonies, and for dozens of other reasons — and I have no doubt that they also burned the land to make it a beautiful and pleasant place in which to live.” Over the past hundred years or so, the use of fire for agricultural purposes and land management has held strong in much of the South. Wildlife biologists, botanists and foresters all promote controlled burning as an effective tool in ecosystem management. JULY / AUGUST 2022 49

Savanah Hebler, a former student intern, is now working fulltime alongside Region Two Heritage Preserve Manager Johnny Stowe. Hebler’s contributions are already taking shape on the SCDNR properties where she is taking the lead on controlled burns and other land management techniques.

For Stowe, burning the woods every year brings back wonderful memories of his upbringing. “I grew up in the ridges and hollers of the mountain longleaf pine firelands on the Alabama and Georgia line,” he says. “The places I fell in love with as a kid were the rough and rugged ridges. These places were the most isolated parts of the landscape, the wildest places around, where farming was only on a small scale, and much of the land had not been cleared and tamed. The long needles, big cones and fire-blackened trunks of the longleaf, growing in places where we hunted big, rusty-hued fox squirrels, and deer and turkey — these will always be the home of my heart. Folks used to burn the mountains every year in early spring. People understood fire. The mountains would be smoking for two or three months. Fire crept here and there, seldom getting intense, because the fuels never built up.” These vivid memories of his youth are punctuated by the day he got the opportunity to walk alongside his grandfather during a controlled burn. “I remember the first time they let me string fire, to drag a real, sho-nuff line of fire myself,” Stowe continues. “I was with my Grandpa Brewster and I was barefooted 50 South Carolina Wildlife


with my britches’ legs rolled up, and no shirt and no shoes on. Before that day I just got to watch and poke around in the embers. Without preamble, Grandpa said with a grin, ‘You can’t light fire barefooted.’ It hit me like tearing into Christmas morning presents that today was my day! I lit out for the house, grabbed my boots and took off running back — I remember my feet lightly touching the ground and feeling like I was

almost flying.” It was in his late teens when he was working for Hiwassee Land Company when he got to light fires with modern tools like a drip torch. But, never forgetting the memories of his homeplace, he has held on tightly to the Brown Mule plug tobaccostained pocketknife that his grandpa kept handy to cut the broomsedge bunches, used for controlled burns.

Often, up to that point they were still skeptical, but they came around when we started telling them about how so many cool critters and plants depend on fire — such as the iconic fox squirrels, and bobwhite quail and all kinds of grasslands birds, fire-loving orchids and pitcher plants and sundews, and the unique-to-the-Carolinas Venus flytrap. “The last few years when folks ride by and see us burning they are almost always happy to see it. It feels really good to know the people we work for appreciate what we do.”

HERITAGE PRESERVES in the Pee Dee region encompass upland habitats with pockets of wetlands. The proximity of these diverse ecoystems is critical for many native species to survive.

LONGLEAF LEGACIES It may seem contradictory to learn that a controlled fire or prescribed burn instigates new life. Yet, in southern pinelands, without periodic fire, a thick understory quickly takes hold and spreads across the forest floor. This blanket of brush shields the ground from the sun, preventing a vast array of plants to sprout and populate. These lush and nutritious plants are essential to the survival of many wildlife species. Without this periodic clearing of brush, the forest can become an ecological desert, void of beneficial plant life that is desirable for its

own sake, as well as providing food and cover for wildlife. “One of the coolest things I have seen in my career is society’s acceptance of fire and landowners’ keen desire to get their land burned,” says Stowe. “Twenty-seven years ago, when I first started burning heritage preserves and wildlife management areas, visitors frequently drove up alarmed, asking how it started and were we going to be able to put it out before it spread further. We’d explain that we lit it on purpose, after a lot of planning and preparation, and we were well-trained.

PASSING DOWN THE TORCH Restoring native ecosystems is a part of Stowe’s mission, just about every day. In addition to his role at the SCDNR, he serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Wildland Fire and was a founding member of the South Carolina Prescribed Fire Council to help underscore the importance of controlled burns in fire-dependent landscapes here in South Carolina and worldwide. Stowe’s lessons to others about pine forest management are straightforward, and the proof is in the lush ecosystems found at Lynchburg Savanna Heritage Preserve (pictured here in this article) and many other public lands that he helps manage. He says that prescribed fire recruiting and training is essential in his line of work, as the demand for controlled burns, at times, outweighs what the workforce is able to accomodate. “One of the coolest things I get to do is show people how to burn,” says Stowe. “It’s great to have students burn with me. And it’s hard work. Fire is a wonderful tool, but must be treated with respect.” Leopold’s profound words, “Our job is to sharpen our tools and make them cut the right way,” live on through the work of Stowe, his colleagues and student interns who manage the longleaf pine ecosystems. According to Stowe, “If we share what we do and why, and show the results, onthe-ground, where it counts, we can help more people understand these management tools, and connect them with the land we all live on and depend upon.” Cindy Thompson is managing editor of South Carolina Wildlife magazine. JULY / AUGUST 2022 51



rom the mountains to the sea, drones give us the opportunity for a new angle in which we can see the importance of our state’s natural resources and their roles in diverse ecosystems. Not only can drones take incredible pictures, but they are a tool used in construction, farming and firefighting. They assist with search and rescues, transport medicine to remote areas and even deliver pizzas!? More specifically, SCDNR uses drones for mapping, research, land management and education. Drones save time and money and provide a safe way to conduct research. Use of drones by the public on SCDNR property is prohibited. These drone images, taken by SCDNR videographers and photographers, are provided to agency professionals as a tool to help manage the natural landscape for native plants and wildlife in South Carolina. All SCDNR drone operators have their remote pilot certificate issued by the FAA. If you fly a drone, make sure you follow all the state and federal rules and regulations. Visit to learn more.

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Keeping up with your SCW magazine subscription is as easy as 1,2,3! 1. Check your SCW magazine mailing address label on back cover. Look at expiration date. 2. Is it time to renew? If so,visit or (Your ten-digit subscription number is on mailing label.) 3. Or mail a check to South Carolina Wildlife magazine, PO Box 1928, Fort Mill, SC 29716. ($18 for one year, or $30 for two years.) And you’re all set for another year!


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