Santee Cooper Lakes Giant Cutgrass Control Project

Santee Cooper Lakes Giant Cutgrass Control Project

In 2016, the South Carolina Waterfowl Association expressed an interest in controlling the amount of giant cutgrass on the Santee Cooper Lakes (Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion) in collaboration with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), Santee Cooper and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). The 4,300 acres of dense giant cutgrass stands around the two lakes proved troublesome for those who tried to access the lakes for boating, waterfowl hunting, and fishing. These stands of cutgrass also choked out valuable fish spawning areas and made it difficult for native plants that are beneficial to waterfowl to flourish. The end result was a significant reduction of quality fish and waterfowl habitat on the Santee Cooper Lakes system. The 3,300 acres around Lake Marion and 1,000 acres around Lake Moultrie desperately needed to be scaled down and maintained to allow the growth of beneficial vegetation. SCWA was pleased to donate $10,000 toward the project with confidence that the plan would enhance habitat and the experiences for waterfowlers and fishermen.

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These photo are examples of targeted areas for the project that were inundated with cutgrass. Credit: Casey Moorer

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Chris Page with SCDNR’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program relayed, “The major goals of the project are to improve wildlife habitats for hunting, fishing, and other recreational opportunities within the Santee Cooper lakes system, as well as overall lake access.” Santee Cooper staff used GIS software to map out the problem areas in order to effectively execute the aerial operation, with treatment being conducted by Summit helicopters. All aerial applications of Environmental Protection Agency approved herbicides were done with a spray rate of 20 gallons per acre to ensure adequate coverage and efficacy. For the year of 2016, Santee Cooper sprayed 308 acres of cutgrass, 125 of which were in the Santee National Wildlife Refuge (Refuge). SCDNR treated 183 acres of cutgrass, bringing the 2016 total to 491 acres of treated cutgrass. In addition to spray treatments, the Refuge also stressed the cutgrass further by lowering water levels within impounded areas (Savannah Branch) right after the aerial spray for two-three months, and then followed up with a prescribed burn in February 2017. The areas were immediately re-flooded after the prescribed burn and kept high throughout the summer.  Those three treatments combined (spraying, altering hydrology, and prescribed burning), provided excellent waterfowl habitat restoration at the Refuge.

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Taken during the 2017 follow up survey, this photo shows that the cutgrass has been drastically thinned, allowing submersed and floating leaf plants to occupy the area, as well as allowing access into the area. Photo Credit: Casey Moorer

In 2017, Santee Cooper revisited the sites to assess any needs for treatment of regrowth. With the help of SCDNR’s wildlife management area maps, Santee Cooper repeated the mapping process. Santee Cooper treated 685 acres of cutgrass in 2017 (including the Refuge), while SCDNR treated 300 acres. In total, the two organizations treated 985 acres of cutgrass around Lake Moultrie and Lake Marion in 2017. Through the partnership between SCWA, Santee Cooper, SCDNR, and USFWS, a total of 1,476 acres of giant cutgrass has been treated over the past two years.

SanteeCooperCutgrass2016-2017We look forward to monitoring the success of the project this coming summer. It will take a couple of growing seasons to see the full impact of the project on fish and wildlife habitat, since it takes some time for the dense giant cutgrass stands to decompose. Once this occurs, these stands will open up to improve fish spawning habitat and to allow the growth of more beneficial waterfowl food plants. According to SCWA Executive Director, David Wielicki, “This project should result in the addition of over 1,000 acres of previously inaccessible areas for fisherman and waterfowl hunters to enjoy. It is also important to note that areas will require spraying every 4 to 5 years in order to keep the giant cutgrass from coming back.”

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Agri Drain donates water level control structure

Agri Drain donates water level control structure

Agri Drain Corporation, an agricultural equipment manufacturer based out of Adair, IA, recently donated an Inline Water Level Control Structure to the SCWA habitat management team.

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Agri Drain sales executive, Jeff Harris (left) and SCWA habitat manager, Jonathan Patrick pause for a photo after discussing how the SCWA plans to use the donated inline water level control structure.

The structure will be placed in Bullington Pond, the body of water closest to the Wildlife Education Center buildings. Campers frequently fish off the Bullington Pond dock, staff members train their retrievers from the banks of the pond, and parents and chaperones often comment on the peaceful and serene view from the porch of Chace Lodge.

Habitat Manager Jonathan Patrick said “the structure will help the habitat management team retain water for irrigation, flooding and help provide better fishing quality for our summer campers. Being able to efficiently control the water will allow us to save money, water, and electricity.”

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The view of Bullington Pond from the deck of Chace Lodge.

It is unlikely the structure will be installed before duck season this year but Patrick said the installation will happen prior to the 2017 summer camp season.

With the help of volunteers, donors, and members, the SCWA habitat management team has accomplished the following in the past 30 years:

  • Distributed and installed 22,300 wood duck nest boxes resulting in the production of more than 950,000 wood ducks.
  • Provided wetland management assistance to 600 landowners resulting in the creation and enhancement of thousands of acres of managed wetlands.
  • Produced more than 155,000 songbirds.
  • Successfully released 840,000 mallards.
  • Added 75 to 100 thousand waterfowl to South Carolina’s waterfowl population on an annual basis. 

