Face Of This Place: Marc Epstein, Santee National Wildlife Refuge Manager
Marc Epstein, Santee National Wildlife Refuge Manager
At A Glance
"The fact that The Conservation Fund has stepped up to help the refuge and link into the support for this type of forest and wildlife management is very important. I think it’s outstanding."
— Marc Epstein
How did you arrive at Santee National Wildlife Refuge?
I’ve been the refuge manager of Santee since 2006 but I started with Fish and Wildlife Service in 1993, before that I worked for the State of Florida. I had always wanted to work on a National Wildlife Refuge and tackle the challenges that that presents. When I first started back in the 1980s, the method of getting onto the Fish and Wildlife Service was called “the registry”. And you had to go to a federal building to register for the open positions as an ecologist or biologist. Except they never let you know when the registry was open, you just had to show up which was tough for me because I was working in a very remote area.
So how long were you on the registry?
Oh I never got on! It was like Catch 22. It always felt like this secret deal where you had to go to the federal building, go up to a certain department, ask if the registry was open, and they had these green sheets at the time, you would flip through these green sheets to see which jobs were available. But I never caught it at the right time. Now of course it’s all online.
Do you remember the first refuge you visited?
I grew up in Charleston South Carolina and Cape Romain was about 15 miles north or so, on the coast. I always was an outdoor kid. I went fishing and hunting with my father; that was something (spending time outdoors) that was really important to me; and our whole family valued it.
What are the goals you are trying to achieve at Santee?
We are a very diverse refuge with wetlands, open water, open fields and upland, oak, and pine forests. The refuge was established in 1941 as a migratory bird refuge, the refuge has evolved over the last 60 years but our primary focus remains on migratory bird flyways and waterfowl. Over the last five years we have been restoring the wetlands and waterfowl management capability.
The refuge is situated about 5 minutes off of Interstate 95 and many visitors come through on their travels – roughly 194,000 visitations annually. Our public service program is another focus of ours. The refuge provides tremendous economic incentive for the local community by providing nature trails, fishing, photography, and education.
Our third major focus is on our forest management program. That’s where The Conservation Fund has really helped out a lot. In 2007, we started the program with Go Zero® to restore our longleaf pine forest.
Longleaf pine forest is a long longevity forest so you’re looking at a 200 year forest. We are thinking out not just for today but what’s going to be here long-term. There’s a whole community structure in a longleaf pine forest, the understory vegetation for birds, frogs, salamanders. It’s a lot of landscape change. If you look back in time at our landscape and how that landscape has changed, there are areas that we are trying to maintain as natural areas and there are farmlands and urban communities; it creates a patchwork of landscape conditions. This fragmentation means having these places that are natural is very important and maintaining corridors of natural areas so that animals that are migrating like birds can use these areas.
The fact that The Conservation Fund has stepped up to help the refuge and link into the support for this type of forest and wildlife management is very important. I think it’s outstanding.
How is the longleaf pine restoration at Santee good for the Southeast?
The longleaf pine habitat is considered the original native forest of the South Atlantic, coastal plain which we’re a part of. The effort has been to restore as much of the forest as possible as a condition for more climate tolerant forests. It helps address the multiple species of concern or species of risk target. The breeding birds of the North need a place to stop along the way. On the Santee bird list, there are over 250 bird species; 244 of which appear year-round and frequent. Of those species, 50% have been listed by the Fish and Wildlife Service as species of risk or species of concern.