Group creates largest conservation area in Arkansas
Tue, May 05 2009 at 3:16 PM
By The Nature Conservancy
Arkansans will soon have a new wildlife management area in Calhoun County, thanks to a conservation easement several state agencies and The Nature Conservancy are purchasing from one of the state’s largest timber companies. On Nov. 21, officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, Arkansas Forestry Commission and the Conservancy announced they will purchase the easement from Potlatch Forest Holdings, Inc., on land the company owns in south Arkansas between Hampton and El Dorado. Covering about 16,000 acres, it will be the largest conservation easement ever established in Arkansas.
(A conservation easement is a voluntary, legal agreement placed on a piece of property that limits certain types of uses or prevents development from taking place now and in the future, but enables the landowner to retain ownership.)
The partners signed an agreement for the Moro Big Pine project during the announcement and said they expect to close on the purchase by the end of the year. Scott Henderson, director of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said his agency and the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission will manage public access and activities, including hunting, at the new Moro Big Pine Wildlife Management Area. The area is expected to open in July 2007.
"This is a great opportunity to create a wildlife management area in south Arkansas," Henderson said. "There is a long and rich heritage of hunting and other outdoor recreation in this part of the state. This deal is good for the people of Arkansas, good for wildlife and good for conservation."
As a condition of the easement, the project partners developed a forest management plan for the property that includes a wildlife section and guidelines for harvesting timber.
"This is a ‘working forest’ conservation easement – one that allows for traditional forest uses, such as timber operations and hunting, that are both ecologically sustainable and economically viable," Henderson said. "Basically, the forest will be managed in a way that continues to provide forestry jobs, wood products and also protects the environment for future generations of Arkansans."
Jim Newberry, Arkansas regional resource manager for Potlatch, said his company is proud to play a significant role in protecting Moro Big Pine’s loblolly-shortleaf pine flatwoods, one of the least-protected plant communities in the United States. The site also supports a population of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
"This beautiful land is invaluable for many reasons," said Karen Smith, director of the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission. "It is certainly an ecologically significant area, but one that faces immediate threats. Conserving this area means saving a part of Arkansas’ heritage."
Smith said that across the South, forests are being subdivided and developed at an accelerated rate. Her agency plans to eventually include Moro Big Pine in its system of protected natural areas.
"This project ensures the land will remain forested, provide habitat for wildlife and be open to the public," said Scott Simon, director of The Nature Conservancy in Arkansas. "This is a great conservation achievement made possible by the cooperation of state agencies, non-profit organizations and Potlatch."
The project is being funded by the state agency partners and the Conservancy, and will benefit from the Arkansas Natural and Cultural Resources Council grant program. Federal funding is also being sought through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Legacy program and the Habitat Conservation Plan Land Acquisition grant program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Potlatch owns 469,000 acres in southern Arkansas, and 1.5 million throughout the U.S.
MNN is working with The Nature Conservancy to bring you state-by-state environmental information.