When Dr. Ernie Wiggers said this past Sunday that “The ACE Basin is one of the last great places on earth," the moss-draped oaks, backdropped by the flowing waters of the Combahee River, left little doubt that he was correct about that on a day of celebration for the ACE Basin Project’s 25th anniversary.

The ACE Basin is made up of a collection of easements formed by private landowners and public agencies like the S.C. Department of Natural Resources in the area formed by the Ashepoo, Combahee and Edisto rivers. More than 203,000 of the 1 million acres in the area have been protected under the initiative.

Ted Turner was the first private landowner to participate in the ACE Basin Project in 1989 when he placed a placed a conservation easement on the Hope Plantation, a 5,200-acre property which, along with the other properties in the project, are protected forever from development. Other property owners followed Turner's lead, with several donating whole islands and other large chunks of land to the SCDNR.

This land and waterways are used for scientific research and educational programs that benefit all state residents. Col. Alvin Taylor, director of SCDNR, pointed to how the clean nature of the Combahee’s water benefits anglers and how a number of waterfowl studies have been conducted throughout the acreage.

Wiggers agreed.

"Many folks believe this only benefits the private landowners who get tax incentives to place their land in these easements, but that's not the case,” he said. “Our sportsmen have benefitted greatly from the ACE Basin Project and the studies conducted here.

"We conducted research on the mottled duck population of the ACE Basin and learned a lot about every facet of the species. That information was shared throughout South Carolina to aid in the mottled duck habitat all over our state. Similar studies and information-sharing have taken place on wild turkeys and other wildlife."

Hunting and fishing opportunities exist on several public portions of the ACE Basin. Bear Island WMA is a 12,021-acre property owned by SCDNR that offers waterfowl, dove, deer and small-game hunting, as well as fishing – as does the Donnelley WMA. The ACE Basin National Wildlife Refuge offers both freshwater and saltwater fishing, as well as limited hunting opportunities. Many fishing opportunities exist on all three rivers of the ACE Basin.