A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry

A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry

A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry

A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Lowcountry

Synopsis

An interdisciplinary study of conservation efforts in the Carolina lowcountry

Excerpt

When Hurricane Hugo battered coastal South Carolina through the night of September 21, 1989, its winds and waters swept beach houses off foundations, damaged 80 percent of the homes in downtown Charleston, and uprooted oaks that had survived the Civil War—becoming the costliest storm in U.S. history up to that time.

Americans watched on television as tens of thousands of coastal residents discovered their homes crushed, bridges toppled, barrier islands drowned. a massive clean-up followed, with victims struggling in the muggy southern heat with no electricity and little water, food, and fuel.

What happened after the lights came on and the tv crews went home shapes one of the many surprising stories in political scientist Angela Halfacre’s A Delicate Balance: Constructing a Conservation Culture in the South Carolina Low country. As many shell-shocked locals sold their homes to flee the risk of another storm, many more newcomers—large numbers of whom had first glimpsed its indigenous beauty during the extensive media coverage of Hugo—flocked to the lowcountry.

Not splintered frame houses and forests, rising insurance premiums, or the danger of future hurricanes weakened the low country’s pull, strong as the tidal force along South Carolina’s coastal shoreline and half-million acres of golden salt marsh. Halfacre captures the allure as both storyteller and academic, weaving oyster-briny memoirs from local voices such as novelist Pat Conroy seamlessly with ethnography and history.

But her foremost contribution is identifying and detailing the “conservation culture” that emerged in the low country during the building/rebuilding boom that Hugo triggered. the conservation culture is atypical of environmentalism, shepherded with the help of some of the most conservative residents in the region and grounded in traditional property and hunting rights. It is sensitive to not only land and water proper, but land- and water-based livelihoods and traditions such as African American sweetgrass basket making.

The most remarkable story may be how, more than two decades after Hugo, the conservation culture continues to flourish. While parts of the low country have succumbed to sprawl as willingly as the rest of the United States, the region . . .

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