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National Wildlife Refuge

Photo of a Male Wood Duck taken by Dr. William Alexander
2125 Fort Watson Road
Summerton, SC   29148
E-mail: santee@fws.gov
Phone Number: 803-478-2217
Visit the Refuge's Web Site:
Male Wood Duck - Dr. Willam Alexander
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Santee National Wildlife Refuge

Santee National Wildlife Refuge was established on May 5, 1941 to alleviate the loss of natural waterfowl and wildlife habitat caused by the construction of hydro-electric projects on the Santee and Cooper Rivers. Stretching for eighteen miles along the northern shore of Lake Marion, the refuge protects 15,095 acres within the upper coastal plain region of Clarendon County, South Carolina.

From open waters to closed hardwood canopies, from freshwater marshes to cultivated fields, from cypress swamps to upland pines, and practically everything in between Santee has them all. Since the key to wildlife diversity is habitat diversity, it's easy to understand why so many different species call this refuge home.

Unique natural and cultural resources found on the refuge include a Carolina Bay and the Santee Indian Mound which was used as both a ceremonial and burial mound. British troops erected Fort Watson atop the Mound during the Revolutionary War only to have it taken by General Francis Marion's troops in April of 1781.

Getting There . . .
The office/visitor center is located just off of U. S. Highway 301/15, seven miles south of Summerton, S. C. Visitors may take Exit 102 on Interstate 95 and follow the signs.

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Wildlife and Habitat

Wetlands and open water (10,622 acres) comprise most of the acreage within the four refuge units (Bluff, Dingle Pond, Pine Island and Cuddo). The remaining acreage (4,473) is a combination of mixed hardwoods and pine plantations, croplands, and old fields. Careful management of these habitats helps maintain the best possible combination of food, water, and shelter needed by a myriad of wildlife species.

With recorded observations of 296 species, it is easy to understand why the refuge is hailed as one of the best inland birding areas within the state. The brilliantly colored painted bunting nests here as do a number of other neo-tropical migrants. Significant waterfowl concentrations winter on the refuge and the refuge over-winters the largest group of Canada geese belonging to the Southern James Bay population in the state. Nesting bald eagles and an abundance of osprey are evident along with several other birds of prey.

Visitors have a good chance of seeing alligators, wild turkey, and white-tailed deer. More nocturnal species such as bobcat, raccoon, and owls are rarely seen during the daytime. Thirty-five mammal species and 89 reptile and amphibian species make their home on the refuge.

Santee refuge includes four units, each with its own unique characteristics. The Bluff Unit, located near the Visitor Center is home to the Santee Indian Mound that dates back more than 3,500 years. A walk along the one-mile Wrights Bluff Nature Trail affords visitors the chance to observe songbirds, wood ducks, and small mammals. The east side of this trail, alongside Cantey Bay, is a great place to see wading birds, Canada geese, and other waterfowl species.

Dingle Pond is home to a Carolina Bay and provides unique habitat for several wetland species including alligators, wood ducks, mallards, great blue herons and other wading birds. The area also boasts a great diversity of songbirds as well as numerous reptile and amphibian species. Visitors may utilize a one-mile trail to get a closer look at wildlife.

The Pine Island and Cuddo Units provide the greatest diversity of habitats of the four units. Pine Island provides protection and habitat for American alligators, numerous species of wading birds, nesting bald eagles, several grassland bird species, and is home to thousands of wintering ducks, geese and swans. Visitor access on Pine Island is limited to foot and bicycle traffic only but a 7-1/2 mile wildlife drive on the Cuddo Unit provides numerous wildlife observation opportunities. Bird life on Cuddo is abundant as are alligators and many other native species.

An automatic gate on the Cuddo Unit controls hours of access to minimize disturbance to wildlife during critical periods. Current visitor use hours are posted at the entrance gate or may be obtained by contacting the refuge office. Visitor access on all refuge units may be limited to provide total sanctuary for wintering ducks and geese. Visitors should check with the refuge office for details.

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Santee National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1941 to alleviate the loss of natural waterfowl habitat resulting from the intrusion of salt water into the Santee delta when the Santee River was blocked to form Lakes Marion and Moultrie. Refuge establishment was also an attempt to offset the resources lost when vast acreages of river bottoms were flooded to form these lakes. Under a lease agreement with the South Carolina Public Service Authority, the refuge was superimposed on Lakes Marion and Moultrie and contained a total of 73,953 acres in Berkeley and Clarendon Counties.

A new 50 year lease agreement in 1976 between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the South Carolina Public Service Authority removed the acreage on Lake Moultrie, decreasing the size of the refuge to 15,095 acres.

Wintering waterfowl populations during the refuges early history included more than 30,000 Canada geese, 100,000 ducks, and 15,000 coots. For the past several years, refuge wintering waterfowl populations have averaged 1,500 Canada geese, 10,000 - 20,000 ducks, and less than 1,000 coots. Declines in population levels can be attributed to a greater than 75 percent reduction in acres managed, fewer ducks and geese produced on northern nesting grounds, and the phenomenon known as short-stopping where waterfowl only migrate as far south as they need to find open water and suitable foraging areas.

Major duck species are mallard, American widgeon, black duck, pintail, ring-necked duck, wood duck, gadwall, and green-winged teal. Eleven other duck species and snow geese winter in small numbers. In addition to manipulating water levels to provide optimum habitat, the refuge carries out a farming program to meet the foraging needs of these large populations of waterfowl.

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Management Activities
The unique blend of hardwoods, pines, freshwater marshes, croplands, old fields, managed impoundments and open waters found on Santee National Wildlife Refuge provide havens for a tremendous variety of plant and animal life. Refuge staff and volunteers work throughout the year to restore and maintain these habitats to benefit wildlife.

Water levels are manipulated to ensure optimum conditions for water birds, wintering waterfowl, and many resident species. Nesting structures are provided for wood ducks and other species in areas lacking available natural cavities. Planting of supplemental crops along with periodic flooding of forested wetlands insures that adequate wildlife foods are available.

In addition to managing wetland and forested areas, prescribed burning is conducted in suitable areas to stimulate vegetative growth, create openings and maintain low fuel loads. Managed hunts are also conducted to maintain optimum population levels for designated species.

Refuge staff and volunteers continually seek to develop environmental stewards by providing interpretive and environmental education programs to school groups, other organizations and refuge visitors.