July 20, 2021 - The Open Space Institute (OSI) recently announced the protection of a critical inholding within the Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve (HP) and Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The acquisition secures more land for recreation and further expands high-quality longleaf pine habitat for the gopher tortoise.
The 116-acre “Tillman Addition” property contains a mix of pine and hardwood forests, and cypress and hardwood swamp forests. It is the largest unprotected property between two units of the Tillman Sand Ridge HP and WMA and is adjacent to a 2,722-acre tract and a 287-acre tract protected with conservation easements held by the Lowcountry Land Trust. Tillman Sand Ridge HP and WMA is also home to the state’s highest density gopher tortoise population, and protection of the Tillman Addition will provide more quality habitat for this state endangered species.
OSI intends to transfer the property to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) next year, at which point it will be open to the public for hiking, hunting, and wildlife viewing.
“The Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area is an essential part of South Carolina’s rich biological inventory. Its proximity to some of the fastest growing parts of the state makes it a true conservation priority,” said Nate Berry, OSI Senior Vice President and Southeast Office Director. “For generations to come, South Carolinians can enjoy the beauty and wonder of the Savannah River.”
Gopher tortoises are considered a keystone species because they dig burrows that provide shelter for approximately 350 other species, including the state endangered gopher frog and many important State Wildlife Action Plan conservation priority species: the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Southern hognose snake, pine snake, coral snake, pine woods snake, and two species of glass lizard.
Earlier this year, OSI also protected the 3,800-acre Slater tract, also in Jasper County. That property contains the third largest gopher tortoise population in the state.
“This successful conservation effort secures a critical inholding to broaden the state’s management capabilities for the important wildlife species at Tillman Sand Ridge Heritage Preserve and Wildlife Management Area, while completing a mosaic of protected land on the southern border of the state,” said Robert Boyles, SCDNR Director. “The project also eliminates the potential for disruption to sensitive and endangered plant and animal populations, some of which are found virtually nowhere else in South Carolina. SCDNR thanks the Open Space Institute for its continued devotion to the natural heritage of South Carolina.”
In addition to the gopher tortoise, Tillman HP and WMA is known for the habitat it provides to state-imperiled plant species, some not known elsewhere in South Carolina, such as the gopher apple, pondspice, woolly coneflower, Harper’s scrub-balm, and the lupine scurfpea.
The Tillman Addition property is contributing to a growing expanse of regionally protected public and private land along the Savannah River, which provides drinking water to 1.4 million people in South Carolina and Georgia.
This is OSI’s 45th completed project in just over six years in South Carolina, where OSI has protected more than 25,000 acres, all of which are or soon will be open to the public.