Cape Romain Refuge Island, ecological treasure, saved from development
March 29th, 2016
Successful battle to permanently protect ‘Pappa’s Island’ safeguards local economy, opens new lands for recreation and protects nationally critical wildlife habitat
One of the last undeveloped islands within Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge is now protected forever, thanks to the Open Space Institute (OSI), The Coastal Conservation League, the South Carolina Environmental Law Project, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and The Nature Conservancy. The successful conservation of the property, once slated for development, safeguards nationally critical wildlife habitat while opening new lands for public recreation.
The property, called “Pappa’s Island” is a 104-acre marsh hummock island within the Congressionally-authorized boundaries for the Refuge - a federally-protected expanse of barrier islands, salt marshes and intricate coastal waterways that harbors hundreds of at-risk and endangered species. Residents of nearby McClellanville, SC, whose economy is dependent upon opportunities to fish commercially and harvest shellfish within the Refuge, will also gain from the property’s preservation.
“The protection of Pappa’s Island will benefit countless people in generations to come, as well as the species who depend upon the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge,” said Kim Elliman, OSI’s President and CEO. “The upwelling of public support for this property’s preservation speaks volumes about the importance of protected land for the local community. We are grateful to our partners for their roles in conserving the property.”
“As we face the consequences of sea level rise, it becomes even more important to protect places like Pappa’s Island, which provides valuable nesting, breeding and foraging habitat for a variety of vulnerable bird species,” said Amy Armstrong, Executive Director of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project (SCELP). “SCELP was pleased to use our legal expertise in the collaborative effort to successfully protect Pappa’s Island in perpetuity.”
“Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge - a United Nations Man and Biosphere Preserve—is one of the greatest wetlands in North America, and Pappa’s Island is the last piece of the puzzle in its protection,” said Dana Beach, the Conservation League’s Executive Director. “It has been an honor to work with the exceptional team of conservation groups on this landmark achievement.”
The last sizeable inholding within the Refuge, the property was purchased and protected by OSI after a years-long battle that began when the owners began to take steps to develop the property. Spurred by public outcry, the Coastal Conservation League - represented by the South Carolina Environmental Law Project—joined forces to protect the property. The lawsuit was dropped after OSI committed to purchasing the property.
An ecological treasure, Pappa’s Island (also called “Papa’s Island” or “Pappy’s Island”) hosts migratory songbirds during the summer, including painted buntings, which use hummock marshes (ecological islands consisting of elevated hardwood stands surrounded by marsh) for both resting and breeding. South Carolina supports a third to a half of the total breeding population of painted bunting, identified as a “Highest Priority Species” in the 2015 South Carolina State Wildlife Action Plan.
Looking ahead, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service is prepared to acquire Pappa’s Island from OSI with funding from the Charleston County Greenbelt Bank, the North American Wetlands Conservation Act and the Land & Water Conservation Fund.
Since beginning work in South Carolina in 2014, OSI has protected over 6,000 acres, all of which will be open to the public.