OSI brought new funding and increased attention to the Southern Appalachians’ fast-disappearing forestlands – among the most diverse and climate-resilient wildlife habitat in the country. Together with our subsequent grant and loan funds in the region, it spurred a sustained effort by land trusts and states to piece together the region’s most biologically significant habitat before it’s too late.
Why Southern Appalachian Land Protection Fund
An ancient mountain range, the Southern Appalachians run in a north-south direction that allowed many species to migrate south during the Ice Age. As a result, the region harbors an astonishing array of plants and animals, many found nowhere else on earth. Ten million people get their drinking water from rivers draining the mountains, and millions more flock to the region’s parks and public forests for their spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation.
Although nearly all of the region’s forests have been logged, much of the landscape has recovered and is once again a thriving forest ecosystem. Today, though, the Southeast is growing rapidly. Some of the most biologically significant landscapes in the region are at risk from vacation home and resort development, road building, industrial forestry, and invasive plants and pests.
In 2004, we conducted a comprehensive Southern Appalachian Assessment, funded by the Merck Family Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds and Lyndhurst Foundations. It looked at the threats to the region and the conservation opportunities and obstacles. We found an enormous potential to build upon the existing mosaic of conserved areas and to assist a small but committed network of like-minded organizations in conserving lands identified as in need of protection. We started the Southern Appalachian Land Protection Fund in 2005 to provide loans and grants and boost the organizational capacity of regional land trusts.
Impact of the Fund
With 14 loans and grants totaling $17.5 million, the Fund helped protect more than 15,000 acres in western North and South Carolina, northern Alabama and Georgia, and eastern Tennessee. Providing a bridge for public and private funding, loans from the Fund enabled major acquisitions such as the spectacular 1,568-acre World’s Edge tract, in North Carolina, purchased by Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy and transferred to the state of North Carolina. Projects we supported protected habitat for rare and endangered species, provided recreational opportunities, and preserved panoramic views in parts of the region experiencing tremendous development pressure.