Although The Nature Conservancy named it among its original 12 Last Great Places, the ACE Basin is no wilderness preserve. As they have done for generations, families shrimp and crab, hunt game, cut timber, and farm fields. Birds thrive, but so do the traditional Lowcountry ways of work and life, thanks largely to the ACE Basin Task Force.
These men and women gather today at Nemours Plantation in the mid-20th-century home of the late Eugene duPont III. "We have no charter and no rules, other than all egos are left out on the highway," quips Mike McShane, chairman of both the task force and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Board. He watches as the group assembles around a tall fireplace for a fried chicken lunch and twice-monthly meeting.
Local landowners founded the task force in 1988 to halt encroaching development. They have since invited representatives of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust; South Carolina Nature Conservancy; Ducks Unlimited; Nemours Wildlife Foundation; MeadWestvaco Corporation, a paper company; South Carolina Department of Natural Resources; and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to sit with them.
The individuals may seem as opposite as lions and lambs on land-use issues, but they speak the words "timbering" and "hunting" as respectfully as "refuge," "environment," "habitat," and a deed called a "conservation easement." This group urges neighbors, whether their landholdings are large or small, to enter into voluntary easements with one of the above organizations. Owners and their descendants retain titles but agree to maintain the land in its natural state and for traditional uses. Today, 164,000 acres of the ACE Basin, about half through conservation easements, are now protected.