The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) has awarded $1.3 million in grants to seven conservation projects that will restore, enhance and protect shortleaf pine and riparian forests and in-stream habitats in Alabama, Kentucky and Tennessee. The grants will generate $1.3 million in matching contributions for a total conservation impact of $2.6 million.
The seven grants announced today will establish and enhance more than 9,700 acres of shortleaf pine and riparian forests within the Cumberland Plateau, improving habitat for game species including wild turkey and northern bobwhite and other forest-dependent birds like Bachman’s sparrow.
In addition, the projects will improve 77 miles of in-stream and riparian habitats to benefit multiple fish and mussel species including blueface darter, eastern hellbender and Alabama lampmussel. These efforts will also engage more than 1,400 private landowners through technical assistance and outreach.
The grants were awarded through the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund, a public-private partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Paper’s Forestland Stewards Partnership, American Forest Foundation’s Southern Woods for At-Risk Wildlife Initiative and Altria Group.
Executive director and CEO of NFWF, Jeff Trandahl said, “The Cumberland Plateau contains some of the most biologically diverse habitats in the United States. Through the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund, government agencies and private corporations are working together to restore native forests and enhance freshwater systems for an array of colorful and rare species, many of which are found nowhere else.”
Stretching from northwest Alabama to the Kentucky-West Virginia border, the Cumberland Plateau was once dominated by shortleaf pine and oak communities. These ecosystems have dwindled over the past several decades due to forest conversion, fire suppression, and disease and pest infestations.
These changes in conditions contributed to the decline of multiple wildlife species including early successional and disturbance-responsive birds such as Bachman’s sparrow, brown-headed nuthatch and prairie warbler. At the same time, sedimentation and runoff from agriculture and development and the modification of streams threaten the regions freshwater species – some of which are found nowhere else in the world.
NRCS Chief, Matthew Lohr said, “Across the country, we have seen how farmers, ranchers and private land managers can greatly benefit wildlife through their land management decisions. NRCS provides the tools that producers and land managers need to improve water quality and forest health – both important to habitat in the Cumberland Plateau. For example, one of our efforts focuses on restoring riparian habitat for the eastern hellbender, a unique species and indicator of water quality.”
Southeast regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Leo Miranda said, “The Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund is a great example of how public-private partnerships can benefit the working lands, the species and the people that depend on that land being healthy. The restored forests and the dozens of miles of improved river habitat are a significant contribution to the conservation of listed and at-risk species, together with the legacy of natural lands we will leave for future generations.”
International Paper’s vice president of global citizenship, Tom Cleves said, “We are pleased to support these seven conservation grants that will establish and enhance more than 9,700 acres of forestland within the Cumberland Plateau. By working together with organizations that share our commitment to responsible forest stewardship, we will continue to ensure healthy and productive forest ecosystems for future generations.”
President and CEO of the American Forest Foundation, Tom Martin said, “More than two-thirds of the forests across the Cumberland Plateau are owned by families and individuals, making them crucial players in helping ensure healthy habitat for wildlife. With access to resources and foresters, these family forest owners can play a major role in stewarding our forests. We are glad to support this work to help them get the assistance they need.”
Senior director of corporate citizenship for Altria Client Services, Kathryn Fessler said, “Our companies depend on high-quality tobacco and grapes to make their products. From seed to disposal, our companies recognize that they have an important role in reducing their environmental impact. We’re proud to support the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s reforestation and water conservation efforts in the Cumberland Plateau.”
Since 2013, the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund has invested more than $5.6 million in projects that will establish and enhance more than 81,500 acres of shortleaf pine and riparian forests, as well as improve 564 miles of stream habitat, to benefit the birds and wildlife that rely on these ecosystems.