Historically, South Carolina’s environmental stewardship has been abysmal. In 1670, the first ship of Europeans to make their home in Charleston harbor brought with them African slaves to start cutting the forests. Later ships brought exotic crops – rice, indigo and cotton – which transformed the land and defined the culture for generations to come. Within months of their landing, the Europeans were at war with the indigenous Americans and within a century had driven them from the coastal plain. They heedlessly cleared the land and depleted the soil with one-crop agriculture.
In three centuries, they exterminated many species, including, most poignantly, the Carolina parakeet. The only parrot native to the United States, the large green bird moved in great flocks between Pennsylvania and Florida. Farmers destroyed the birds’ forest habitat with agriculture, then killed them by the thousands to protect their crops. The last small flock of the doomed creatures was seen in 1936, on the banks of the Santee River, fifty miles southwest of Horry County. Six years later, the site was flooded by the giant Santee Cooper hydroelectric impoundment. The Carolina parakeet is a ghost that haunts the conscience of environmentalists; but to most Carolinians, it is simply the cost of doing business.