Thank you Agri Drain for supporting future conservation efforts by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association.

Celebrating 30 years of conservation success

CollageThanks to the dedicated efforts of more than 500 volunteers and the financial support of more than 4,500 South Carolina Waterfowl Association (SCWA) members and sponsors, your Association has accomplished the following in the past 30 years:

  • Distributed and installed 22,650 wood duck nest boxes resulting in the production of more than 990,000 wood ducks.
  • Created the 410-acre SCWA Wildlife Education Center (WEC), the home of SCWA’s Camp Woodie, the nation’s leading youth wildlife education summer camp. The WEC is also home to Camp Leopold, SCWA’s school-year natural resource,  conservation camp for 3rd – 7th graders. In 2016, more than 900 youth attended Camp Woodie and more than 6,000 youth will attend Camp Leopold. Since 1986, Conservation Education has been provided to more than 82,000 youth.
  • Provided wetland management assistance to 600 landowners resulting in the creation and enhancement of thousands of acres of managed wetlands.
  • Produced more than 160,000 songbirds and released 880,000 mallards.
  • Added 75 to 100 thousand waterfowl to South Carolina’s waterfowl population on an annual basis.
  • Grown to become the Nation’s second largest state Waterfowl Association.

To ensure future years of success and growth, we must expand our commitment to conserve and enhance South Carolina’s waterfowl and wetland resources. We need your help to pass on the legacy of our waterfowl and wildlife heritage to the next
generation.

To learn more about SCWA or to become a member call 803-452-6001 or visit www.scwa.org.

I greatly appreciate your interest and support.

Here’s to the next 30 years!

David J. Wielicki
South Carolina Waterfowl Association Executive Director

Mallard Project Q & A

Frequently Asked Questions about The Mallard Release Program


 Where do SCWA mallards come from?

The mallards that SCWA uses in the Mallard Release Program come from the Frost Waterfowl Hatchery in Darlington, S.C. The Frost Waterfowl Trust manages the genetics of their flock to ensure that their breeders are of the highest genetic quality. These birds exhibit similar plumage, body size and fledging characteristics as their wild reared cousins. When given proper nutrition all Frost mallards are capable of flight at 8 weeks of age. This is identical to the fledging period of Mallards reared in the wild. All Frost mallards are USDA health certified prior to shipment.


How do I get enrolled in the MRP?

First, contact the SCWA Executive Director/waterfowl biologist David Wielicki at 803-452-6001. There are several factors that will need to be addressed in the initial conversation such as, plant and flood capability of your habitat, water sources, pumping potential, and release pond locations. These are key factors that must be addressed before moving forward.


How much does it cost to get into the Mallard Release Program?

A $500 mallard project membership fee must be paid in order to receive an annual site visit and phone consultation.


When do I get my ducks and how old are they when I get them?

The distribution season runs from the end of May through the middle of August. The ducks are transported directly from Frost waterfowl to your release pond.  The ducks will vary in age from 4 to 6 weeks old at the time of distribution.


    Should you have any questions about The Mallard Research Program please contact:

David Wielicki – SCWA Executive Director and Waterfowl Biologist – SCWA

Office: 803-452-6001 ext. 102

Wood Duck Ecology – The History of the Nest Box

The wood duck (Aix sponsa) is the only duck species to nest in significant numbers in South Carolina. Historically, the species nested in natural cavities created by broken limbs and wood peckers. Due to the loss of hardwood bottomland habitat from extensive logging and heavy hunting pressure from market gunners wood duck populations declined to very low numbers in the early 1900’s.   With the passing of conservation laws such as the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 and the Lacey Act, the wood duck was able to start making a comeback from what was considered to be the brink of extinction.

​As early as 1912 nest boxes were as a tool to improve wood duck habitat. The first attempts to improve wood duck nesting habitat by government agencies was in 1937 by placing over 700 nesting structures on National Wildlife Refuges along rivers and swamps in Illinois. Evidence of wood duck use of over half of approximately 700 nest boxes led to the conclusion that nest boxes could be a valuable tool in the management and conservation of the species (Hawkins and Bellrose 1940). These first nest houses were bark covered slab boxes attached directly to trees with no predator guards. They were bulky with a short life span, often receiving less than 15% occupancy by wood ducks (Bellrose 1953). Nest boxes in successive years were constructed with entrance dimensions based on measurements from taken from natural cavities.

​With the observation that predators could be deterred from entering the boxes by adjusting entrance dimensions, further variations on the theme of predator guards were developed. The conical metal guards used by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association’s Wood Duck Production Program were popularized in the early 1970s in the southern United States as a means to prevent rat snakes from entering the boxes. When securely attached to a pole and combined with a properly placed nest box, these guards are considered to offer the best protection available against pole climbing predators (Bellrose and Holm 1994).

​As is readily noticeable with the nesting structures distributed by the South Carolina Waterfowl Association and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the wooden houses with the metal predator guard are the most common nest boxes seen in South Carolina.

