$3.1 Million in Grants for Longleaf Pine Forest Restoration

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) announced $3.1 million in grants to support the longleaf ecosystem and advance the objectives of the Range-wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine today. Fifteen projects across the historic longleaf range have been selected to receive this funding that will ultimately restore more than 13,500 acres and enhance over 140,000 additional acres of longleaf pine habitat.

The grants are administered by NFWF’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a landmark public-private partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Defense, the USDA Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Southern Company. The Fund, in its second year, combines the financial and technical resources of the partnership to support accelerated restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem and implementation of the Range-wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine, as part of the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative.

Today’s announcement, made at the Oxbow Meadows Environmental Learning Center near Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., showcased one of the grant awards supporting the Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership, a locally based partnership that includes The Nature Conservancy, Fort Benning, the Georgia Forestry Commission, and NRCS, among others. The grant will accelerate and demonstrate longleaf pine conservation on over 10,000 acres in west Georgia and east Alabama within the Fort Benning Significant Geographic Area (SGA). Technical assistance and outreach to private landowners and development of model forest demonstration sites will inform them of the ecological benefit of longleaf pine. In addition, fire teams will expand the use of prescribe fire across the SGA, which is critical in restoring and maintaining a healthy longleaf pine forest.

“This project exemplifies the large-scale conservation impact that will be achieved across the Southeast through the $3.1 million in grant awards being announced today,” said Amanda Bassow, director of the Eastern Partnership Office at NFWF. “Supporting locally based partnerships in areas of great significance to the longleaf ecosystem is key to achieving the recovery of this rich ecosystem and the wildlife species it supports.”

The 15 projects selected to receive support include 11 SGAs for longleaf pine conservation. Additionally, it is expected that the funding will provide over 1,100 private landowners with education and technical assistance related to longleaf restoration and available cost-share programs, with 200 landowners entering into stewardship programs on private lands.

“Southern Company is pleased to join the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and our federal agency partners in announcing this year’s Longleaf Stewardship Fund grant recipients as part of our longtime commitment to restoring this important ecosystem,” said Southern Company Chief Environmental Officer Chris Hobson. “This unique program helps achieve critical longleaf habitat and wildlife gains and shapes effective conservation strategies through widespread public and private cooperation – all to the benefit of communities across the Southeast.”

“DoD has been a partner in longleaf stewardship because of its proven benefit in maintaining important buffers around our bases and protecting military training from restrictions. When we protect this habitat, we in turn enhance military readiness,” said John Conger, Acting Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Installations & Environment. “The 6-to-1 leverage of the effort again demonstrates the benefit of partnering with conservation groups to achieve common ends – preserving these lands gets us quite literally more bang for our buck.”

“Longleaf pine forests are unique ecosystems, and it’s important that NRCS joins with its partners and private landowners to protect and restore them,” said Leonard Jordan, NRCS Associate Chief for Conservation. “Healthy longleaf pine forests come with many benefits that are win-win for the environment and the landowner, including cleaner water, better wildlife habitat and good economic return for landowners. Our Longleaf Pine Initiative has restored 145,000 acres of forests since 2010. We plan to continue this investment in working with landowners to create and nurture these forests.”

“While only in its second year, the Longleaf Stewardship Fund is paying healthy dividends in terms of partnerships and on-the-ground results for a very special forest,” said Liz Agpaoa, Regional Forester for the Forest Service’s Southern Region. “Together, we are restoring this important and iconic ecosystem. The Fund and the public-private partnership it represents continues to be a national model for other landscape restoration efforts.”

“The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a committed partner of the Longleaf Stewardship Fund and its goal to return the majestic longleaf forest to the Southern landscape it once dominated,” said Cindy Dohner, Southeast Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We need the longleaf forest and its ability to adapt in a rapidly changing climate, and our unique Southeastern fish and wildlife species need it even more. More than half the Southeast’s amphibians and reptiles depend on the longleaf ecosystem, as does the red-cockaded woodpecker and 28 other federally protected species. The longleaf forest is an integral part of the rich outdoor heritage we cannot afford to lose, and a linchpin of the Southeast’s economy.”

For the past decade, the Longleaf Legacy Program, a partnership between NFWF and Southern Company, has invested nearly $8.7 million into projects to restore more than 82,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on it. In 2012, the first year of the Longleaf Stewardship Fund, nearly $3 million was invested in projects that will impact close to 133,000 acres of longleaf pine habitat, and leverage over $3.8 million in additional funds. The grants awarded by the Longleaf Stewardship Fund in 2013 continue to build on the success of this public-private partnership, further expanding the restoration of the longleaf pine ecosystem through collaborative and results-oriented actions.

Article was produced by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.