Adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands promotes conservation of these vital habitats around the world. Renowned Ramsar sites include Africa's Okavango Delta and the Florida Everglades, but there are presently nearly 1,750 sites that have been designated as Wetlands of International Importance, covering a surface area of 161 million hectares, in the 158 countries that are parties to the treaty. The relatively small Beidler Forest, covering 15,000 acres, will become the 23rd Ramsar site in the U.S. and the first Audubon Sanctuary in the country to achieve the Ramsar designation.
Beidler Forest is home to the largest remaining virgin forest of bald cypress and tupelo gum trees in the world, including 1500 year-old trees long vanished from the rest of North America. Audubon has managed the forest sanctuary for 35 years.
"Audubon is pleased that the unique conservation value of Beidler Forest is being recognized 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. The importance of a system like Beidler Forest cannot be overstated."
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 the 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 the Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) a flower found only in South Carolina at Four Holes Swamp at Beidler Forest
"These wetlands are essential to the people of South Carolina," said Norm Brunswig, Director of Audubon South Carolina. "Beidler's 430,000-acre watershed represents one-third of the total watershed of the longest, free-flowing black water river in the U.S., the Edisto. Audubon's work upstream helps to guarantee the quantity, quality and delivery schedule of water downstream to places like the ACE Basin National Estuarine Reserve and Wildlife Refuge."
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 logging; nearby limestone quarries 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
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