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Bookhart Farms

Wetlands Reserve Program Enhances Wildlife Habitat in Elloree, SC

By Sabrenna Bennett, public affairs intern

"One man's trash, is a wood duck's treasure," is atwist on a popular phrase--one that may be well deserved when describing Burden"William" Bookhart of Elloree, SC. After discovering that 17 acres ofhis cropland was too low and moist to grow crops, Bookhart enrolled his acreageinto the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), with the assistance of former NRCSDistrict Conservationist Bethel DuRant and current District ConservationistFrank Stephens of Orangeburg County. By installing a dike on his land, Bookhartcreated a natural wetland habitat for waterfowl and other wetland wildlife.

Bookhart Farms is an 1,800 acre farm that produces corn,soybean, wheat, oats, and cotton, and has been in the family for severalgenerations. Historically, the 17 acres Bookhart enrolled into WRP was alwayslow and wet. It was drained, however, in the 1950’s and 60’s, with hopes ofusing it for cropland. But, as the years passed, crops continued to fail, and in1999 the Bookhart’s decided to convert the land back to its original state."I've always been interested in wildlife and wetlands, and I wanted to seemy land enrolled in a program that would benefit wildlife," stated Bookhart.

To convert the acreage back to a wetland, a 3-foot dike (anearthen structure stacked on top of the ground) was installed around the wetlandto hold the water. However, there is a 5-foot deep ditch surrounding the dike toprevent runoff from the wetland entering cropland or fields.

Previously, drought and hot summers prevented water andmoisture from staying in the wetland, but, water has now settled in the area.This newly created habitat attracts many species of wildlife and waterfowl,including great blue herrings, a woodstork, bald eagles, wood ducks, blue andgreen wing teals, snow geese and bull frogs. These animals feed on native grassand bull grass found in the wetland, as well as aquatic invertebrates thatdevelop in the water.

"WRP is a conservation effort to restore the wetlandsecosystem," explained Stephens. "Through William's strong conservationeffort, he has succeeded in providing a natural wetland habitat."

In the future, Bookhart hopes the wetland continues to supplya food source for wintering birds in search of a home. "I'm currentlylooking for more low, wet acreage to enroll in WRP," stated Bookhart.

"The program helps create a natural environment forwaterfowl and wildlife and I hope to see more farmers get involved."

For more information, contact the Orangeburg NRCS office at(803) 534-2409.