FRANKFORT, Ky. (KT) - The Nature Conservancy chapters of Kentucky and Tennessee have announced the acquisition of 100,000 acres of working forestland in the globally significant Central Appalachian Mountains of southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee.
The property, known as Ataya, represents one of the largest land conservation and ecological restoration projects TNC has targeted in the Central Appalachians.
They plan to manage the property as a working forest, using sustainable forestry practices to improve and maintain the health of the forests. The project aims to protect wildlife habitat, secure clean water for people and nature, and sequester atmospheric carbon to mitigate climate change, all while fostering important investments in local economies.
“The Ataya acquisition represents a deep investment in the Central Appalachians; its forests, its wildlife, its streams, its economy, and its communities; and a significant win for nature and people,” says David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky. “As a land conservation opportunity alone the scale of this project is impressive, but this is much more than a land deal. Fundamentally the project seeks to demonstrate that sustainable forestry can yield both smart conservation and good business, potentially creating a model that TNC, partners and communities could replicate across the Appalachians.”
The Central Appalachians are home to a confluence of conservation values: a globally significant biodiversity hotspot, a major North American migratory corridor, and important watersheds. The property has been identified by TNC scientists as climate-resilient and contains 200 miles of headwater streams.
The property is home to more than 100 species of Greatest Conservation Need, according to state wildlife action plans, including the little brown bat, eastern meadowlark, black sandshell mussel, cerulean warbler, black mountain salamander, and many more. It also provides crucial headwater protection for the federally endangered Kentucky arrow darter.
In addition to their ecological importance, the forests and streams on the property influence water quality and public water supplies in portions of Bell, Knox and Leslie counties in Kentucky, and Claiborne and Campbell counties in Tennessee. The property provides a critical linkage between the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area in Tennessee and the Cumberland Gap National Historic Park and Kentucky Ridge State Forest in Kentucky.
These areas are along the Cumberland-Pine Mountain corridor, projected to be one of the most important migratory corridors in the face of a changing climate. Many people currently use and enjoy the property for hiking, hunting, and other outdoor recreation pursuits. In taking on this project, TNC is committed to connecting its conservation work to the needs and interests of local communities.
Ownership of the property is divided in two: a surface estate, which was acquired in this transaction, and a sub-surface mineral estate, which will continue to be owned by third parties. TNC has no control over those parties’ mining activities on the property, but hopes to work with regulators and mining companies to advocate for best environmental practices and restoration that can minimize the impacts of mineral extraction.
The project is being supported in part by a Program-Related Investment loan from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.