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Sangaree Ducks

South Carolina’s Luckiest Ducks Alive and Healthy in Summerville

By Amy O. Maxwell, NRCS public affairs specialist

If you live in the Sangaree Community in Summerville, South Carolina, chancesare you’ve seen the ducks that also live there. Perhaps you have even hand-fedthe friendly birds. Or maybe you have seen them on your back porch or evenblocking your driveway. At one time, the community pond was home to nearly 150of the web-footed creatures! Keep in mind that the pond is only a half-acre insize and is surrounded by a hard-paved road in the center of a huge subdivision(over 2,700 homes). The problem was not only overcrowding, but the lack of foodor cover. This small pond had become a dumping ground for ducks, andunfortunately it was the ducks that suffered the consequences. But, a specialgroup of dedicated ladies came to the rescue. Calling themselves The LuckyDucky’s, four middle-school girls (Mary Austin, Jaxie Eby, JenniferKindle, and Kirby Grimes) and their teacher Denise Zacherl put their headstogether and came up with a plan. The USDA-Natural Resources ConservationService (NRCS) assisted the team by providing technical assistance. NRCS SoilConservationist Lynette Savereno was instrumental in developing a resource planfor the pond which included installing a 20-foot buffer along the pond bank.

"By using a variety of native plants and aquatic vegetation, we shouldbe able to provide a healthy and sustaining environment for the ducks,"Savereno commented. The buffer serves as an excellent filter for keepingpollutants out of the pond. It protects the water quality, and thus provides theducks with a healthy place to live. The buffer also keeps harmful runoff likeoil or gas from the roads out of the pond.

Zacherl contacted Savereno when The Lucky Ducky’s began theirresearch to help save the ducks. The students (sixth graders when the projectfirst began) presented their project before the Sangaree Special Tax District,the board that maintains the neighborhood’s common areas. The problem wasreally gaining attention, with many residents complaining about the ducks andwanting them gone, while just as many residents wanted to ensure that the duckswere safe and healthy. Frustrations were running high among the quarrelingresidents, while the ducks continued to desperately search for food and cover.Faded bread bags floated in the pond and a yellow-bellied slider turtle lay deadalong the bank.

Given the situation, the board members unanimously supported the idea ofrestoring the pond to a livable area for the ducks, but also agreed to have someof the ducks transported to other homes. "This was necessary to bring theduck population back down to the carrying capacity which is basically nature’sability to support a certain number of living organisms, such as these ducks.The capacity was greatly exceeded, and that’s why the ducks weren’tsurviving and began invading the neighborhood in search of food and cover,"explained Savereno. South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR)Regional Wildlife Biologist Bill Mahan worked with the group to identify nativeplants the ducks needed for food and shelter. He recommended the removal ofeighty ducks to other locations so that the plants would have a chance tosurvive without being eaten down to the roots. He also invited the team andcommunity residents to come out and collect the native pond plants that would beneeded. Lucky Ducky parent Don Austin researched and found natural locallocations willing to take on ducks. Austin helped safely relocate the ducks, inpartnership with the Berkeley SPCA, who assured Sangaree residents that theducks were being carefully relocated to natural habitats. "Nearly fiftyducks were moved to new homes," explained Zacherl. This helps the remainingbirds have healthier, longer lives, because there are more resources on whichthey can survive. They won’t have to fight for food and shelter any longer andthe remaining plans that The Lucky Ducky’s have under their wings will alsoensure that these ducks thrive at Sangaree.

In partnership with the Lucky Ducky’s, Trident Technical College students(assisted by the Berkeley Conservation Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD)with maps and aerial photos) created detailed landscape plans for the pond. Someof the suggested plant types include Verbena, Switch Grass, Lantana, Coneflower,Live Oaks, Magnolias, Cypress, Asiatic Dayflower, Japanese Millet, Smartweed,and Goldenrod. In addition, The Lucky Ducky’s are also planning andimplementing an education program for the Sangaree residents to help themunderstand the project. "The girls are writing and designing informationalbrochures to educate the citizens here about our project," said Zacherl."I’m working on a brochure about buffers and their benefits towildlife," said Jaxie Exby. Another student is working on a brochure aboutwildlife. They hope to construct a permanent display at the pond where visitorscan pick up educational materials and view a photo collage on the evolution ofthis project. "Education is the key when it comes to changing attitudesabout environmental preservation," explained Zacherl. "This is a casewhere children can teach their parents about caring for the environment andthrough their involvement in this project, they are experiencing the thrill ofseeing the results of their hard work." The group is also planning anoutdoor classroom area where local school children can experience activitiessuch as water quality testing, tree and plant identification, and observingwildlife, just to name a few.

And speaking of results, The Lucky Ducky’s are attracting local andnational attention. Their efforts have won them several awards including SCDHEC’sChampions of the Environment, a $20,000 Urban and Community Forestry Grant, andmost recently a Sea World Environmental Excellence Award.

"This is model project when it comes to the strength ofpartnership," added Savereno. Partners include NRCS, Berkeley SWCD,National Fish and Wildlife Federation (NFWF), Trident Technical College, SCDNR,and many others who contributed volunteer time and technical assistance. Shealso thanked Savereno and NRCS for the valuable technical assistance and moralsupport provided to the group. "We have enjoyed working with NRCS and thenatural resource plan we’ve implemented has really helped us turn this dreaminto a reality."

The future of this neighborhood pond is certainly bright. You might even saythese are the luckiest ducks in the world. With the help of The Lucky Ducky’sand a whole host of supporting agencies and dedicated volunteers, they’ll bearound for a long time to come.

For more information and updates on this project, visit the SangareeCommunity website at www.sangareesubdivision.com/lucky_ducky's.htm.