Conservancy in its third decade of preserving the Lumber River

Scott Bigelow

November 1, 2013

PEMBROKE — The Lumber River, a meandering black-water river that runs for 115 miles through five counties before becoming part of the Little Pee Dee River and one of five in North Carolina to be designated Wild and Scenic by the National River System, has a unique team of

As a land trust, the Lumber River Conservancy (LRC) acquires land and conservation easements along the river as a means of protecting it. The conservancy was established in 1991 by two former Lumberton residents: Carr Gibson, a land owner and forester, and Dickson McLean, an attorney, and has a 15-member board of directors.

The university’s relationship with the Conservancy goes back to its origins and continues today. Patricia Sellers, a member of the faculty of the Biology Department, is LRC’s director. A freshwater scientist with 15 years of experience working with non-profit environmental organizations, she is well suited to the job.

This fall, Sellers discussed the Lumber River Conservancy and their work.

Question: First of all, what is so special about the Lumber River?

Answer: Many things. It’s the only river in eastern North Carolina that doesn’t have any dams or structures impeding flow. That alone makes it worth preserving. In rivers, natural flow patterns are important in preserving their natural state.

Second, it is closely tied to the identity, culture and history of the Lumbee people. I don’t know of any other river in the region for which that claim can be made.

Third, it is a fantastic river to paddle. The headwaters in Scotland and Hoke counties will challenge your paddling technique while the lower reaches are more accommodating if you are looking for gentle “float” down the river.

Fourth: It’s beautiful and peaceful – most of the river is buffered by swamp, so when you are on the water, the roads and their traffic tend to fade away, replaced by sounds of the water and wildlife.

Question: How did you become involved with the conservancy?

Answer: I came to UNCP during the year that the LRC received several land acquisition grants, the management of which was going to require a lot of work. They needed help (LRC is volunteer-driven), and this opportunity for community service appealed to me.

Question: What kind of things do you do as the executive director?

Answer: A variety of things over the course of a semester. I meet with land owners, manage acquisitions or other projects, serve on committees, communicate among board members, draft and review documents, give presentations, organize meetings, manage interns etc.

Question: How is the Conservancy preserving the river?

Answer: We do this by acquiring land or conservation easements along it or its tributaries. Most of the land is swamp, which doesn’t have a lot of commercial value but has extraordinary ecological value. It is because of the swamp that the water quality in the river is quite good for most of its length.

Question: Why would people want to donate land to the LRC?

Answer: Two main reasons: They see the long-term value in preserving and protecting the river, and they want to help with that. They also want to reduce their tax burden. There are attractive state tax credits and federal tax deductions attached to land or easement donations.

Question: It is true that the North Carolina legislature is repealing the conservation tax credit program?

Answer: Yes, unfortunately. You can imagine that all 24 North Carolina land trusts and their supporters are perplexed by that decision.

Question: The conservancy has protected about 4,000 acres. Is all of that along the River?

Answer: Most of it is. We have some tracts inland, the largest being the Singleton’s Bay tract in Hoke County. This is a forested Carolina bay that was acquired through grants and a donation by Z.V. Pate of Scotland County. We are proud to be able to put a Carolina bay and its unique habitat into permanent protection.

Question: How does the Lumber River Conservancy protect the properties from unwanted activities, such as illegal logging or dumping?

Answer: That’s a bit of a challenge. We do monitoring on our tracts and post LRC signs. If we see anything that is a violation of stewardship, we go from there – sometimes that means removing deer stands or signs saying that we intend to. Our president has an airplane and pilot’s license and we can do some surveying by air.

Question: Can the public use the land?

Answer: Access is limited and only on request. We don’t have the resources to open up our land to the general public. However, several parcels, once owned by LRC, were donated to the Lumber River State Park in Scotland and Robeson counties for public use. The Conservancy’s partnership with the state has been an important one for everyone.

Questions: Does the university and its students use conservancy land for education and research?

Answer: Most definitely. The two tracts that are used most for both teaching field labs and ecological research by several faculty are the Singleton’s Bay tract and a tract on the river near UNCP that we call Sampson’s Landing.

Question: Tell us about your research in general and your research in the Lumber River?

Answer: My research deals mostly with water quality and ecosystem health. Recently, I started a project to measure the color of the water in the River and how it changes with water level or river mile. Color affects light, and that affects a whole bunch of other things. During field labs our students have found a Brook Silverside (a small green fish) and freshwater shrimp in the river and both of those were surprises. One student followed up with the shrimp in a researchproject and found that there are at least two species.

Question: In the long view, what are the goals of the Lumber River Conservancy?

Answer: The vision is to have the entire Lumber River corridor permanentlyprotected, either under the banner of the Lumber River Conservancy or the Lumber River State Park. We have donated some tracts to the Lumber River State Park to help them with their mission.

Question: How can someone get involved or donate land or money to the LumberRiver Conservancy?

Answer: Just give me a call at 910-522-5751,and we can go from there.

Scott Bigelow is a public communications specialist with University Relations at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.