Photo Credit: Jerry Monkman

OSI Helps Fund Important Resilient Habitat in Alabama

Paint Rock, Gully Track

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860 acres protected forever in important climate adaptation landscape as OSI’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative funds first project in Southeast
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JACKSON COUNTY, AL January 1, 2016 A tract of land that has been a priority of land conservationists in northeastern Alabama for a decade is now successfully conserved thanks to The Nature Conservancy, the Open Space Institute (OSI), philanthropists Fred and Alice Stanback, and other partners. Featuring rugged terrain and healthy hardwood forests, the land plays important roles in the face of a changing climate as both a haven for the region’s rich array of wildlife and as a maintainer of high water quality.

Nestled in rural Jackson County, Alabama, the 860-acre parcel near the confluence of Burks Creek and the Estill Fork is now permanently protected as a result of a new conservation easement. The project was selected for funding under OSI’s Resilient Landscape Initiative since it features micro-climates with a variety of temperatures and moisture levels that will continue to play an important role in protecting biodiversity under a changing climate.

“The Gully Family Tract is a classic ‘natural stronghold’ for wildlife on a warming planet, with many options in which climate-sensitive plants and animals can find refuge even as the climate changes, said David Ray, Southeast Field Coordinator for OSI. “OSI congratulates The Nature Conservancy, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Tennessee Valley Authority, and the landowners on this accomplishment, which truly shows the power of public-private partnerships in achieving successful conservation.”

OSI contributed $250,000 in grants to the project through its Resilient Landscapes Initiative and Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund. Supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations, and the Merck Family Fund, both of these funds aim to support land trusts in protecting sites that will remain resilient in the face of climate change and thus facilitate wildlife adaptation.

With the conservation easement now in place, the conserved land will protect water quality in Burks Creek, a tributary to Estill Fork and the Paint Rock River, nationally significant for its many diverse and rare aquatic species—some of which are endangered and threatened. By excluding future development, the Gully Family Tract will prevent sedimentation, loss of tree canopy, and the potentially negative impacts of some forestry practices to wildlife and aquatic habitat.

“This conservation easement will help protect a highly resilient landscape in which wildlife can adapt to climate change,” says Steve Northcutt, Director of Protection for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama.  “At the same time, it helps preserve our most precious resource—clean water—and the extremely diverse array of aquatic life found in the Paint Rock watershed, including approximately 100 species of fish and 45 mussel species, many of which are threatened, endangered, or rare.”

The Nature Conservancy will hold the conservation easement for the property—which will remain under private ownership—and is responsible for monitoring and making sure the easement's terms are followed into the future.

TVA provided funding as a part of its commitment to protect and improve aquatic biodiversity in the Tennessee River. “TVA recognizes the need to protect biodiversity in this area,” said Rebecca Tolene, TVA Vice President of Natural Resources and a partner in the preservation of the Gully Family Tract. “By forming a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the landowner, we’re keeping our promise to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley through environmental stewardship.” 

In addition to selling the conservation easement at a significant bargain, the landowners have been actively working with The Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore portions of the streambank that degraded prior to the family’s purchase of the lands. “The Service is dedicated to conserving sensitive habitats, and working cooperatively with private landowners is a key part of that,” said Rob Hurt, Private Lands Biologist and Assistant Refuge Manager at nearby Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. “These systems often harbor federally threatened or endangered species, or species at-risk of becoming federally listed.”

Significantly, the project was supported by a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback of North Carolina. Mike Leonard, a long-time proponent of land conservation in Alabama said, “The area that includes the Gully Family Tract and the Walls of Jericho was recognized as important for land conservation over 35 years ago in the 1970s because of the great hardwood forest and spectacularly rugged terrain. I visited the area for the first time in the late 70s, and I am pleased to see Fred and Alice Stanback contributing towards the protection of additional land in this area that has been important to southern-based land conservationists for so many years.”

 



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