In the Lowcountry, there are all sorts of ways to harm the environment, and there are all sorts of rules to try to prevent that from happening.
But without enforcement, those rules don't mean much (beyond allowing some elected officials to claim they've done something to protect our natural resources).
So a new collaboration among the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office, the Bluffton Police Department, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Department of Health and Environmental Control to improve enforcement on land and water is very welcome news.
People being what they are, a more visible law enforcement presence and more eyes watching out for littering and hunting and boating violations should reduce problems for the environment and for people trying to enjoy the outdoors responsibly.
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Pooling resources, manpower and expertise is especially important with fewer officers, particularly state wildlife officers, in the field due to budget cuts.
The new unit comprises four deputies (a combination of litter and marine-patrol units), two Bluffton police officers, seven DNR officers and three DHEC officers.
Time will tell exactly how this enhanced enforcement effort will work. At last week's announcement, officials said the agencies would remain separate, but would cooperate to solve and prevent environmental crimes. Sheriff's Office Sgt. Robin McIntosh said investigations would be directed by the agency closest to the crime scene or with the best knowledge and resources to solve the case.
What constitutes an environmental crime also was not exactly clear. At the news conference, those involved talked about littering, illegal dumping of car batteries and tires, boating violations and hunting violations.
Increased enforcement on local waters of laws against boating while intoxicated and reckless operation of boats would be very welcome. That includes getting boaters to understand that they are responsible for their wake. Under state law, operators of boats and other watercraft are supposed to go at idle speed within 50 feet of a wharf, dock, bulkhead, pier, person in the water or occupied moored or anchored vessel. If boaters abided by that law, complaints about damage to docks from speeding boats would be greatly reduced.
More eyes watching for violations on land and water also could help with enforcing county and municipal laws aimed at protecting specimen trees and river buffers. A look at our river shorelines makes it hard to believe Beaufort County has rules about building within 50 feet of the state critical line, as well as rules limiting the removal of shoreline vegetation that reduces damaging stormwater runoff and protects the shore from erosion.
But it shouldn't take law enforcement to get us to do right by our natural resources. A dose of common sense would go a long way. It's incumbent upon all of us to do what we can to protect what makes this place so special.