More than 25,000 acres of forest in Eastern Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia will be preserved in coming years, thanks to a nearly $5 million federal conservation grant, federal officials announced Friday.
The National Resources Conservation Service has awarded The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky a $4.9 million competitive grant to start an innovative program that will help landowners earn money while at the same time protect the Central Appalachian forest in three states.
The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky will partner with its chapters in Tennessee and Virginia to implement the Working Woodlands program, which has been successful in Pennsylvania. Landowners who qualify sign their acres into conservation easements or long-term management agreements that prohibit the land from being converted or sold for non-forest uses. Sustainable timbering activities are still allowed. The carbon sequestered as a result of best forest management practices is then to be sold on the carbon market, generating income for the landowner.
Will Bowling, Central Appalachians project coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Kentucky, said the environmental nonprofit has raised additional money that will be used to leverage the federal grant money. Bowling, who is from Eastern Kentucky, said the potential for the program in the short and long term could be tremendous.
“I have lived my whole life in southeastern Kentucky,” Bowling said. “I know this has a potential to be a real boon for the regional economy. But in the long term, it will preserve one of the area’s most valuable assets — its forest. Central Appalachia has one of the most intact forests in the world. The Nature Conservancy sees a lot of value in keeping healthy and connected forests. It provides a great habitat for wildlife species, and it preserves habitat for migrating species.”
Bowling said he has already spoken to several Kentucky landowners who are interested in the program.
“We hope that the 25,000 acres is just the start,” Bowling said.
U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, announced the grant in a release on Friday. The program will benefit more than just the landowners who participate, McConnell said.
“Kentucky is home to an abundance of natural beauty with a thriving community of hunters, sportsmen and outdoorsmen who can benefit from this project,” McConnell said. “ I am proud (The Nature Conservancy) will use these resources to continue its important work for our land and wildlife.”