Public-private partnership making headway on Headwaters conservation effort

by | Feb 4, 2014

Photo of Headwaters tract

In 2013, the state acquired 3,200 of the 8,000 acres it aims to conserve in Transylvania County.

A public-private partnership to conserve nearly 8,000 acres along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Transylvania County is making progress.

The N.C. Forest Service acquired more than 3,200 acres of working forestland and a significant section of the headwaters of the French Broad River’s east fork in 2013, the NCDA&CS, The Conservation Fund and U.S. Forest Service jointly announced. The acquisition was made possible with a grant from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, and state and private funding.

Located on the border of North and South Carolina, the newly protected lands will eventually become part of the prospective Headwaters State Forest. When conserved in its entirety, the future state forest will span over nine miles and will expand opportunities for public outdoor recreation by protecting and making publicly accessible the last privately owned section of the storied Foothills Trail. It is adjacent to more than 100,000 acres of existing conservation lands in both states and provides habitat for federally endangered plant species and other federal plant and animal species of concern.

“This project may be the last opportunity to conserve a landscape-scale portion of our beloved mountains and their precious natural resources,” said Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler. “Acquisition will help to connect large swaths of existing conserved land and create wildlife corridors for bear, deer and various bird species.”

Ranked seventh on the 2013 national Forest Legacy Program priority list, the future Headwaters State Forest received a $3 million grant from the Forest Legacy Program for the state’s purchase of 711 acres. The federal funding was matched by $5.4 million in private and state funding to protect an additional 1,186 acres. Combined with the state’s two additional acquisitions in 2013, a total of more than 3,200 acres of the East Fork Headwaters have been conserved.

“This Forest Legacy project is a model partnership demonstrating the importance of working together to restore and conserve working forests for future generations,” said Liz Agpaoa, U.S. Forest Service regional forester.

The N.C. Forest Service plans to create a multiuse management plan that will enable the property to be sustainably managed for timber production, while allowing for a variety of public recreational uses, including hunting and hiking. In 2011, hunters spent $525 million and wildlife-watching participants spent $930 million in North Carolina. The project will also protect five miles of trout streams. Trout fishing contributed $146 million to North Carolina’s economy and supported almost 2,000 jobs, according to a study conducted on behalf of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Kay Hagan and U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows supported federal appropriations for the Forest Legacy Program and the Land and Water Conservation Fund in fiscal year 2013. The Conservation Fund and the state are seeking additional Forest Legacy and LWCF funds to complete the conservation of this magnificent landscape and to ensure that the land is publicly available for hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits.

“The Blue Ridge Mountains are a true national treasure, and I applaud the U.S. Forest Service, The Conservation Fund and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture for working together to preserve additional surrounding lands,” Hagan said.

Working with the N.C. Forest Service and the Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, The Conservation Fund began the effort to conserve East Fork Headwaters in 2010. The Conservation Fund negotiated a contract to purchase the entire 8,000 acres for the state in a bargain sale from former congressman Charles Taylor and his family.

“This is a significant step forward for the East Fork Headwaters. In less than a year, more than a third of the landscape has been conserved,” said Justin Boner, The Conservation Fund’s real estate director for North Carolina. “We’re grateful to the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Senator Burr, Senator Hagan, Representative Meadows and all of the partners for their continued commitment to this multiphase, multiyear effort that will benefit North Carolina’s economy and environment for generations to come.”

The conservation project is poised to make additional acquisitions in 2014. In mid-December, the project was awarded a $2.75 million grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund to purchase an additional 687 acres of forestland.