Baruch Foundation Land

Hunting proposed for Baruch nature preserve on SC coast

Lawmakers would have to approve the paid hunts

sfretwell@thestate.comFebruary 8, 2013 

— Wild hogs and other nuisance wildlife are such a problem at a widely regarded coastal preserve that property managers want state permission to expand hunting on the 17,500-acre Baruch Foundation land north of Georgetown.

The property is home to the Baruch Marine Laboratory, an internationally known scientific research site operated by the University of South Carolina. Clemson University also has a research agreement to use the Baruch Foundation preserve for forest and wildlife research.

Officials with USC and Clemson didn’t comment this week on how a bill to allow more hunting might affect research. But Baruch Foundation director George Chastain said field staff from both universities “have been supportive.”

The proposal — which needs Senate and House approval — would let hunters cull the herds of deer and hogs that property managers say are overrunning the Baruch nature preserve, known as Hobcaw Barony. It also could make money for the private, nonprofit foundation.

Baruch’s proposal could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars in potential revenue from paid hunts. That’s a revenue stream board members say would help the foundation, which is not wealthy and looking for money to help manage the nature preserve. The foundation’s budget is about $800,000 annually.

The 17,500-ace Baruch site hugs the coast between Georgetown and the Debordieu resort. It includes one of the country’s cleanest marsh systems at North Inlet. USC’s research has helped establish baseline data of marine life in an unspoiled inlet system. North Inlet is one of just 27 national estuarine research reserves in the country. Clemson’s work focuses on forests and wildlife throughout the Baruch site.

No one questioned the proposal at a legislative hearing Wednesday in Columbia, but Baruch officials told The State that the hunting plan would be controlled and would not affect university research. In fact, it might help, since too many animals can hurt the landscape, they said.

Hogs, for instance, root in the soil and have made it more difficult to re-establish native long-leaf pine populations, Chastain said. Clemson recommended tighter control of hogs several years ago, Chastain said.

“We have a hog problem that has been recognized by (the state wildlife department) going back to the ‘70s,” Baruch Foundation board member Edwin Cooper of Charleston County said. “It is all we can do to keep up with them by trapping them. And with a property that large, every deer population needs to be managed in some way. It’s herd management.”

The bill approved by a Senate wildlife committee Wednesday would lift the state’s game and bird sanctuary designation and expand hunting on the Baruch property. Some limited hunting was allowed through a change in state law several years ago, but those hunts were restricted to only a few employees, Chastain said. Under the Senate bill, Baruch trustees could allow paid hunts or offer hunting leases.

Ironically, the Baruch land was originally used for hunting. That designation changed after property owner Belle Baruch left the land in her will to a private trust in the 1960s to be managed as a nature preserve.

At the request of the Baruch Foundation board, the Legislature banned hunting in 1974 to prevent poaching. But poaching no longer is a problem and the foundation wants the flexibility to use the private preserve for hunting, said Ben Zeigler, a board member from Florence.

Zeigler noted that the Baruch land is unusual because it is privately owned by a trust, but hunting on the property is prohibited by a state law.

“This is limiting our ability to manage the property effectively and raise revenue,” he said.

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