In the ongoing public debate about a land management plan being crafted by Sullivan’s Island Town Council some concerns have been expressed, by property owners living adjacent to the coastal forest, about apparent “threats” that it poses for residents and property.
As this debate continues we have to apply some common sense principles. This land, that is under protection by the Lowcountry Open Land Trust, was saved from development for the benefit of all of the residents of Sullivan’s Island. As a result, adjacent property owners have a beautiful mixture of maritime grassland, myrtles and forest between their property and the beach rather than two, three, or four rows of houses. I believe the overwhelming majority of residents are thankful for the foresight that led former councils to conserve this accreted land instead of developing it, and support protecting the diverse ecosystem that has developed there. However, concerns have been raised by some who see the forest as a nuisance and a danger rather than the valuable Island asset that it is.
Concerns about fire are being very adequately addressed in the land management plan by proposed removal of underbrush and thinning of shrubland vegetation – perhaps more than is necessary – in a hundred foot transition zone in front of houses adjacent to the forest. And this would be in addition to the front yards of these houses that provide another 30 feet – and more – for most homes. This more than meets the guidelines provided in the S.C. Forestry Commission’s Firewise program. We also need to appreciate that, unlike pine forests, fire is rare in a maritime forest. We have not had a serious fire in our forested areas. The one or two small shrubland fires that have occurred in the protected land were quickly dealt with by our outstanding fire department, just like all other fires on our Island. Concerns about mosquito abatement are addressed by periodic spraying island-wide.
Widespread removal of maritime vegetation in the protected land would not decrease the mosquito population. More mosquitoes inhabit the marsh areas than the front beach areas, and these mosquitoes travel widely. Removal of thirsty vegetation is likely to allow more standing water – thus more mosquitoes.
Concerns about smaller wildlife, such as snakes and rodents, are adequately addressed by proposed underbrush removal in the transition zone. This will allow our efficient hawks and owls an opportunity to control these animals, as they do all over our Island. On a barrier island we cannot completely eliminate these small animals, nor would we want to!
Concerns about coyotes are real. Pets have been attacked and killed. But coyotes are now found in every county in South Carolina, including Isle of Palms which has no protected forest areas. Our council should be much more aggressive in coyote management, but destroying the forest will not rid our island of coyotes.
My point is that the concerns noted above are real, but do not demand excessive destruction of vegetation in our protected Land Trust area. Common sense approaches, that include some manipulation of the accreted land, in limited areas adjacent to homes, have the support of those of us that support conservation of the forest. The value of this open green space provides an education for our children and grandchildren, and the example of how to address safety concerns, while conserving a natural habitat in a balanced and rational manner, should be a part of that education.
W. Howard Holl M.D.