According to the Land Trust Alliance, each year roughly 800,000 acres of the Southeast's forest and farmland is converted to residential and commercial use. This rapid development is a threat to the region's rich biodiversity as well as the outdoor recreational opportunities afforded by open spaces. To combat this trend, land trusts have significantly increased their land protection efforts in the Southeast. Still, the pace of development threatens to outstrip this work.
Because of this, in 2009, TU expanded its field staff to include a Southeastern Land Protection Coordinator and established a field office in Asheville, NC to carry out these activities. The project has moved forward with great success. Working with land trusts in North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, South Carolina and Georgia, TU's Southeastern Coordinator works to leverage funding and support for land conservation and stream restoration.
It is clear that in order to maintain the Southeast's natural heritage, land protection support must be expanded beyond the traditional constituents. TU engages the angling community in order to broaden public support for land conservation and bring to bear the resources of this powerful voice to achieve greater protection for critical fish and wildlife habitat.
North Mills River, Henderson County, North Carolina
TU's Land Protection staff, in partnership with the region's TU members, recently completed a campaign to raise $30,000 to protect a key property along one of North Carolina's most popular trout streams. The property, an in-holding in the Pisgah National Forest along the North Mills River, holds crucial access for angling, fisheries management and other passive recreation and had been under threat of development for years. The funds, generously donated by regional TU members, chapters and councils, will enable the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy to secure the property from development and allow the U.S. Forest Service time to seek funding in order to add the property to the public trust. Once the Forest Service transaction is complete, the $30,000 will be returned to TU to be used as part of the Coldwater Land Conservancy Fund for western North Carolina.
The property will be secured in the fall of 2010. Read more about the North Mills River project.
Rocky Fork, Tennessee
Rocky Fork, a 9,624 acre parcel named after the pristine trout stream that runs down its center, creates a vast, unfragmented haven with over 16 miles of stream, approximately 4 miles being classified as a hybridized population of Southern Appalachian Brook Trout. According to the U.S. Forest Service, the property is the largest unprotected high-elevation tract of land in the southern Appalachian Mountains. Approximately 30 minutes south from Johnson City, Tennessee and 35 minutes north from Asheville, North Carolina, the tract lies within the Cherokee National Forest and abuts the Pisgah National Forest.
The property owner, New Forestry LLC decided to sell the property to The Conservation Fund and The USDA Forest Service in collaboration with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy and many others. The partnership then undertook a major advocacy effort to secure federal funding to add the property to the national forest.
Rocky Fork's protection is an excellent vehicle for demonstrating how the land conservation and sportsmen communities benefit from working together. The sheer size of the property alone draws attention and will realize the protection of an entire watershed and pristine streams, as well as magnificent views. The parcel is known to the recreational community and draws anglers from across the region. The Conservation Fund requested TU's help in garnering grassroots support for a significant congressional appropriation and additional help with state and regional funding.