The Chesterfield County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) in South Carolina is using grant money from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to restore the longleaf pine habitat in the South Carolina Sandhills region.
The SWCD is one of 24 agencies and groups this year to receive a portion of $6.3 million to restore, enhance and protect longleaf pine forests.
The $250,000 grant, coupled with $250,000 in matching funds, will plant 360 acres of longleaf, apply management practices to 300 acres of existing longleaf, introduce fire to 610 acres, and establish 25 acres of native understory plants, such as wiregrass, bluestems and native flowers in existing stands where the native seed bank has been destroyed.
The efforts will also benefit threatened and endangered species, wild turkey and reptiles, among other wildlife.
The Sandhills Longleaf Pine Conservation Partnership (SLPCP), which includes the conservation district, has been working on longleaf habitat through NFWF grants for seven years. In that time, more than 6,500 acres have been affected. In the past three years, data has been collected to create a GIS layer of all forest stand types and conditions, so that priority areas can be identified and landowners in those areas can be contacted.
“The landowners have been really receptive to longleaf habitat restoration,” SWCD Longleaf Coordinator with SLPCP Charles Babb said. “It’s been very rewarding.”
Babb and others from the longleaf implementation team assist landowners with native understory plantings. Seed collected from public property nearby – including the Carolinas Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, the Sandhills State Forest and the Cheraw State Park, all of which are comprised of mostly longleaf – is planted in open areas to re-establish native plants that should one day become a seed bank, Babb said. Prescribed fire is also a critical component of understory restoration.
“What we’d love to do – and get few opportunities to do – is find the mature longleaf and open the canopy to make it more suitable for wildlife,” he said. “It takes a special landowner who wants to manage for that historic habitat, so we’re personally reaching out.”
“The SLPCP’s long-range goal of establishing 25,000 acres of longleaf by 2025 may be met by the 2022-23 growing season because of grants like this one. The partnership aims to expand the publicly-owned property’s longleaf footprint,” Babb said. “To date, the partnership has assisted landowners in establishing 20,000 acres in Chesterfield and Darlington counties.”
“Sometimes, there is a lot of competition from hardwoods and other pine species that may require chemical or hand removal,” Babb said.
Funds are also used to target the next generation through youth education programs and events.