110917 S.C. Environmental Law Project: Naturalist helps group celebrate 30 years
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Participants at the Wild Side gather to watch the sun set over Winyah Bay.

S.C. Environmental Law Project: Naturalist helps group celebrate 30 years

By Emily Topper
Coastal Observer

When he discovered a rattlesnake in the road while en route to Hobcaw House, Rudy Mancke immediately began searching for a pillowcase. He wanted to show the snake off to attendees on his afternoon nature walk on the bluff overlooking Winyah Bay.

“Naturalists study the world of nature and marvel at it,” Mancke, the naturalist in residence at the University of South Carolina, said. “When you understand the world around you, you appreciate it more. I think our natural heritage is important. I think we should do everything in our power to make sure this wonderful, natural heritage of ours is protected.”

For 30 years, the S.C. Environmental Law Project (SCELP) has been working to protect the state’s environment. SCELP’s anniversary was celebrated Saturday at the eighth annual Wild Side, where Mancke was the featured speaker.

“You in your own way are doing things to protect the environment that I love that I couldn’t do on my own,” Mancke said, praising the lawyers at SCELP. “I’ve always thought that one person can make a difference, and I’ve always believed that’s true. But, when you have a crowd of people working together, sometimes you can make magic. And I think this organization has done that.”

SCELP, founded by the late Jimmy Chandler in 1987, was never intended to make it to its 30th anniversary. Since 2010, Wild Side has been held in his honor.

“Jimmy really envisioned this being a discreet project that would have an end,” Amy Armstrong, executive director for SCELP, said.

Before SCELP was founded, Chandler learned about a proposal for an oil refinery on the Sampit River.

“He almost singlehandedly worked to prevent that catastrophic event from coming to fruition,” Armstrong said. “At that time, Jimmy’s dad told him, ‘You are crazy to take on this fight.’ But he was persistent, and I’m encouraged that the oil refinery never came to fruition. SCELP has been able to prevent similar environmental catastrophic projects over the course of the last 30 years that were inspired by Jimmy’s first battle.”

In a social media campaign called “30 for 30,” SCELP leaders have outlined the work done over the last three decades, including securing protection for the land around Angel Oak in Charleston County and shutting down Pinewood hazardous waste landfill in Sumter County.

“You don’t protect the natural heritage because of something you are going to get out of it,” Mancke said. “You do it because it’s the right thing to do. It’s reminding people that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Mancke, who hosts NatureNotes on both SCETV and Public Radio, said that the work Chandler started 30 years ago is still imperative today.

Chandler “had a feeling that this was going to be short and sweet,” Mancke said. “And it wasn’t. It’s still sweet, it’s still positive, it’s still wonderful. I’m telling you, when you hold hands with people who are interested in the same things and care genuinely about something other than just themselves, you can make some wonderful things happen. I am convinced that the world will be in better shape because of this organization than it would have been otherwise.”

He added that the importance of protecting the environment was heightened when his grandchildren were born.

“Let’s protect every bit that we possibly can,” he said. “I can’t protect it by myself, I cannot. And I don’t know the law. But we have people here who do.

“I never thought about how important it was until I had grandchildren. Don’t you think they deserve to see the kind of world I’ve seen? I think they do.”

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