Wildlife and Habitat Management
|Measuring the Loggerhead sea turtle carapace. Credit: USFWS|
The refuge was established to protect migratory waterfowl, birds and local wildlife. That purpose has been expanded by the Endangered Species Act to include endangered and threatened species. A variety of management tools are used to protect and maintain wildlife and habitat.
Management of Water Impoundments
The impoundments on Bulls Island are managed to maximize food production for wintering populations of waterfowl and shorebirds, and maintain habitat for resident birds. The process involves manipulating impoundment water levels to make food available during fall and winter months and to allow the germination of new food plants during late winter and early spring. Salt water may be added during the summer months to control undesirable plants or to allow the influx of larval marine organisms and fish.
Management of Forested Areas
The uplands on Bulls Island are being managed to promote the growth of the maritime forest habitat. The process occurs naturally with a couple of exceptions. In the case of heavy fuel loads (downed forest debris) remaining from hurricane events, prescribed fire will be used to prevent a catastrophic wildfire event. The other exception is with the control of invasive exotic plants. The invasive Chinese tallow has become one of the most common trees on the island. An aggressive control plan has been implemented using a variety of herbicides and application methods to control this plant.
Protection of Nesting and Migratory Shorebirds
To protect nesting and migratory shorebirds, a strategy of temporary closures has been implemented. In addition to island nesting areas closed on an annual basis, in place is a system of mobile closures. Mobile closures are used for species that don't always nest in the same area year after year. The closures consist of "area closed" signs placed around the colony's perimeter and include a large buffer zone. These areas are closed to public entry as long as the birds are there. Once the chicks have fledged, the signs are removed.
Management of Endangered and Threatened Species
There are three federally listed endangered or threatened species that occur on the refuge, the loggerhead sea turtle, wood stork and piping plover. Refuge beaches provide critical habitat for the threatened piping plover as it migrates along the beaches in the spring and fall and surveys are conducted to monitor the plover's population numbers. Endangered wood storks are common, especially during the summer and fall months. The majority of wood storks are seen on Bulls Island where they use the ponds as feeding areas. The refuge conducts an intensive nest protection and relocation program for the threatened loggerhead sea turtle. The turtles nesting on the refuge are part of the northern sub-population of loggerhead sea turtle which encompasses the nesting area north of Amelia Island, Florida. Cape Island, the northern most barrier island of the refuge, receives the majority of nests laid, an average of 1000 nests annually. The management program for the turtle consists of a hatchery and caging operation, , data collection on nesting and false crawl trends, marking and monitoring of control nests on the beach, raccoon control program and, collecting information for the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network which is coordinated by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
Management of White-tailed Deer
In order to manage the white-tailed deer population on Bulls Island, the refuge offers two archery hunts annually, one in November and the second in December. The harvest of surplus animals maintains the deer population at a level compatible with the environment. For hunting regulations, see the hunt brochure.
Environmental Education and Interpretation
Environmental education and interpretive programs promoting awareness and knowledge of refuge wildlife and habitats are regularly scheduled at the Sewee Visitor and Environmental Education Center. Guided interpretive tours on Bulls Island are provided by Coastal Expeditions, the special use permit holder for the refuge.
Protection of the Wilderness Area
Of the refuge land areas, 28,000 acres are designated a Class I Wilderness Area and are preserved within the National Wilderness Preservation System. As such, the refuge uses a combination of methods and equipment that least degrades the wilderness values of the land while meeting refuge objectives.
Law enforcement officials work closely with local, state and other federal agencies to protect wildlife and habitat and to ensure public safety on the refuge. Officials enforce hunting, fishing, boating and safety regulations and enforce the migratory bird treaty act.
The refuge works closely with local, state and federal agencies and organizations to achieve its mission to conserve, protect and enhance fish, wildlife and habitats. Partners include the Francis Marion National Forest, the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, The Nature Conservancy, Ducks Unlimited, the International Center for Birds of Prey, and the South Eastern Wildlife and Environment Education (SEWEE) Association.