David Lauderdale

Walk in the woods leads to lifetime achievement for Beaufort's John Burbage

John M. Burbage
John M. Burbage Submitted photo

John M. Burbage learned to love the woods and rivers of Beaufort County as a teenager, when his father moved to town in 1963 to run The Beaufort Gazette.

"We went duck shooting, dove hunting," Burbage said. "I fell in love with the woods, as a lot of teenage boys do."

He also learned early to bang away at a typewriter. In a 44-year newspaper career, almost all of it in the Lowcountry, Burbage wrote columns and editorials pushing for better stewardship of natural resources.

Last week, he was honored with the S.C. Wildlife Federation's lifetime achievement award.

"Our forests are under siege -- big time," Burbage said Tuesday. He's retired now, but still writing a column for The Post and Courier in Charleston, where he lives. He also has a 50-acre farm in Hampton County.

Burbage is worried about a giant sawmill planned for Orangeburg County.

"The mega-mill at Rowesville on the North Edisto River would be the largest pine-tree processor in North America and add 300 'new' jobs in Orangeburg County, promoters say," Burbage wrote this month. "What's not advertised is this not-so-jolly green giant would require 400 log trucks a day delivering fresh-cut pines 365 days a year to supply the 700 million board feet of wood the mill could produce. Imagine that!"

The headline on that column was: "You can't see the forest when there are no trees."

Burbage said he's more worried about clear-cutting of the cathedral-like hardwoods, hundreds of years in the making, in the upper reaches of the Coosawhatchie, Big Salkehatchie and Little Salkehatchie rivers.

"No law says you can't do that," he said. "When the forest is gone, the habitat is gone for wildlife. They are slaughtering our hardwood, riverine forests."

One of the major successes he has seen started in Beaufort. He wrote a column in Charleston about the Beaufort County Open Land Trust, the first in South Carolina. That aided the 1986 creation of the Lowcountry Open Land Trust in Charleston, which has now facilitated conservation of more than 100,000 acres.

Burbage and the editorial page of the Post and Courier successfully pushed to have the Edisto River upgraded to the state's highest water-quality classification.

"That put a screeching halt to a lot of bad things in that area," Burbage said.

Burbage, who was in the Beaufort High School class of 1966 and a drummer with a band of the time called The Continentals, maintains ties to the town where his parents, Miles and Marion Burbage, became leading citizens. Today, his son, the Rev. Daniel Burbage, is associate pastor at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church on Hilton Head Island and is leading its new weekly worship in Bluffton.

Burbage jokes that when he was surprised with the lifetime achievement award, he thought they were talking about "the wild life I've been living all this time."

But in truth, it started as a teenager, when the Lowcountry woods and vistas were not as threatened as they are today.

"It's something I cared about, and wrote about," Burbage said.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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