Conserve, Advocate, Restore, Educate: these are the four pillars of the South Carolina Wildlife Federation. Together, they comprise the acronym CARE, which Sara Green, executive director of SCWF, explains is most befitting for the organization. “For all South Carolinians who appreciate nature, outdoor recreation, wildlife, and natural resources, we are the one organization that is dedicated to conserving and restoring these resources for everyone.”
Originally established as the South Carolina Game and Fish Association, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation was formed in 1931 by hunters and fishermen with deep-seated concerns about fish and game violations threatening the state’s wildlife. The late journalist and conservationist Harry Hampton, along with a cohort of outdoor enthusiasts, politicians, and civic club leaders, led the charge to establish the group.
As word spread, chapters popped up across the state, the second of which was in Columbia. Within a matter of months, individuals representing 25 counties met in the state’s capital city to formally establish the South Carolina Game and Fish Association. Fifteen years later, the organization was renamed the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, an affiliate of the National Wildlife Federation.
“Over the 90 year history, we’ve been dedicated to science, education, and advocacy so that we can keep South Carolina wild for future generations,” Sara says of the SCWF’s longevity and impact. Along the way, the SCWF has continued to garner support from prolific figures such as the late Havilah Babcock, who, along with Harry Hampton, served as one of the organization’s presidents in its formative years. Descendants of Harry Hampton and Zan Heyward, a game conservationist who supported the organization in its inception, have also served on the board of directors, upholding the legacy of CARE-ing instilled by their ancestors. “We have a lot of our roots that are still really engaged,” Sara says of these generational ties, adding, “Some of our biggest advocates are folks on our staff.”
For SCWF employees, CARE-ing is quite literally a full-time job. All creatures big and small benefit from the organization’s conservation work, from monarch butterflies to the Roseate Spoonbill. As a nonprofit, the SCWF often employs creative measures to provide the means for their mission. Jay Keck, SCWF’s habitat education manager, explains that in the past two to three decades, the monarch butterfly population has experienced a 97 percent decrease. This drastic decline is largely attributed to the limited supply of milkweed, the only plant on which monarchs will lay their eggs. “If there’s no milkweed, there are no baby caterpillars,” Jay says.
In light of this, the SCWF launched Monarchs & Milkweed, through which they have been able to purchase, pack, and distribute thousands of milkweed seeds to households all over the state. Through this program, individuals and families provide for monarchs for generations to come. As the butterflies make their annual migratory journey from central Mexico to central Canada, they paint the South Carolina sky an orange hue as they pass through.
SCWF’s WAIT program — Wildlife And Industry Together — is another facet of the organization’s conservation efforts. Through WAIT, corporations enhance their property for wildlife and use their facilities for community education events. BMW, Colgate- Palmolive, Westinghouse, and Bridgestone Firestone are several of the SCWF’s WAIT partners. Collectively, they have hosted Earth Day activities, built boxes for Prothonotary Warblers, developed environmental education programs, and hosted employee lunch-and-learns. “We really encourage WAIT partners to get involved in their community,” Jay says.
Community engagement is a common thread for the organization. It serves as the foundational element for one of the SCWF’s newest initiatives, “plishing:” a combination of a Swedish phrase, “plocka upp” — litter pickup — and fishing. As a result of pandemic closings, a swell of people turned to the outdoors for recreational activities. It was a silver lining that BeBe Dalton Harrison, SCWF’s director of education, describes as refreshing. “During a challenging time, it was nice to see people really getting to experience what South Carolina has to offer.”
However, as the world reopened, fishing rods and other outdoor recreational equipment started collecting dust in corners and coat closets. The Plishing Challenge is the SCWF’s way of preserving a widespread appreciation for the outdoors and encouraging small but mighty acts of conservation. “We wanted to find a way to continue to engage those folks in the outdoors,” BeBe says. The challenge ran from June 1 to Aug. 1 and was open to individuals of all ages and skill levels. By downloading the FishDonkey app, challengers could log, identify, and video their catch of the day and litter cleanup. BeBe says of the challenge: “It is for anyone. We had people register from our Women’s Outdoor Retreat, Camp Wildwood, Artemis, and some new families.”
Regardless of the program or the pillar that it falls under, each of SCWF’s initiatives is underscored by advocacy. This principle hearkens back to founding member Harry Hampton, who “urged that sportsmen in the state organize to press for amended laws that would fundamentally change natural-resources and game management policies” in his “Woods and Waters” columns, published between June and October of 1931. His outspoken advocacy set the tone for the organization’s vehement support of legislation that protects or positively impacts the state’s wildlife and natural resources.
Today, this effort involves an on-staff lobbyist and several partner organizations, including the Department of Natural Resources, Audubon South Carolina, and the National Wildlife Federation. Current advocacy at the state level includes calls for increased funding for the South Carolina Conservation Bank, which helps ensure the protection and preservation of natural resources, and support of the Green Space Sales Tax Act, which will allow counties to implement and apply a sales tax for the restricted purpose of land preservation procurements and green space enhancements.
The SCWF is also working alongside the NWF on the Recovering America’s Wildlife Act, which will help 828 species of wildlife and plants in South Carolina alone that need conservation and send $14 million annually to the state of South Carolina to protect habitats of species in decline. “The idea is to really work to protect that habitat for them before they need the emergency measure of the Endangered Species Act,” Sara says.
Boots-on-the-ground,.hands-in-the-dirt restoration will continue to be an integral part of the SCWF’s work. The organization’s Certified Wildlife Habitat Program offers the means to engage whole communities in restorative efforts. Through this program, habitats in backyards, schoolyards, churches, parks, industrial properties, and even entire communities can be certified as wildlife sanctuaries by providing food, water, cover, and places for wildlife to raise their young. Columbia is one of 11 communities in the state that has earned this certification — the hallmark of a grassroots commitment to wildlife and natural resources.
Over the years, the SCWF has learned that education is the deciding factor of commitment to the cause on any scale. Jay cites Baba Dioum, a Senegalese forestry engineer, as capturing this sentiment in a statement to the General Assembly at the International Union for Conservation of Nature in 1968: “In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”
The SCWF imparts a love and understanding of wildlife and natural resources through year-round classes, retreats, camps, and webinars. As a certified Palmetto Pro Birder, Jay leads birding classes for both green and seasoned birders across the state. Identifying birds, he explains, is as much about visual identification as it is audible identification, as well as a familiarity with bird habitats. Mnemonics like “Who cooks for you? Who cooks for y’all?” help to identify the nocturnal Barred Owl. Vibrant colors, such as the striking sapphire hue of Indigo Buntings, make it easy to spot daytime fliers. Although he could rattle off Audubon acumen for hours, Jay’s biggest suggestion to budding ornithologists is to sit and let nature come to them. “I think everybody can do it if they just allow themselves to slow down,” he says.
While slowing down does not fit into the curriculum at Camp Wildwood, knowing where to look and what to listen for does. The camp, located in Kings Mountain, is operated via a partnership between the Garden Club of South Carolina, SCDNR, SCWF, South Carolina State Parks, and the Harry Hampton Memorial Wildlife Fund. Each summer, roughly 100 first-year campers spend a week learning about wildlife, forestry, fishery, and natural resources, in addition to leadership and comradery.
One-fifth of this group is invited back the following year, during which the seasoned campers travel off-site for high ropes, whitewater rafting, boat tours, and fly fishing. Second-year campers also dive deeper into leadership development and natural resource education. Those who are selected for the third year program head to the Donnelly Wildlife Management Area on the ACE Basin for a coastal experience consisting of shark fishing, sea turtle education, and canoeing. As a former camper who now doubles as one of the camp’s second-year staff coordinators, BeBe credits Camp Wildwood as the stimulus for her career in natural resources. “I changed my major from advertising to marine science after that camp,” she says. Her experience, she explains, is common for Camp Wildwood alumni, regardless of their career path. “Even if you don’t become a natural resources professional, you’ve still got that little voice in your head asking, ‘Is this the most conservation-minded approach?’”
This question undergirds all of SCWF’s work, reinforcing the organization’s mission of conserving and restoring South Carolina’s wildlife and habitat through education and advocacy with every project, program, and person they reach. “The more that we can get education into the hands of the public and engage the public in education, the more chances it will move them into action,” BeBe says.