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Rotational pruning provides balance in accreted land

Provided by The Sullivan’s Islanders Group

The Sullivan’s Island Town Council is currently considering the Accreted Land Management Plan (ALMP) recently submitted by consultants, the goal of which is to improve management of the 170+ acres of oceanfront land owned by the Town. The Town’s current management plan for this area allows no cutting of hardwood trees, but does allow annual pruning of Waxmyrtles, Eastern Baccharis and Popcorn Trees to a height of five feet in order to provide ocean views. Unfortunately, repeated pruning to a single level has produced extensive areas of flat-topped myrtle hedges overgrown with vines that seriously degrade the ecosystem and our scenic vistas.

The consultants offer two methods for correcting this problem. We propose a third alternative”

Method 1: Stop pruning and let the Maritime Shrubland recover on its own.

In a relatively short period of time – between one and three years – myrtles and other shrubs grow through the vines to restore a natural balance and aesthetically pleasing landscape. The advantage of this option is that it is inexpensive and natural, but the disadvantage is that myrtles can grow up to 25 feet in height and partially obscure ocean views.

Method 2: Remove both myrtles and vines and convert these areas to grassland.

If used sparingly to introduce small areas of grassland in dense maritime shrubland produced by excessive pruning, this method can add habitat diversity and improve vistas. However, if used to provide extensive ocean views for beach-front homes, there are serious disadvantages:

• Removal of large areas of maritime shrubland requires heavy equipment that will damage the root mats that stabilize our sandy soil.

• Maintenance will be difficult and costly since the root systems of vines and shrubs will need to be repeatedly removed or poisoned to prevent regrowth and recolonization by new shrubs and vines.

• Grassland corridors designed to provide ocean views for beachfront homes will also provide an open channel for salt spray, wind and storm surge.

• Extensive conversion of maritime shrubland to grassland will decrease diversity and destroy habitat that has its own beauty and plays a vital role in our barrier island ecosystem. It serves as a buffer from salt spray, wind and storm surge, and provides a habitat and food source for birds and other wildlife.

A land management plan that focuses only on these two methods promotes an unnecessary conflict between the two goals of preserving natural habitats (Method 1) and preserving ocean views (Method 2). This is a recipe for a political tug-of-war rather than thoughtful land management planning, which is why we propose adding a third method that can be flexibly combined with the first two methods to effectively achieve both goals:

Method 3: Rotational Pruning on a three year cycle.

For the areas where annual pruning to a single height has degraded our maritime shrubland, we propose the following method to convert these areas to a mixture of grassland and maritime shrubs with varying heights by:

• Introducing patches of grassland to cover a quarter of the area.

• Year 1: Prune myrtles to five feet in a second quarter of the area.

• Year 2: Prune myrtles to five feet in a third quarter of the area.

• Year 3: Prune myrtles to five feet in the fourth quarter of the area.

• Year 4: Repeat Year 1 pruning.

Pruning is carried out in multiple small patches with a random distribution, not in a single chunk or row. Grassland is distributed in patches throughout the thicket. Since myrtles grow three feet per year, this pruning schedule produces a range of heights between five and 14 feet.

Method 3 has many advantages. It opens up myrtle thickets, eliminates hedge effects and allows shrubs to out-compete vines. Because our beach-front homes are elevated, Method 3 is completely compatible with ocean views and at the same time, this method preserves the maritime shrubland that adds scenic beauty and plays a vital role in our barrier island ecosystem. As a disadvantage, it will be more costly than Method 1; however, it will be less costly than Method 2 and far less costly than the current practice of pruning 100% of extensive areas.

We ask the Sullivan’s Island Town Council to give serious consideration to Method 3, rotational pruning, as a useful complement to the two methods proposed by the consultants.

For more information, visit or contact Susan Middaugh at 883-3034.

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