At yesterday's December 4th celebration of Beidler Forest's designation as a Ramsar Wetland of International Importance, the Governor signed the proclamation and unveiled the new dedication plaque commemorating the honor. Norman Brunswig, Executive Director of Audubon South Carolina said, "The Ramsar designation is the 'Oscars' of wetland conservation and validation of more than 35 years of work on wetlands essential to the people of South Carolina. We are gratified to have the Governor's support and encourage all of you to come see us and help support this rare ecosystem."
Beidler's 430,000-acre watershed represents one third of the total watershed of the longest, free-flowing black water river in the US, the Edisto. The need to protect this vital resource from a host of threats, including sprawl, poorly controlled mining and timber operations, and industrial agriculture, continues.
Purchased by the Audubon Society and The Nature Conservancy in 1969, Francis Beidler Forest originally comprised just over 3,400 acres of Four Holes Swamp. Within that stand were the 1,783 acres of old-growth forest, one of the largest forests of its kind on Earth.
Home to 1,000-year old trees and abundant native wildlife, the Sanctuary has welcomed several hundred thousand visitors and school children from all over the state, the country and the world. Since 1977, the Sanctuary has grown to nearly 16,000 acres of land owned and managed by Audubon, with several thousand additional acres protected by private conservation easements in and around the swamp. Brunswig believes "Audubon and its conservation partners can grow the sanctuary to 25,000 acres or more as we add wider upland buffers, more habitats and make connections to other protected areas in Four Holes Swamp and the Edisto River."
Earlier this year in May, Francis Beidler Forest was named the first Audubon Sanctuary in the U.S. to receive a Ramsar designation at the annual Ramsar Meeting in Washington, D.C. One of only 23 Ramsar sites in the entire country, Beidler Forest is now in the company of other famous Ramsar sites such as Everglades National Park, Chesapeake Bay, and Africa's Okavango Delta in Botswana.
"Audubon is proud that the extraordinary Beidler Forest is being honored by the International Ramsar Convention;" said John Flicker, President of the National Audubon Society. "This designation underscores the importance of protecting and preserving our wetlands; when they disappear, so do birds and other wildlife, as well as natural flood protection."
Favored by hundreds of thousands of birds that migrate to South Carolina after wintering in South America, the region was recognized as an Important Bird Area in 2001.
"Beidler Forest is one of only a few sites in the U.S. recognized as both an Important Bird Area and a Ramsar site; "said John Cecil, Director of the Important Bird Areas Program for Audubon and the Society's Representative on the U.S. Ramsar Committee. "This dual acknowledgement celebrates not only the beauty and rich biodiversity found at Beidler, but the collaboration of Audubon, its partners, and the communities in and around Beidler. Each has played an essential role in conserving this jewel."."
Some of the 140 bird species that nest or make migratory stops in Beidler are on Audubon's list of Common Birds in Decline, including Northern Bobwhite, Eastern Meadowlark, Loggerhead Shrike, Field Sparrow, Common Grackle, Whip-poor-will, and Little Blue Heron. The forest's Red-headed Woodpecker, Swallow-tailed Kite, Wood Thrush, Prothonotary Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Painted Bunting, Rusty Blackbird, and Swainson's Warbler are on the Audubon WatchList.
These wetlands are also home to rare plants, including Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) a rare flower found only in South Carolina at Four Holes Swamp at Beidler Forest
Farming has replaced forest over of the adjacent uplands. Droughts over the past several decades have triggered interest by farmers in damming tributary swales as emergency sources of irrigation water. Other Threats to the ecosystem include inappropriate logging; nearby limestone quarries sand and fill-dirt mines; non-point-source water runoff from surrounding farms; incompatible land uses; farming on the bluffs above the floodplain; urban sprawl from Charleston and Summerville to the east; residential development due to sprawl and industrial development as a result of Highway I-26's proximity; and poorly designed or maintained private septic systems that pose a risk of bacteria contamination to the Four Holes Swamp and its tributaries.
The Audubon Center at Beidler Forest offers a full range of environmental educational opportunities. In 2007 over 12,000 people visited the Audubon Center at Beidler Forest, contributing to the National Audubon Society's nationwide effort to connect people with nature.
The Convention on Wetlands, known as the Ramsar Convention, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. The Convention's mission statement commits the State Parties to the Convention to "the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world." www.ramsar.org
Audubon South Carolina, the state arm of the National Audubon Society, is composed of 4,000 statewide members, six local chapters, eleven staff members and five centers and sanctuaries, all actively engaged in protecting birds, other wildlife and their habitats. The Audubon South Carolina headquarters are located at Francis Beidler Forest, near Harleyville S.C. http://sc.audubon.org