Chapter 13 | Wetlands and wildlife

The wildlife of the Santee Swamp

May 17, 2007 

— The Santee National Wildlife Refuge, 15,095 acres, was created on the Clarendon County side of Lake Marion in 1941.

Nearly 300 species of birds are found in the water, wetlands and woods of Lake Marion.

The Santee National Wildlife Refuge is one of Audubon South Carolina’s 36 Important Bird Ar-eas. Among its residents are the red-headed woodpecker, wood stork, red-eyed vireo, yellow-throated vireo, Acadian fly-catcher, yellow-throated warbler, hooded warbler and promontory warbler. Many of these birds, particularly warblers, need large, unbroken blocks of deep forest.

Bald eagles nest in and around both Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie. The lakes also are home to an endangered fish, the short-nose sturgeon.

The Santee Swamp is home to the East’s largest colony of yellow-crowned night herons.

The last verified sightings of the ivory-billed woodpecker, long feared extinct, were in the Santee Swamp in the 1930s.

The Santee-Cooper River Ba-sin is the second largest water-shed on the Atlantic Coast, with more than 125 fish species, in-cluding the first known popula-tion of landlocked striped bass.

Lake Marion is good for fish-ing, but not so good for boating, because hasty land clearing to create the lake basin — World War II pushed a need for electrifi-cation — meant stumps remain.

Currently, 100,000 to 300,000 fish travel upriver through the boat lock on the Cooper River Dam and a fish lift at the St. Ste-phen Dam, added in 1985.

Fish play a role in negotiations for the first Santee Cooper license renewal in 50 years. Recently, Santee Cooper, the S.C. Depart-ment of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed on a draft settlement that would increase fish passage at the Wilson Dam, with a target of 14 million to 16 million fish per year.

Before the lakes and dams, the Santee River’s average flow was about 15,000 cubic feet per sec-ond; now it’s 500. In the federal relicensing process under way, Santee Cooper proposed increas-ing flow to 1,200 cubic feet per second. That’s under negotiation, though; studies say the endan-gered shortnose sturgeon needs 5,000 to 8,000 cubic feet per sec-ond.

What is a swamp? A wetland that includes land permanently or periodically un-der water, as well as dry land with shrubs and trees

What is an oxbow lake? A stagnant lake formed when a winding river’s path changes, leaving an abandoned channel

What are flats? Very shallow water

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