Considered one of the most outstanding gifts to wildlife conservation in North America, the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center was willed to the SC Department of Natural Resources in 1976 by the late Tom Yawkey.
The Wildlife Center embraces North, South and most of Cat Island, three coastal islands located at the mouth of Winyah Bay in Georgetown County, SC. Composed of approximately 31 square miles of marsh, managed wetlands, forest openings, ocean beach, longleaf pine forest and maritime forest, the Center is principally dedicated as a wildlife preserve, research area and waterfowl refuge.
Those familiar with the preserve's recent history know the present-day Wildlife Center has gradually changed from a hunting preserve to a waterfowl refuge over the years. Since post-Civil War Reconstruction, marshlands around Winyah Bay and the Santee Delta have been highly valued for waterfowl. When the former South Island Plantation came into the Department's hands, Yawkey had managed it in recent decades as a game preserve primarily for waterfowl.
Before the end of Yawkey's ownership, the South Island preserve earned the reputation as one of the most outstanding waterfowl refuges on the Atlantic Flyway. To ensure his conservation practices would be advanced beyond his lifetime, Yawkey bequeathed the property to the SC DNR to be used for all time for wildlife management, education and research. A $10,000,000 perpeutal trust fund was also left to the Yawkey Foundation Trustees who grant income from the fund for the property's total operation.
Yawkey's will is a tribute to his foresight as a conservationist, for the property's preservation not only cements the linkage among some 66 miles of publicly owned pristine beach front stretching toward Charleston, but also provides an excellent 20,000-acre field laboratory where the potential for research is unlimited. The will stipulates that the islands will be used essentially as they were under Yawkey's stewardship. NOT OPEN TO PUBLIC
The Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center has a long history of waterfowl management.
Federally Endangered birds found at Yawkey are Wood Stork and Red-cockaded Woodpecker, which reside here year-round. Piping Plover are found here all except breeding season. Least Tern occur Breeding Season, Summer and Fall. Peregrine Falcons are found here all except breeding seasons. WatchListed birds which occur at Yawkey year-round are: Bald Eagle, Common Ground-dove, Black Rail, Black Skimmer, Barn Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Northern Bobwhite. Those found here Winter, Summer and Fall are American Bittern. Those found here Breeding Season, Summer and Fall are Wilson's Plover, Painted Bunting and Gull-billed Tern. At leat 1000 waterfowl, seabirds, shorebirds and at least 500 colonial waterbirds occur here. (28 species of waterfowl, 16 species of seabirds, 33 species of shorebirds and 16 species of waders)
The Yawkey Center is used by a wide diversity of birds all year.
Fortunately, the human imposed threats are minimal.
Hurricanes occasionally do major damage.
The Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center is owned by the SC Department of Natural Resources.
The Tom Yawkey Center has diverse habitat. It is primarily Coniferous Woods (mostly pine), Pine Savannah, Tidal Wetland, Non-tidal Wetland, Mudflats and Littoral and secondarily Southern Mixed Hardwood Forest, Bottomland Hardwood Forest, Shrub-scrub, Grassland, Cultivated Field, Bald Cypress-Tupelo Gum Swamp, Riparian.
A large population of American Alligators lives here. The beach is a nesting site for endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles.
There are 66 miles of pristine beach and 20,000 acres of field laboratory.
The Yawkey is a 20,000 acre field laboratory where the potential for reserach is unlimited. North Island is designated a barrier island wilderness where no activities detrimental to its primitive character are permitted. South Island is held for the protection of waterfowl, and no duck hunting is permitted. The remainder of the property is held as a wildlife management area for migratory birds, native game and other wild species.
After the property's transfer to SC DNR, it was dedicated as a Heritage Preserve by the SC Heritage Trust, a departmental program established to preserve natural diversity in SC.