Kennedy Center committee plots course for future of wetland, wildlife conservation
GEORGETOWN — The James C. Kennedy Waterfowl and Wetlands Conservation Center advisory committee is meeting to map a strategy for creating what it hopes will be the preeminent research, teaching and outreach program addressing the ecological conservation of the south Atlantic Coastal wetland systems.
The 14-member committee consisting of state, federal and private wildlife and natural resource biologists and managers met last month at the Kennedy Center at Clemson’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science for presentations by director Rick Kaminski, wildlife research coordinator Thomas Rainwater and students from Clemson and Mississippi State University.
During the meeting, the committee laid out preliminary plans for developing aerial surveys of waterfowl and other wetland wildlife. The surveys would monitor abundance and species diversity of birds and other wildlife and guide long-term habitat conservation in the face of climate change, sea-level rise and human development in coastal South Carolina.
Kaminski and colleagues developed and implemented aerial surveys of wintering waterfowl for the state of Mississippi that are now also used by Arkansas, Louisiana and Missouri.
“To my knowledge, South Carolina would be the first state in the Atlantic Flyway to conduct systematic, rigorous aerial transect surveys,” Kaminski said.
The committee also emphasized the importance of teaching and outreach. A rash of retirements in the 1990s left a handful of waterfowl and wetlands programs at universities in North America. The Kennedy Center resurrects Clemson’s waterfowl and wetlands programs.
“Conservation is people-driven,” Kaminski said. “Without people there is no conservation, and this is why we are training students to be scientists and stewards of waterfowl and wetlands.”
Clemson undergraduate students spent a week in March collecting baseline data on invertebrate abundance in impoundments at the Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center, Nemours Wildlife Foundation and Clarendon Farms. Invertebrate abundance is a key indicator of wetland ecosystem health and wildlife habitat viability.
Greg Yarrow, professor and chair of Clemson’s forestry and environmental conservation department, spoke about the impact of the student research and outreach.
“South Carolina treasures its Lowcountry wetlands and there’s a strong team of state, federal and private entities working hard to manage them so they remain an environmental asset to our citizens for years to come. But student-led research projects like the one conducted in March will help ensure there are young people with the skills and passion to carry on after our careers end,” Yarrow said.
The Clemson student team members will present their findings at 22nd annual Wildlife Society Conference in October in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The title of their presentation poster is “The Importance of Invertebrates to Waterfowl and Management.”
At the Baruch meeting, Clemson doctoral candidate Abby Lawson spoke about her research tracking South Carolina alligators by GPS to understand how landscape features affect habitat use and how their movement between habitats influences the accuracy of population estimates.
Mississippi State graduate student Molly Kneece, who is studying mottled duck ecology in South Carolina, presented highlights from her research. Kneece and fellow student Clay Shipes found that mottled ducks are more likely to nest in managed tidal impoundments on islets of vegetation than in unmanaged wetlands or levees. The ducks also show a preference for brackish wetlands year around.
The Kennedy Center announced it would hold its first waterfowl and wetland wildlife management workshop Oct. 30 at the Baruch Institute with field demonstrations. Those interested in attending may contact Rick Kaminski at firstname.lastname@example.org or Susan Guynn (email@example.com).
Kennedy Center advisory committee members include:
- Breck Carmichael, special assistant to the director, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR)
- Jamie Dozier, project leader, Tom Yawkey Wildlife Center, SCDNR
- Ernie Wiggers, CEO Nemours Wildlife Foundation
- Skip Van Bloem, director, Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science
- Jason Ayers, South Carolina Coastal Program coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- Craig R. LeSchack, director of Conservation Programs–Southeast; Ducks Unlimited; Southern Region; South Atlantic Field Office
- Patrick Jodice; leader, South Carolina Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit; Clemson University
- Jason Hewett, manager, Clarendon Farms
- Derrell Shipes; chief-Statewide Programs, Research & Surveys Wildlife Section, SCDNR
- Craig Watson, South Atlantic coordinator, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Charleston Ecological Services Field Office
- Dean Harrigal, waterfowl biologist, SCDNR
- Greg Yarrow, professor and chair of Clemson’s department of forestry and environmental conservation
- Travis H. Folk, woodland and wildlife consultant, Folk Land Management Inc., Green Pond, South Carolina
- Tim Jones, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Atlantic Flyway Joint Venture science coordinator