On the Southern Cumberland Plateau of Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama, a landscape of unrivaled ecological richness, we are helping to save forest strongholds for plant and animal species.
Guided by our research on how the Southern Appalachians will respond to climate change, OSI launched the Fund in 2012 to accelerate the protection of forests on the plateau most likely to support species diversity as the climate shifts.
Why Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund
A tenth of the world’s biodiversity can be found in the astonishingly varied landscapes and habitats of the Southeast. One of the most ecologically rich parts of the region is the remote and still largely wild Southern Cumberland Plateau.
With its vast hardwood forests, rocky ridges, lush ravines, underground caves, and limestone soils, the plateau supports a great diversity of aquatic and terrestrial life – including species found nowhere else on Earth. These same features make the plateau a refuge for wildlife diversity as the climate charges.
State parks and wildlife management areas have set aside some important forestlands on the plateau, but large tracts remain unprotected from development, unsustainable timber harvesting, mining, and invasive species. In a series of grant and loan funds begun in 2004, OSI has attracted attention and resources to the conservation of the best wildlife habitat in the Southern Appalachians.
The Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund focuses on the plateau’s high-priority lands for species diversity and climate change adaptation, as identified by OSI’s Protecting Southern Appalachian Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change, State Wildlife Action Plans, and other landscape conservation plans.
Impact of the Fund
Capitalized with grants from the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and Merck Family Fund, OSI’s Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund protects wildlife habitat and biodiversity in landscapes that are critical to facilitating adaptation to climate change.
As of 2018, fourteen capital grants protected more than 30,000 acres of forestland on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.
Connecting and expanding blocks of protected habitat, these projects conserved globally significant terrestrial and aquatic species and facilitated species adaptation to climate change.
Many of the projects enlarged state parks and wildlife management areas, increasing access for hiking, hunting, and other outdoor recreation.
The Fund looks for projects within the grant region that permanently preserve contiguous, high-priority forest blocks, especially those most likely to protect long-term species diversity as the climate changes. To be considered, the project must meet the following Threshold Criteria:
- Include or directly impact land within the Grant Fund Region.
- Contribute to the conservation of high-priority forest blocks identified in OSI’s Protecting Southern Appalachian Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change, or as core forest on page 31 of “Cumberland Voices: A Conservation Vision for the South Cumberland Region.”
- Permanently protect land through acquisition of fee interest and/or conservation easement that meets or exceeds OSI Conservation Easement and Stewardship Standards
- Be spearheaded by organizations with the long-term stewardship capacity and financial ability to execute the transaction.
- Be completed within 18 months of receiving notification of OSI’s grant award.
Projects that meet the Threshold Criteria will be evaluated based on the:
- Extent to which the property contains habitat for terrestrial or aquatic species in greatest conservation need, as identified by State Wildlife Action Plans (particularly habitat that will allow adaptation of species vulnerable to climate change); contains other significant plants, animals, or ecologically significant habitat; or would contribute to the cooperative recovery of a threatened or endangered species
- Extent to which it buffers, connects or removes a threat to existing conserved land
- Extent, status and condition of plant and animal species and natural communities
- Project’s role in helping to ensure the long-term viability of plant and animal species
- Threat and/or particular conservation opportunity presented
- Evidence of a stewardship plan consistent with the Fund’s objectives.
- Ability of the project to catalyze other projects that will protect priority forest blocks
- Ability to meet the Fund’s Match Requirements
- Accreditation by the Land Trust Commission, or a plan and time frame for attaining accreditation
Capitalized with grants from the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and Merck
Family Fund, the Fund awards grants for permanent conservation easements or fee
purchases of large forest blocks in the portion of the Southern Cumberland
Plateau shown on this map (see PDF of
Capital grants are available to qualified nonprofit organizations to acquire permanent conservation easements and/or fee interests in land. Under exceptional circumstances, OSI will also provide funds directly to state or local government agencies. Grants may also be used to defray transaction and other associated costs. Limited stewardship funding will be granted only when a convincing case is made that it is necessary to enable the transaction. Short-term low-interest loans, to bridge gaps of up to two years in permanent public or private funding, are also available.
Grants may not be used to pay interest on loans, staff time, mileage, travel expenses and general overhead.
Projects which close before the application deadline are not eligible for funding.
OSI staff and the Fund’s Advisory Committee review applications against the Fund’s criteria and goals. Once OSI has approved a grant, we will provide the grantee with a checklist of items required for OSI to prepare a grant agreement. When all required information and documents are received, OSI will forward a grant agreement to the grantee. If applicable, the grantee must provide documents pertaining to each project phase and match parcel. OSI will release funds at the time the transaction closes. Projects must close within 18 months of OSI’s grant approval.
Conservation Easement Standards
Stewardship of Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund grant projects must be consistent with the goals of the Fund: to maintain the ability of wildlife to adapt to climate change and to conserve native biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Prior to submitting a grant proposal, applicants should review OSI’s standards for fee land stewardship and for conservation easement terms.
A fundamental goal of the Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund is to encourage leveraging of additional conservation funding sources. Every dollar granted from the fund must typically be matched by three other dollars from other sources. A lower leverage ratio will be considered only in exceptional circumstances.
The following qualify as match for a Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund grant:
- Public funds (federal, state and local) and private funds from individuals and foundations used for the acquisition of fee interest or a conservation easement on the subject property or on eligible match properties.
- The value of a donated conservation easement or bargain sale on the subject property.
- The value of a conservation easement or value of eligible match properties.
- Transaction and other acquisition costs, including appraisals, surveys, environmental assessments, title exams and insurance, recording fees, transfer and real estate taxes, property carrying costs, and fees for outside counsel.
Match Property Eligibility
To be eligible as match, property must 1) be adjacent or proximate to the subject property, 2) meet the Fund’s criteria, 3) generally be part of the same project area as the subject property, preferably as defined by a larger conservation plan, and 4) close prior to the closing of the subject property, but not more than one year before date of application. In addition, to determine eligibility of match parcels, OSI will consider whether the match and the subject properties lie in the same watershed, matrix forest block, natural community, and/or State Wildlife Action Plan priority area.
The following do not qualify as matching funds:
- Ecological or land restoration dollars
- Stewardship endowments and land management expenses
- Staff time, mileage, travel expenses and general overhead