FRANKLIN, VA — March 19, 2009 — The Nature Conservancy of Virginia and Conservation Forestry, LLC announced today the protection of 416 forested acres along the Blackwater River in Southampton County. The property is home to a wide diversity of plants and wildlife, including Bald Eagles, and has been identified by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation as an area of “outstanding ecological significance.”
The deal reached between The Nature Conservancy and Conservation Forestry, LLC places 416 acres into a conservation easement, securing protection of 287 acres of mature hardwood forest along 3.3 miles of river frontage. The easement also includes 129 acres of upland pine forest that will be permanently managed as “working forestland.”
“The property offers a protected haven for Bald Eagles, migratory songbirds, and other Virginia wildlife,” said Michael Lipford, director of The Nature Conservancy of Virginia. “From an environmental perspective, it is as important as it is beautiful.”
Canoeing the Blackwater River. Photo © Bobby Clontz/TNC
Blackwater River reflection. Photo © Bobby Clontz/TNC
The Blackwater River is a tributary to the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound, the second largest estuary in the United States that supports a $1 billion ecotourism and fishing industry. “Swamp forests along the river serve as important nursery areas for migratory fish species such as herring. Young herring raised in the Blackwater move on to the Atlantic ocean to become a vital part of marine foodwebs,” said Brian Van Eerden, Southern Rivers Program Director for The Nature Conservancy of Virginia.
The easement is located on land formerly owned by International Paper. Conservation Forestry LLC acquired the tract along with other ecologically significant lands from International Paper in 2006 and is working on conservation deals with groups such as The Nature Conservancy.
“This was an exciting project for Conservation Forestry and is a great example of how private equity and conservation capital can leverage each other’s goals,” said Scott Mooney of Conservation Forestry, LLC. “This transaction helps conserve a great river legacy for the State and also helps us implement our strategy of investing in partnership with conservation organizations for the benefit of our clients. A true win-win and reinforcement of our belief that you can do well while doing good.”
Half of the funding for the $416,000 project comes from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act (NAWCA), which was created 20 years ago by Congress. This funding was acquired by Ducks Unlimited, and passed to The Nature Conservancy for this easement.
“Partnerships between NGOs and state and federal agencies drive the conservation engine,” noted Craig LeSchack of Ducks Unlimited. “Ducks Unlimited was proud to partner with The Nature Conservancy to protect this valuable tract as part of the Roanoke River Migratory Bird Initiative NAWCA grant.”
The other half of the project money comes from the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, which is administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). DCR has dedicated the easement as part of its Natural Area Preserve system.
“The Blackwater River watershed is a treasure of biological diversity for Virginia,” says DCR Director Joseph H. Maroon. “This easement will contribute towards the survival of some of coastal Virginia’s rarest plant and animal species.”
The Nature Conservancy has worked in southeastern Virginia for 35 years, and has helped protect over 75,000 acres in the region. In addition to excellent examples of old-growth cypress-tupelo swamps, the region is home to globally-rare longleaf pine forests, seepage bogs and unique drawdown riverbank communities.