September 24, 2017, 1:22 am
Wetland Management Opportunities and Guidelines for Landowners

Wetlands are an integral part of watersheds in South Carolina, totaling almost 4.6 million acres in area. Wetland loss from human activity has resulted in a quarter loss of wetland acreage since colonial times. Land conversion and urban development are the leading causes of wetland loss in the state. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), under the direction of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as the Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), oversee protection of the state’s wetlands and aquatic resources. Along with the oversight of federal and state agencies, land management programs and management practices are available to private landowners to assist in the protection of wetland resources. These management practices can be profitable for the landowner if implemented correctly and have the added advantage of providing additional ecological benefits to the state’s aquatic resources.

 

Three important considerations to follow when managing wetlands are inventory, usage, and goals. Inventory accounts for the location and size of wetlands on a property, identifies the type of wetland system (bottomland hardwood forest, emergent maritime marsh, etc.), and determines the general health and ecological functionality of the wetlands. Usage looks at how and what the wetlands will be managed for (shallow water habitat creation, waterfowl management, etc.) and outlines a timeframe in which to accomplish these tasks. Identifying goals is important because it drives the direction of actions that the landowner needs to take. Goals can range from simple management tasks to complex operations, depending on the proposed project. Examples of goals include managing wetlands for a single wildlife species, multiple species, or restoration of the chemical and physiological functions of a wetland system. Landowner assistance programs are available through the federal government to assist landowners in establishing their wetland management goals.  The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides assistance through numerous programs, such as Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP). Determining which program is best for a landowner depends on their desired goals for their land and wetland management. Some examples of assisted activities include establishing long-term conservation easements, upland conversion, buffer establishment to prevent erosion and runoff, wildlife habitat creation or improvement, riparian buffer establishment, and bottomland hardwood reforestation.

 


In conjunction with the ecological benefits that cost-share programs provide, moist soil management methods provide landowners an opportunity to manage wetlands for waterfowl and other aquatic wildlife. Moist soil management practices cycle throughout the seasons of the year, each with management goals and benefits that enhance the natural process of the wetland system.


Fall and winter management directives are aimed at providing wintering waterfowl with suitable habitat and foraging opportunities. Wetland improvements that give landowners the opportunity to control flood levels, either by establishing impoundments or levees to control water depth, offer the best opportunity for providing optimal waterfowl habitat. Water depths should be maintained, if possible, to depths of 2-20 inches. Depths can be adjusted to direct habitat towards specific species, if desired. In spring, water levels are reduced (called spring drawdown), which encourages the generation of aquatic vegetation. During this time, manual planting of desired vegetation can be conducted. The new buds provide excellent foraging opportunities for waterfowl. Water depths should be maintained at 2 to 6 inches to allow for optimal conditions for wetland-favoring vegetation to grow.  During summer, water levels should be maintained from 2-6 inches to continuously provide optimal foraging and habitat offerings for waterfowl and other wildlife.


Greentree reservoirs (GTR) are managed in a similar fashion to moist soil management areas, except that more forestry driven opportunities are available. Characteristics of GTRs are moist, clay soils, large mast-producing hardwood trees, and periodic inundation with depths ranging from 1-18 inches. Trees can be harvested to an 80 sq. ft. basal area. Some dead timber can be left behind, as wood ducks will utilize the trees for nesting. Other artificially created wetlands, such as shallow water ponds, can be established to provide other aquatic wildlife suitable habitat. Similar management practices can be adhered to in order to provide the most optimal habitat for the desired species. Many species of reptiles, insects, and amphibians thrive in these types of established wetland areas.


Wetland loss is a growing problem in South Carolina. Management opportunities that prioritize wetland conservation are available for landowners looking to preserve these ecological features found on their property. Prioritizing management goals is key in determining the scale and cost of wetland conservation projects. The management directives outlined above provide landowners an example of certain methods that can target improving wildlife habitat and ecological functionality of onsite wetlands. Seeking assistance from academic institutions, agriculture extension offices, federal and state regulatory agencies, and private consulting firms may serve beneficial to landowners when weighing their management options.

References
Gray, Matthew J., Hagy, Heath M., Nyman, Andrew J., Stafford, Joshua D. 2013. Management of Wetlands for Wildlife. University of Tennessee-Knoxville. 4, 121-180.
Yarrow, Greg. Clemson Cooperative Extension. Department of Forestry and Natural Resources. Wetland Management and Protection. May 2009