Meet our Chief Environmental Officer

Jeff Snyder is not your typical CEO. As the Chief Environmental Officer at Kiawah River, he manages the land, waterways, and wildlife, and has done so for the past two decades. Keeping the environment healthy keeps it beautiful. Keeping the flora and fauna on the property happy and growing is no small task, so we sat down with Jeff to discuss just how he keeps the fish abundant and the bald eagles coming back year after year.

Q: Can you tell us about your role as the Chief Environmental Officer at Kiawah River?

A: I would say my role at Kiawah River is to look at the land with the future in mind – from both a conservation and a development perspective. If you want the area around you to stay breathtakingly beautiful, you need a healthy environment to foster the plants and animals that reside there. Whether it is an otter living in our wetlands or a painted bunting enjoying the brush, seeing these animals drives home how special managing our habitat is. Since this community is going to have classes and programs where residents and visitors can explore the area and plenty of green space in which to do so, the fact that we put so much into our environment is going to be seen and enjoyed for generations to come. We’re maintaining Kiawah River with the future families and future plants and animals of the property in mind.

Q: Why is this kind of work so important? Could you describe how the water control system works to make the land healthier?

A: Each pond has a rice trunk at either end to control the amount of water coming in and going out, which helps keep the water healthy and saturated with oxygen. This is good for both the ponds and the surrounding marsh because the healthy water is then released back into the water around the ponds. Having the rice trunks also provides us the freedom to bring in a variety of food for our fish and maintain healthy baby blue crab and tarpon. The rice trunks are also important in the event of a hurricane. We close the outside door to block tidal water from rushing into the pond. We can also remove parts of the rice trunk to lower the pond level to allow some breathing room for absorbing rain water.

Q: What are some ways Kiawah River knows it is protecting the nature and environment on the property?

A: One way to know if the surrounding area is healthy is by looking at what is referred to as an indicator species. When these animals are abundant in an area, we know the area is healthy. For instance, blue crabs tend to live where there is plenty of oxygen in the water, so if there are lots of blue crabs in the water, that water is healthy. For land, we look at bald eagles. These birds are picky about where they nest, so the fact that we have two pairs of bald eagles mean that the water has plenty of fish for them to eat. The brush throughout the wooded area provides berries for food and shelter for smaller birds’ nests. In these areas we see Baltimore orioles and yellow-throated warblers. The presence of animals like these means we’re on the right track.

Q: What do you think Kiawah River residents and visitors will enjoy most about the property?

A: I hope they enjoy the same things that I do – walking in the woods and just listening. Sitting still enough to watch a mink cross the road in front of you. I hope they enjoy all of the trees we have planted over the years. The view of the sun over the ponds, catching some fish and watching an eagle or two.  I hope they enjoy all of the green space we will have and will walk and discover the different types of birds fliting through the native shrubs and plants. I hope the residents spend their evenings walking these trails with their families.

Q: What is your favorite memory out here?

A: I spent a morning catching grasshoppers with my wife Julie and our son Jake. They were big grasshoppers about as big as my son’s hand – not the little wimpy ones. Later we walked along the nature trails trying to guess what the first mammal or bird we would see would be. We came across the watermelon field and picked a really great one. After breaking into it, we got totally covered in juice, so we had to head to the swimming hole in the marsh just outside one of our ponds. It was also a great place to lose a flip flop!