Now at the helm of the state’s program responsible for stewarding natural resources, Lorianne Riggin has been an advocate of natural resources and the great outdoors since sending a handwritten note to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in eighth grade.
“I sent the agency a letter, asking what they did, which kinds of jobs they had available. I still have my envelope and the brochure they sent me. From that point on, I knew I wanted to be a biologist. I knew I wanted to study nature and make a difference.”
In her current role as director of SCDNR’s Office of Environmental Programs, Riggin and her team review hundreds of permit applications across the state every year and actively strive to minimize impacts to the environment through best management practice recommendations to the regulatory agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Regulatory Programs.
“It’s a balancing act,” she said. “We encourage public use of the landscape and support responsible development while also trying to minimize the public’s footprint and ensure we don’t lose sight of taking care of our streams, rivers and all the critters that live in and around these places.”
In addition to evaluating permit applications, Lorianne’s program serves as a voice for natural resources in hydroelectric relicensing and compliance, offshore energy development and natural resource remediation efforts.
Lorianne’s career in natural resources began with an internship at Riverbanks Zoo in Columbia while she pursued a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology at Clemson University. During the internship, Lorianne learned how to care for animals from across the world.
“I was able to work closely with so many different animals, learn their behaviors and how best to care for them. Plus, everyone was so passionate about the work. It was such a great introduction to the field.”
After graduating, she continued to work at the Zoo for a year until she took her first job at SCDNR as an hourly employee and worked her way up to the agency’s state-level aquatic education coordinator. As a lead outreach specialist, Lorianne launched several programs to drive awareness of surrounding ecosystems and promote outdoor activities among South Carolina youth and communities, including bass fishing clubs, family fishing clinics, a certified DNR fishing instructor volunteer program and trout in the classroom training.
“I went from trying to support global conservation with zookeeping to stewarding nature in my own backyard,” said Lorianne, a South Carolina native.
As SCDNR began an internal review process for overhauling freshwater fishing regulations, Lorianne developed a strong fascination with the regulatory review process and the critical role policies play in natural resource conservation.
“I loved the nitty-gritty details of environmental policies in college and when the freshwater fishing regulations overhaul began, I started reviewing legislation, pointing out errors and areas where language could be written less ambiguously. I worked with the Freshwater Fisheries Section and compiled a giant regulations guidebook to help inform SCDNR officers and the public of all the new policy changes for implementation once the General Assembly put them into law.”
This process ultimately led Lorianne to be interested in a position in the Office of Environmental Programs in 2015, where she later accepted the role as the section’s director in 2017.
Since that time, Lorianne has become one of the agency’s most public and active spokespeople, serving as the “point person,” as she puts it, and voice for the agency in various public settings.
“I am able to be a champion for the resource and interact with other agencies on a larger scale to move the needle to make things better — not just for the natural resources, but for all of us.”
Over her seven-year tenure in the Office of Environmental Programs, Lorianne believes her greatest accomplishment so far is the shepherding of the Crab Bank Seabird Sanctuary project. She worked alongside many DNR staff to develop the project from an idea to a complete project, expanding habitat for threatened migratory shorebirds.
“Crab Bank is totally number one,” she said. “It was a huge accomplishment and a huge conservation win. I remember seeing the first video of dredge material arriving on the island. I got teary-eyed and totally didn’t expect to get choked up because of sand coming out of a pipe.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Charleston District helped make the restoration of Crab Bank possible by beneficially using 66,000 dump trucks of compatible dredge material from the ongoing Post 45 harbor deepening project, adding 32 acres of prime nesting habitat for shorebirds to the island.
According to Lorianne, much of the project’s success, as well as other agency collaborations with Charleston District, boils down to great partnerships and committed people.
“Whether it’s working in an interagency review team, asking tough questions about a permit, or tackling a monster project like Crab Bank, it’s relationships with the people who make up the Charleston District that make the difference. They’re simply top notch.”
Reflecting on her early passion for natural resources, Lorianne believes her 16-year career at SCDNR has given her opportunities to explore both the scientific and creative aspects of the job.
“I took an aptitude test when I was in middle school that suggested I pursue a career as a mechanic or farmer,” she said. “I think the farmer piece is the land ethic, a love of the land and wanting to share that connection with others. From the mechanic standpoint, I have a general love of working with my hands and solving problems. In this job, I get to roll up my sleeves every day and try to find solutions.”