Ducks Unlimited has entered a strategic partnership with the United States Air Force (USAF) to increase conservation land surrounding their bases. The Department of Defense created the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program that benefits both conservation in surrounding areas and military training necessities. They asked DU to be the conservation partner on this South Carolina project because of our land protection success. Since the 1980s, DU has protected approximately 140,000 acres in South Carolina through conservation easements with nearly 170 landowners.

We worked with the USAF to map and prioritize conservation areas around the North Auxiliary Airfield in the North Fork Edisto River watershed that will provide DU mission benefit, buffer training areas and achieve rural land conservation. For private landowners within the project area, the REPI program is a way to receive payment for continuing to utilize their land as they always have while ensuring it will remain undeveloped in perpetuity. DU's efforts have been supported by a matching special project grant from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation. Through a cooperative agreement with the USAF and Joint-Base Charleston, DU is working with landowners in the project area to secure voluntary agreements for bargain-sale conservation easements.

The partnership works with private landowners on the protection of strategic properties that provide important wetland values and contribute to a permanent, open-space buffer around the North Auxiliary Airfield. These properties typically include a combination of wetland or stream features with uplands used for either timber or farming. The project area includes significant wetland and stream habitats in the upper reaches of the Edisto River watershed, which has relatively-little permanent land conservation.

DU closed on the first REPI easement in December, protecting 242 acres. The property is dominated by upland forests consisting primarily of mixed pine-hardwood and planted loblolly and longleaf pine. Forested wetland areas along the southwest property line and forested buffers along streams have been preserved, protecting more than 28 acres of wood duck and songbird habitat. The owner will continue using the property for wildlife management, recreational hunting and pine production with the goal of increasing longleaf pine restoration in the future.

The Department of Defense's REPI Program is a key tool for combating development that can limit or restrict military training, testing, and operations. REPI also supports large landscape partnerships that advance cross-boundary solutions and link military readiness, conservation, and communities with federal and state partners through a common, collaborative framework.

In 2019, through our encroachment partnership, Ducks Unlimited and Joint Base Charleston identified parcels for acquisition and developed a REPI proposal for annual appropriation from the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Air Force Major Commands review and prioritize proposals to be submitted to Air Force Headquarters, who then nominates projects to OSD for REPI funding. DU and JBC have been awarded $500,000 for 2020, our first annual appropriation award.These funds will help DU work with willing landowners in the project area to protect high priority properties which buffer the installation operations, keep rural land intact, and protect valuable forested wetlands in the Edisto River Watershed.