South Carolina Environmental Law Project

Lawyers for the Wild Side of South Carolina

A WALK ON THE 'WILD SIDE' - Fundraiser benefits South Carolina Environmental Law Project
November 10th, 2016

By Eileen Keithly

With the sun sparkling off Winyah Bay, members and guests of the South Carolina Environmental Law Project gathered on the grounds of Hobcaw House Nov. 5 for the 7th Annual Wild Side fundraiser.

The event celebrates the work of the late Jimmy Chandler, a local attorney who founded the non-profit public interest law firm in 1987 to oppose a proposed oil refinery in Georgetown. SCELP Executive Director Amy Armstrong said the organization’s work is as relevant today as it was 29 years ago.

“A key challenge on the horizon is expanding the scope and reach of our legal advocacy to encompass climate change adaptation, building on our traditional prevention and mitigation work,” Armstrong said. “We are excited to celebrate another successful year of protecting South Carolina’s natural resources.”

Armstrong said within the ecosystem of public charities, SCELP inhabits the highly specialized niche of public interest law firms and provides affordable and free legal services for the greater good in the realm of environmental protection.

“Natural resources need a legal advocate even when no profit is made from taking good care of them,” Armstrong said. “We are fully committed to continue being that advocate, and we are hard at work to deepen our impact and expand our capacity to withstand increasingly challenging circumstances.”

During the past year, Armstrong said the project has doubled down on its efforts to protect natural habitats from irresponsible development.

“We have worked tirelessly to protect Lewis Ocean Bay Heritage Preserve from harm and degradation resulting from a new road with no provisions for wildlife or special habitats,” Armstrong said. “We have also advocated for the removal of plastic seawalls on our beaches that obstruct sea turtle nesting.”

Columbia businessman Guy Jones attended the event along with his wife, Cynthia Flynn, and the two agreed that Hobcaw Barony was the perfect spot to hold the project’s annual celebration.

“I am pretty sure that I was the first person to write the first $100 check to SCELP,” Jones said. “This is the perfect setting for our event because it is very evident that the people here really do get it – they are protecting the things that need to be protected.”

A 17,500-acre research reserve, Hobcaw Barony is one of the few undeveloped tracts on the Waccamaw Neck. Bernard M. Baruch, Wall Street financier and adviser to presidents, purchased the property in 1905 for use as a winter hunting retreat. After 50 years, he sold all the land to his daughter, Belle Baruch. At the time of her death in 1964, she created a foundation to manage the land as an outdoor laboratory for the colleges and universities in South Carolina.

Jim Elliott, the executive director and founder of the Avian Conservation Center, was the featured guest of the evening. A few weeks ago, Elliott was awarded the Order of the Palmetto, the highest civilian honor in South Carolina.

Elliott reflected on the important work of the conservation community in South Carolina, including the respective roles that conservation organizations play in the development of solutions to critical environmental issues in the state.

Handlers from The Center for Birds of Prey released a great horned owl, a turkey vulture and a Harris hawk for controlled flights on the lawn of Hobcaw House during the event.

According to Stephen Schabel, director of education at the Avian Conservation Center, birds in the wild are good indicators of what is happening in the environment.

“It’s like the canary in the coal mine,” Schabel said. “Birds tell us what is in our environment. They tell us about contaminants such as DDT, lead, mercury and flame-retardant chemicals.”

Schabel said The Center for Birds of Prey, which has been a refuge for injured birds in Awendah since 1981, has conducted testing on birds and found those contaminants ingested from South Carolina’s marshes, waterways and woodlands.

Attendees were treated to an exploration of Winyah Bay aboard the Carolina Rover, as well as a guided tour through Hobcaw House and the surrounding grounds. The sounds of the Green Levels Band wafted through the air as guests dined on Lowcountry specialties and perused the silent auction items that ranged from fine art to kayaks and paddle boards.

Armstrong said the draw to host the event at Hobcaw Barony goes beyond the property’s aesthetic beauty and environmental importance.

“Hobcaw Barony was home to our first SCELP office,” Armstrong said, "so it is befitting for us to hold our annual event here.”

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