Generally, DU conservation programs in this region support and contribute toward the goals of the NAWMP ACJV, and to a lesser extent the GCJV. Presently, both the ACJV and GCJV are revising their habitat goals through an enhanced conservation planning effort. Eventually, revised goals will be developed that will include habitat objectives for waterfowl and other bird groups of importance in the South Atlantic coastal zone as well as the Mobile Bay and Mississippi Gulf Coast portions of this region. Scale of delivery of conservation programs is localized and project-specific within this conservation region, and will remain that way until proactive conservation easement programs or private lands conservation programs are developed and public lands programs are expanded.
DU's most notable conservation program in this region has been the Lowcountry Initiative in South Carolina. Large privately owned plantations ranging in size from 800-21,000 ha (some dating to the 16th century) are the primary landholdings in this portion of the conservation region. This unique situation coupled with interest from many of the landowners creates an unparalleled opportunity to achieve significant land and water protection. Through a multi-agency partnership, 404,858 ha were already under protection by 1998.
The Lowcountry Initiative provides DU a unique opportunity to protect wetland and upland habitats using conservation easements on private lands. Approximately 30,600 ha have been protected by DU via conservation easements through FY2004. DU's conservation easement program accepts easements in perpetuity through its Wetlands America Trust. Such long-term protection conserves large, undeveloped upland and wetland ecosystems for the benefit of water birds, other wildlife, and the threatened and endangered species that occur in the region. Easements likely will remain a significant conservation tool in this region, but DU will begin to focus on proactive habitat restoration and enhancement programs, particularly on private lands in North and South Carolina. In 2004, DU launched its new Sound CARE initiative. The goal of this initiative is to restore 9,000 ha of habitat in North Carolina, while simultaneously raising funds for conservation of breeding habitat through marketing the habitat conservation issues in areas from which the majority of North Carolina's harvest is derived.
Regarding more traditional conservation programs, DU's primary focus to date has been to provide funding via the MARSH program. DU has cooperated with many state and federal agencies in this conservation region to conserve 81,053 ha. Opportunities exist to expand and take a more proactive posture relative to delivery of conservation programs on both private and public land, particularly in coastal North Carolina.
The primary goal of DU conservation programs in the SCP conservation region is to protect, restore, enhance and manage waterfowl and wetland habitat consistent with the objectives of the ACJV and GCJV of the NAWMP. Specific objectives include:
- Maintenance of 81,053 ha of habitat projects completed through FY2004.
- Protection of an additional 10,000 ha by the end of FY2008.
- Restoration or enhancement of at least 10,000 ha of habitat by the end of FY2008.
- Evaluation of the role of DU in the region with an eye toward expansion of conservation programs. This may include: a) formation of new partnerships and provision of biological and engineering services to assist agencies and private landowners with habitat restoration and enhancement; b) development and delivery of a partnership-driven private lands program; and c) proactive use of conservation easements to protect habitat and stem urbanization and wetland conversion to agriculture and livestock production, particularly in North Carolina.
- Waterfowl are limited by the quantity and quality of foraging habitats in the region through impacts on over-winter survival rates, and potentially on subsequent recruitment.
- Evaluate staffing requirements that will enable DU to organize, expand, and serve as a primary partner in the conservation of waterfowl habitat in the SCP.
- Expand the conservation easement program throughout the region to protect the existing waterfowl habitat base, focusing attention on protection of important habitats and watersheds in North Carolina.
- Develop partnerships in cooperation with public agencies and private landowners.
- Work with Field Operations staff, Development staff, and volunteers to secure a level of funding adequate to implement a full range of DU-lead conservation programs in the SCP conservation region.
- Quantify the relationships of waterfowl populations to available foraging habitat.
- Encourage ACJV staff to revise conservation plans for the region along the lines of the foraging habitat models developed for the LMVJV and under development for the GCJV.
- Provide remote sensing and GIS support for the ACJV to further conservation planning in the region.