Tuesday, February 7, 2017 Blog

Admirable migration. Fox squirrels redux. Bridging the greenbelt gap. Evasive county council. Too many bans. Elusive climate reality.

by Dana Beach

“Nothing wholly admirable ever happens in this country except the migration of birds.”
Brooks Atkinson

Folks,

Brooks Atkinson would agree that there has been a lot admirable happening this week. We are in that magical season when winter residents are still here, (this includes northerners, but today I’m writing about birds), but spring migrants have begun arriving from the tropics.

Bear Island in the ACE basin was alive with ducks, swans, white pelicans and avocets, but also with migrating dunlins and dowitchers. Bald eagles are nesting. All in all, it was a magnificent weekend.

One tropical arrival that nobody expected was a yellow-green vireo, a beautiful member of the warbler family, caught in a net and banded on Kiawah Island. As Prentice Findlay with the Post and Courier reports, the vireo nests in Central America and migrates to South America during the winter. It was a first siting of the species in South Carolina.

Whether this is just a stray with a bad sense of direction, or another species expanding its range north in response to climate change, is not clear. Regardless of motive or cause, the vireo is a beautiful bird and, like roseate spoonbills and wood storks, a welcomed addition to the state’s avifauna.

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/central-american-bird-makes-its-south-carolina-debut-kiawah-says/article_3afb5432-ea2a-11e6-8626-af137f4f359d.html

The last time I wrote about fox squirrels, I discovered that I was by no means the only fan of these shy, elegant animals. Bo Petersen, with the Post and Courier, reports on the declining population of the species, and on a plan to reverse that by restoring the formerly abundant habitat fox squirrels require.

In South Carolina fox squirrels come in two varieties, light grey and, less frequently, black. They thrive in forests with an open understory, especially longleaf pine forests. These woodlands once covered 90 million acres of the Southeast. Due largely to industrial forestry practices over the past century, longleaf forests been reduced to about 3 million acres.

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/bringing-back-the-hard-to-spot-fox-squirrel/article_9e8a8e04-bb32-11e6-b5dd-eba1055b1c53.html

The good news for fox squirrels, and bobwhite quail, and red-cockaded woodpeckers, and for the hundreds of other species that formerly graced the Lowcountry landscape, is that the ravenous appetite of Southern paper mills has diminished, providing the opportunity to restore natural forests, (which depend on frequent fires).

The bad news about the diminished appetite of Southern paper mills is that much of the acreage that was formerly owned by paper companies is for sale, and being sold for development. This article from the Post and Courier by Bo Petersen, reports on the threats to Four Hole Swamp, the Audubon sanctuary that harbors the largest stand of old growth cypress on the planet.

http://www.postandcourier.com/news/conservation-efforts-at-four-holes-swamp-could-impact-how-charleston/article_d67085bc-e341-11e6-aa8f-677c976db29b.html

The Lord Berkeley Land Trust has announced an easement on 1,700 acres in the watershed. This represents a critical addition to the ribbon of protected land that follows the run of the swamp. The conservation work in this area will have to shift into overdrive in the face of unprecedented growth, represented by the new Volvo plant and tens of thousands of houses in the works just to the south, near Moncks Corner and to the west, above Summerville.

The next two to three years will determine whether the greenbelt Bo reports on will be completed and effectively serve as the edge of the metropolitan region, or whether growth will continue up I-26, to I-95, in the unenviable style of Charlotte or Atlanta.

Even if we succeed in bridging the “protection gap” between the Edisto River and the Santee Cooper lakes, traffic on I-26 – commuters, tourists and freight – is already over the capacity of the highway and growing every day. So the unabated, and unabashed, enthusiasm of Charleston’s political leaders – Mayor John Tecklenburg, Elliott Summey and Charleston County’s new county council chair, Vic Rawl – for spending three quarters of a billion dollars extending I-526 to Johns Island is frustrating, to put it politely.

The latest gambit in this seemingly never-ending game is that the county council just promised to cover more than $300 million in project costs, open-ended, over and above the $420 that the state offered in 2007. The kicker, as they say, is that the council declined to explain where the money would come from. They simply pledged the county’s (at the moment) AAA credit rating.

As one of the couple of hundred thousand taxpayers who have made that AAA credit rating possible year after year, I have to say that I am not amused. Neither am I amused that the council made the decision at a meeting at which no public comment was allowed. And neither is the Post and Courier amused. They condemn the action in this excellent editorial.

http://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/where-s-the-accountability-in-i–plan/article_5fd00012-e8c9-11e6-9d97-57619dd03333.html

In the words of two council members who voted against the plan (and who should be commended for doing so):

“I think the public certainly should see through that,” said Councilman Dickie Schweers. “It’s just not right.” Mr. Schweers spoke at Thursday’s special meeting — during which public comment was not allowed.

“It’s a sad day when council can commit itself to $150 million without having to identify it in any form,” said Councilman Joe Qualey.

Just up I-26, in the state capitol, mischief is also taking place. The inimitable Brian Hicks does a great job of explaining the hypocrisy, and the not-so-hidden agendas, surrounding the proposed legislation to prohibit local governments from banning plastic bags. (One correction to Brian’s article is that the company that makes plastic bags in Hartsville is Novolex, not Sonoco. I made this same mistake a few months ago.)

The best comment so far on the ban comes from Senator Larry Grooms from Berkeley County:

“I don’t see us approving a ban on plastic bag bans,” says Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston. “That’s too many bans, isn’t it?”

http://www.postandcourier.com/columnists/hicks-column-who-decides-whether-you-get-paper-or-plastic/article_fd0cbf86-ea46-11e6-83db-73e3f8b325b9.html

Finally, (as the Superbowl grinds to an end and Lady Gaga fades into the star studded empyrean), you may be wondering what cognitive phenomenon prevents your otherwise highly intelligent friends from grasping the reality of climate change. This seven minute video provides a superb, succinct, even light-hearted explanation of the psychology of climate change. Don’t miss it!

https://youtu.be/y2euBvdP28c

So, remember to avoid confirmation bias, and have a wonderful week!

Dana


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