This piece was written by local bird expert Sarah Diaz, who runs the Sullivan’s Island Bird Banding Station, following the Town Council’s 4-3 decision to settle the lawsuit over the Maritime Forest.
I hope you have enjoyed my articles about the birds on Sullivan’s Island over the years. With a heavy heart, I am here to inform you that the entire Sullivan’s Island Bird Banding Station is slated to be clear cut. The banding station falls under Zone 1. This dictates the following: 50% of myrtles can be removed and the remainder cut to 5 feet; all cedar, hackberry and pine removed under 12-inch diameter at breast height; remove all other tree species under 6-inch DBH. This would include, by my estimate, over 90% of the vegetation at the banding station. Despite the pain of the loss of my life’s work, I feel an even greater loss knowing that the rest of the forest will soon be destroyed.
Make no mistake: This is not a management plan. It is a plan of complete destruction.
Some people see vegetation as an inconvenience and no more than a barrier to a better view. I see vegetation as a thriving ecosystem, full of life. Nature follows its own clock. The butterflies emerge from their cocoons the same time each year. The plants flower when their pollinators are abundant. The migratory birds arrive at exactly the same time that the caterpillars grow fat and lazy. In August, I enjoy the last of the painted buntings’ song as I push through the heat and exhaustion of running a station in summer. I know that soon the warblers will start to arrive and flash their gaudy colors at me through the wax myrtles. Metallic blue and green dragonflies pass through in early-September.
Like clockwork, nagging catbirds flood the station in early October, and not far behind them are the tiny armies of yellowrumped warblers. November brings thousands of migrating monarch butterflies, which arrive at the exact same time the groundsel is in bloom. My mornings spent at the banding station always include moments of satisfaction and reverence when I feel a great love and appreciation for the thousands of plant and animal species that are so intricately dependent upon each other for mere survival. Mysteriously, they understand time and space far better than humans, despite our artificial technologies.
Here is what I foresee in the near future, and it deeply pains me to write this. Human equipment wracks the landscape. Hundreds of thousands of native plants are pulverized and insect populations plummet. Thousands of hungry birds will arrive looking for plump caterpillars. But there are so few caterpillars left that it simply isn’t enough to go around.
Thousands of birds will leave their stopover site underweight and undernourished.
Many of them will starve before they reach the tropics. Monarchs will arrive in November. But the groundsel trees have been removed from the landscape. Many of them, too, will die before they reach their destination.
I cannot let this happen. I will not let this happen. We as a community have to act now. If we are complacent, we will irreversibly destroy a fine-oiled machine that has been running flawlessly for hundreds of thousands of years. Stand up. Join me and mobilize. Make your voice heard and don’t give up. We can only defeat the forces of destruction by uniting as a community and utilizing every resource possible to put a stop to this. Today. I am pleading for your help. Now.