CHARLESTON, W.Va. —The Conservation Fund announced its purchase of 32,396 acres of working forestland in southern West Virginia that will eventually create the state’s largest, conserved block of prime habitat for elk restoration on Tuesday, January 5,. In partnership with the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR), the Fund’s historic conservation purchase will establish a vast protected landscape of sustainably managed land, supporting working forests and forestry-based jobs and increasing tourism opportunities for public hunting and other forms of wildlife-associated recreation.
“This purchase and the first-of-its-kind elk restoration program in West Virginia is an investment in the economic development and future vitality of the state,” said Joe Hankins, Vice President for The Conservation Fund. “We’re proud to be a partner with the DNR in this effort to conserve an important and promising landscape, create new opportunities on land that once supported the state through it resources, and redefine conservation to provide multiple tangible economic and environmental benefits for local communities. This is a win-win proposition for all West Virginians.”
The Conservation Fund purchased the property through its Working Forest Fund®, with generous support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. Under The Conservation Fund’s ownership, the property will be sustainably managed as working forestland. Over the next few years, the Fund will convey the land to the DNR in phases, starting in the spring of 2016. These lands will provide public, wildlife-associated recreation, and they will be managed for a variety of conservation benefits, including elk restoration.
“As tourism continues to grow in West Virginia, this will be a wonderful new opportunity for outdoor recreation that both our residents and visitors can enjoy,” Governor Earl Ray Tomblin said. “I appreciate the cooperative efforts of everyone who helped make this project possible.”
With this conservation effort, West Virginia joins a multi-state landscape level effort to restore elk to the Appalachian region.
“We are humbled and gratified by The Conservation Fund’s tireless efforts and coordination of this legacy project,” said Bob Fala, Director of the WV Division of Natural Resources. “It represents the largest single conservation acquisition in State history at a most opportune time for the local and State economy. The bulk of this acreage adjoins the recently acquired Tomblin Wildlife Management Area and will be critical to the State’s fledgling elk restoration project.”
The reclaimed mine lands associated with this acquisition effort are located in Lincoln, Logan and Mingo counties. They provide ideal grassland and forest habitat for a variety of wildlife species, including elk, deer, wild turkey, golden winged warbler and grassland birds. The purchase conserves more than 10,000 acres of currently leased lands at Laurel Lake Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and Big Ugly WMA, ensuring permanent public access and enhancing connectivity with other important conservation lands in the region.
West Virginia’s United States Congressional Delegation strongly supports this conservation and economic effort, which will be completed in part utilizing “Pittman-Robertson” funds through the congressionally authorized Wildlife Restoration Program, a $250,000 grant from Walmart and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundations’ Acres for America program and a $250,000 grant from the Knobloch Family Foundation.
“It is great news that The Conservation Fund has decided to invest in elk restoration in Southern West Virginia,” U.S. Senator Joe Manchin said. “Our neighboring states, Pennsylvania and Kentucky, have experienced success through reintroducing elk into their wildlife, and this project will similarly benefit our Southern region by bringing substantial economic growth through tourism and new hunting and outdoor recreation opportunities. I thank all those who have been working collectively to make this program a reality in our state.”
“Working forests and forestry-based workers in Southern West Virginia will benefit greatly from today’s Conservation Fund announcement,” said U.S. Senator Shelley Moore Capito. “The completion of this historic conservation project will allow our state’s natural beauty to fuel economic growth through tourism and other recreational opportunities.”
“This important project will allow for the reintroduction of elk to Logan, Lincoln and Mingo counties. By protecting their habitat, we can ensure that elk can be successfully reintroduced to this area,” said U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins. “Tourism, hunting and logging are all important parts of our state’s economy, and these protected acres will provide opportunities for all of these revenue-generating activities. I will continue to support grants that improve the quality of life for West Virginians.”
The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund uses conservation-focused forest management strategies to enhance forest health and productivity, wildlife habitat and water quality, while supporting the economic well being of surrounding communities. With more than half of America’s 751 million acres of forests vulnerable to fragmentation and conversion to other uses, the Working Forest Fund is a dedicated source of conservation capital and timberland expertise designed to quickly acquire threatened forests with high conservation value. Over the last three decades, The Conservation Fund has protected more than two million acres of forestland nationwide.