 Should you have any questions about the Wood Duck Project, please feel free to contact David Wielicki. His contact information is below.

Office: 803-452-6001 ~ Email: contact@scwa.org

Pricing for SCWA Wood Duck Projects

Funding for the South Carolina Waterfowl Association Wood Duck Production Project is subsidized through local SCWA fundraising chapters. Landowners who wish to have nest boxes installed on their property must also support the project by making a contribution to the South Carolina Waterfowl Association.

Each year SCWA funds the operation of wildlife biologist field crews who install and maintain wood duck nesting boxes across South Carolina. Due to the cost of funding a two person field crew, there is a ten nest box minimum required for any nest box installation or maintenance project conducted by SCWA field crews. Wood Duck nest boxes can be purchased from SCWA and picked up at our Wildlife Education Center. The fees for nest boxes and field crew services are as follows:

Wood Duck Nest Boxes and Components

  1. Cypress Wood Duck Nest Box – $50.00
  2. Galvanized Predator Guard – $25.00
  3. Ten Foot Treated 4 x 4 Post – $10.00
  4. Wood Duck Nest Box Unit (post, guard, box) $80.00

SCWA Field Crew Services 

  1. Wood Duck Nest Box Unit Installation $125.00/unit (Ten nest box unit minimum)
  2. Wood Duck Nest Box Maintenance – $25.00/nest box (Ten nest box unit minimum)

​If you would like to purchase wood duck nest boxes or schedule a maintenance or installation project call the SCWA office at 803-452-6001.

Waterscapes – The Wetland Reserve Program

by Henry Brabham


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There was a heavy wet summer heat and we pushed out of the last swamp of the day. My cousin and I leaned against the work truck with sweat burning eyes and mud smeared clothes and viewed the wood duck boxes we just finished checking. It was a beautiful place even though she was hard on us. We stood in the late cool shade of two live oaks with great low limbs bending enough to step over. We rested on the limb under moss, and the leaves that rattled in the breeze, and talked … ducks! It was a natural wetland.

​The lily pad blackwater pockets sat warm and shallow around young bald cypress trees. Sharp white herons traded sides of the swamp mid-morning as we waded through beaver canals where the water was warm around our waist and cool black down around our feet, and then the water was all warm in the shallow flats of cypress knees. Under the oak we talked of a cold grey swamp with cupped wings of mallards coming like a staircase down through the trees, and early morning woodies whistling high up in three’s and four’s just over the tips of the trees. We had heard stories about this place. They used to call it “The Big fork” because the swamp split. On one side there was a deep canal running through the cypress trees to drain a field to be planted. The other side was a dry bed of hard mud and tufts of grass. through the dry grass between the trees, people could sneak onto the property to fish the canal leaving old rusted metal chairs and empty blue worm cups and beer cans. Now there is no canal, only long stick-legged birds searching for fish, ducks, alligators, floating grass with a bass steadying himself for a shiny ripple on the surface, and the lapping sound of dark water around the wide bottomed trees in a good wind. But, we didn’t hear about all this. We heard bout droves of ducks pouring into some WRP pond that used to be dry.

​I did not know much about WRP, which stands for “Wetland Reserve Program, and like any other waterfowler I wanted to know how to get droves of ducks, as well as the scenery that makes a slow morning enjoyable. I went to my county NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) and they provided me with plenty of information on how to get started in the WRP.

​In the past ten years the Wetland Reserve Program has become the most popular and ecologically successful voluntary incentive-based wetlands re storation program in U.S. history. The funding for this program is made available by the Commodity Credit corporation and then implemented by NRCS.

​There are three program options offered by NRCS; short term 10-year cost-share agreement, mid-term 30-year conservation easement, and permanent easement restorations. NRCS provides financial assistance for landowners in the form of easement payments and restoration cost-share assistance. The lands that are enrolled mostly consist of floodprone restorable agricultural wetlands, and the cost per acre on a national average is approximately $1,100 for financial assistance and $75 for technical assistance with the average project size being 185 acres.

​For example, if a landowner has 100 acres of a dry Carolina Bay and wishes to participate in some kind of wetland restoration project he/she could contact their local USDA/NRCS office about the Wetland Reserve Program. The landowner would then receive a questionnaire referring to certain aspects of their land. The landowner may receive questions in the application such as: Has the wetland been altered? Is the ditch on or affecting the property line?

​Then, upon approval based on land value, which will be determined through NRCS, the project is underway. During the program the landowner continues to control access, recreational activities that are non-developed, the right to lease such recreational activities for financial gain, and can request the approval of other uses of the land that are determined compatible with the program’s conservation objectives. By becoming a part of the WRP a landowner and his/her community can benefit from improved water quality, reduced soil erosion, reduced flooding, improved water supply, and, as I have already mentioned, the benefit of improved habitat for wildlife.

​Landowners may sign up at their county NRCS office or USDA Service Center. During the year, NRCS will rank all eligible applications and submit them to the national office for funding consideration. You may also contact NRCS on the web at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov