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Monday, September 30, 2013

‘Historic land acquisition’ means 4,200 acres will be preserved, conserved for years to come


State and private organizations worked together to find funding to buy the property in Crittenden County. (Photo from F&W)


Special to KyForward

More than 4,200 acres of environmentally significant land in Western Kentucky will be preserved and conserved for future generations.

The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky sold the property along the Tradewater and Ohio rivers in Crittenden County to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and the Kentucky Division of Forestry.

Coupled with 2,488 acres acquired across the Tradewater River in Union County in 2011, the Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area and State Forest will now encompass more than 6,700 acres along the only free-flowing tributary to the Ohio River in Kentucky.

The $12.6 million purchase was made without tapping into the license and permit fees paid by hunters and anglers, noted Deputy Commissioner Benjy Kinman of the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

“This is an example of state and private organizations working together to leverage funds for a significant and historic land acquisition,” he said.

For The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, the property represented its largest land acquisition to date, said Terry Cook, organization’s state director in Kentucky.

“The Big Rivers project will forever be a destination for those who cherish and enjoy Kentucky’s landscapes,” he noted.

“The Big Rivers project required extraordinary efforts between private, public and non-profit businesses, agencies and non-profit organizations,” Cook added. “Current and future generations will forever benefit from the combined vision that has allowed for this significant conservation win.”

The area is public property acquired to conserve and enhance this unique property and provide outdoor recreation for activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, wildlife viewing and other wildlife-related activities. The new section will open for small game, turkey and deer archery hunting in early November under the same regulations as the Union County portion. The entire property will be open for modern gun deer hunting only through an existing quota hunt on Nov. 9-10.

Initial road access may be limited until it can be developed further.

Kinman noted the property is a mosaic of hardwoods, crops, grassland and wetlands. The area provides habitat for 16 plants and 25 animal species listed as rare as well as 50 species listed as having the greatest conservation need in Kentucky. The area is also home to the federally endangered Indiana bat.

The property will be managed jointly by the Kentucky Division of Forestry and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife to provide watershed and water quality protection; to protect and recover endangered, threatened and rare species; and to preserve existing cultural and geological treasures. The property will be managed as a sustainable timber operation under guidelines set by the Forest Stewardship Council.

“The Division of Forestry is excited to add this property to its network of state forests,” said State Forestry Director Leah MacSwords. “Partnering with the Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources not only allowed the state to obtain the property but it will continue to benefit the Commonwealth by pooling our resources in the management of the Big Rivers property.”

The entire property was purchased in early 2009 by an investment fund managed by The Forestland Group with cooperation from The Conservation Fund and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Resources. This acquisition kept the property intact until public agencies could line up funding for their own purchase.

The Conservation Fund, a national non-profit land conservation organization, was also instrumental in helping the state acquire lands that later became Peabody, Obion Creek and Sloughs WMAs.

The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky used money from its land conservation fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Indiana Bat Conservation Fund to purchase the 4,200-acre tract from The Forestland Group earlier this month.

For the public acquisition, nearly $5.8 million came from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Board, including the board’s funds allocated through the Kentucky Division of Forestry and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. These funds are derived from nature license plate sales, environmental fines and a portion of the unmined minerals tax. Fees-in-lieu-of mitigation money added $650,000 to the funding.

A majority of the funding came from a matching $5.1 million grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program. Kentucky Fish and Wildlife paid $1.1 million from its federal funding to complete the sale and pay administrative fees.

“We’re proud to open a property of this size to the public,” Kinman said. “It shows that when public, private and non-profit agencies work together, everybody wins.”

From Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources