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Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Carolina Rain Forest

The landscape and diverse wildlife population in the Blue Ridge Mountains’ temperate rain forest is a photographer’s dream

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The Blue Wall at sunrise.
With some 859,000 acres stretching across three states (North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia), the Escarpment captures moist warm air coming up from the Gulf of Mexico—the reason for the heavy rainfall. This land remains relatively inexpensive for people looking to build homes, hence the reason it’s so attractive to developers. Population predictions suggest that one million people will move into this region over the next 15 years, and that could cause a lot of strain.

“This fragile ecosystem will be overwhelmed by golf courses,” Bolt says. “People move here wanting to get closer to nature and yet don’t understand why there’s a black bear hanging around their home; it’s because you took away their home.”

Another considerable danger is invasive species. Often introduced for their aesthetic qualities, these are typically nonindigenous plants or animals that damage land and water. Some experts say that only development poses a greater threat to habitat loss. They’re spreading across and infecting the Escarpment at an alarming rate. From a national standpoint, invasive species are estimated to cost $137 billion annually in losses to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and the maintenance of open waterways in the U.S.

For Bolt, his mission is clear. Through photography, he can call attention to such rarities as the green salamander and mountain sweet pitcher plant, and which of the six locations it’s found in worldwide. Four of those happen to be in South Carolina.

Right now, Bolt is busy photographing one of the largest and most biologically rich tracts of land in these mountains. The images he has taken already were used in a proposal that helped secure funds through several organizations, including The Nature Conservancy, South Carolina Conservation Bank and others. The result is that 560 of this parcel’s 2,200 acres are now protected, with work ongoing to preserve the rest.

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A snail crawling on a trillium. Some 300 rare plant and animal species live in the Southern Blue Ridge Escarpment. The immediate threats facing this biologically rich area are land development and invasive species.

The photographer also is working on a book that will highlight the efforts of the South Carolina Conservation Bank, which began as a grassroots endeavor to determine what lands in the state are significant and how best to safeguard them. Working with landowners wanting to sell their property for conservation, the Bank has managed to protect more than 134,000 acres. In photographing these areas, Bolt finds that images showing colorful, artistic expressions of animals tend to have the greatest impact.

“From an artistic standpoint, I try to make things that aren’t so cuddly look cuddly, and that’s always a challenge,” says Bolt. “It’s also always a challenge not to get too excited and end up destroying the only population of some rare plant or flower to be found anywhere.”

For more of Clay Bolt’s photography, visit www.claybolt.com.

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