There aren’t many people who would leave a thriving, family-owned law practice to become a leading conservationist in their home state. But Brad Wyche is not most people. After years of practicing law in South Carolina, Brad Wyche decided it was time to trade the courtroom for South Carolina’s vast array of marsh lands, swamps, rivers, gorges and mountains.
As a result, Wyche has become a prominent fixture of South Carolina’s environmental and conservation efforts and along the way has founded Upstate Forever, a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of land and natural resources in Upstate South Carolina. For his efforts, Wyche has been recognized with numerous awards and has served on a variety of environmentally friendly boards and committees.
Still its quite clear from a brief conversation with him that he’s not concerned with accolades or recognition but is steadfastly dedicated to the protection of South Carolina’s future.
NOBLE: What makes us any different than North Carolina, Georgia, Oregon or any other state for that matter when it comes to our natural resources?
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WYCHE: We have almost a third of the salt marsh acreage on the East Coast. The Blue Ridge Escarpment is globally significant because of the rapid change in topography and the diversity of plant life there. We’ve got these great black rivers; the Edisto River. What an incredible river. It’s one of the longest black-water rivers in the world. We just have a ton of great natural resources here. I would put South Carolina up against any other state or any other country in terms of natural resources.
NOBLE: How does South Carolina compare in terms of us being good stewards of our abundance of natural resources?
WYCHE: We have some great conservation success stories in the state that have been primarily driven by the private sector. For example, there’s the work that my father did in the mountains; and really he was the catalyst for that. And he’d be the first to tell you that he couldn’t have done it without the State’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, and the Department of Interior. They were very supportive. But he really led the effort. And then down the coast the great conservation success story with the ACE Basin. That was really an effort led by the private sector. The effort in saving the Congaree Swamp was a grassroots effort by our citizens. So a lot of the conservation success that we have here is due to private, grass roots efforts with the state coming in, sort of later in the game and being very supportive. I think it’s unfortunate in South Carolina that we do not devote a substantial amount of state funding to the protection of our natural resources. These natural resources can be a huge boost to our economy.
NOBLE: Is there a way that we can leverage our natural resources into other “world class” attainments, growth, expansion, consciousness? How do we use these resources to ratchet up other parts of the state that need a lot of help?
WYCHE: There’s a growing industry of eco-tourism. More and more people are enjoying getting outdoors and they’re taking trips that are sort of adventure based. I think we could really tap into that growing industry of eco-tourism. For example, National Geographic named the Jocassee Gorges in northern Pickens County as one of the 50 great places in the world. It’s a spectacular place where very few people in South Carolina; very few people in Pickens County, have ever visited. Not to pick on Pickens, but they’re trying to revitalize their city, revitalize their downtown. They have one of the world’s greatest places right there in their backyard. That ought to be the focus of economic development. You have this phenomenal place ten minutes away from downtown Pickens.
NOBLE: You believe we can leverage those resources without adversely affecting the environment?
WYCHE: I do. As more and more people come to enjoy the resources and spend money and provide jobs, we have to make sure that the use of those natural resources is properly managed. It’d be a nice problem to have in managing those folks. The way that we market and publicize our natural resources here in the state is pretty pitiful.
NOBLE: What are the barriers that you see to our being able to leverage our natural resources to help the state reach this “world class” level?
WYCHE: I think one of the barriers as I see it is convincing our elected officials how important these natural resources are. I think it would be useful to actually get them out in the field to see them. We can send letters and photographs and power point presentations all we want, but we really need to get them out there. To walk through Jocassee Gorge or take a raft trip down the Chattooga River. To take the Jones Gap Trail. I think more of that would help them to really appreciate what we have. We need to do a better job of showing the link between these natural resources and economic prosperity; quantifying eco-tourism in South Carolina and how it can lead to jobs. We can use the USC Moore School study about the value of our natural resources. That is a great study with a lot of good research. With solid findings and really big numbers in there. I think we all need to keep that study on our desk and look at it a lot.
Video: Interview with Brad Wyche