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Climate-resilient landscapes targeted in North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee

ASHEVILLE, NC — May 13, 2015 —Seeking to focus attention on some of the nation’s most biologically rich and threatened places, the Open Space Institute (OSI) today announced that its $12 million Resilient Landscapes Initiative will expand to target two additional sites in the southeastern United States to help facilitate wildlife adaptation to climate change.

Under the OSI Initiative, $5.5 million in matching grants for land protection will be available to land trusts that focus protection within two new sites:

  • the Southern Blue Ridge, encompassing mountainous parts of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee; and
  • the Greater Pee Dee River, which straddles the North and South Carolina border along key river corridors and stretches from the coast to the Sandhills and Uwharrie Mountains.

The Southern Cumberlands, a focus area including parts of Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia that was previously identified for the Fund’s first round of grants in the fall of 2014, will also be eligible for additional funding (see Request for Proposals).  Small grants for conservation planning and outreach will be available in the Southern Cumberlands and the Southern Blue Ridge.

The Initiative, funded by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), is part of a vanguard effort to use cutting-edge climate science to identify and protect resilient lands across the eastern US. Land conservation has been recognized as a priority under the national climate adaptation strategy; President Obama recently commended the Initiative for its investment in natural infrastructure.

Resilient sites are “natural strongholds” likely to withstand the growing impact of climate change and to offer refuge to a diverse array of plants and animals. New scientific research undertaken by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) identifies the most resilient sites in selected southeastern states (TNC report, Resilient Sites for Terrestrial Conservation in the Southeast) and suggests an important role of land trusts in responding to climate change.

“Strategic private land conservation can play a pivotal role in protecting some of the best examples of resilient habitat in the Southeast,” said Andrew Bowman, program director for the environment at DDCF. “It is crucial to target conservation efforts toward landscapes with features that will help species persist in a changing climate.”

All three regions targeted by the Resilient Landscapes Initiative were among the areas identified as priority landscapes for protection based on analysis using TNC’s study. They also are among some of the nation’s most biologically diverse places and face a growing set of threats from development, inappropriate timber harvesting and invasive species. Over the next 20 years, the southeast is expected to lose almost 20 million acres of forests due principally to development and conversion.

“The resilience science provides a new organizing principle that will help focus people on the places that will matter for conservation long into the future,” said Dr. Rua Mordecai, science coordinator for the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative, a partnership of non-profits, businesses, and state, federal, and local governments. Mordecai, a biologist who serves on the Initiative’s advisory committee, that “by putting the new science front and center, the Initiative is pioneering a new approach to conserving the biodiversity of the South.”

“With a changing climate, land trusts need to identify places that are most likely to retain or attract biodiversity not only today, but far into the future as well,” said Peter Howell, OSI’s executive vice president. “While climate change is creating a lot of uncertainty, this new science goes a long way toward helping us find those enduring places that truly merit permanent protection. Given the rate of habitat loss in the southeast, this is an urgent matter for the land trust community.”

Beyond habitat, protection of the lands as climate strongholds also helps defend natural places that contribute to the Southeast economically. For example, in North Carolina, a recent National Park Service report found that visitors to national parks in that state supported 18,528 jobs and had a cumulative benefit to the state economy of $1.5 billion. In 2011, a USFWS survey found North Carolina state residents and nonresidents spent $3.3 billion on wildlife recreation in the state.

“Hunters and anglers know firsthand that wildlife is being affected by a warming climate,” said Tim Gestwicki, chief executive officer of the North Carolina Wildlife Federation. “We applaud this initiative for raising awareness about the effects of climate change on wildlife in the southeast, and for helping to protect the places that will enable wildlife to thrive into the future.”

The Resilient Landscapes Initiative was launched in 2012 with a $6 million grant from DDCF in the Northeast. To date, almost 3,000 acres of resilient habitat have been conserved in West Virginia, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire, and more than 40 conservation organizations are working to integrate climate change considerations into regional and state-wide land protection plans (Catalyst Grants List).

Over the past decade, OSI has helped land trusts protect more than 30,000 acres of land in five southeastern states (North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Alabama).

In late 2013, it also co-acquired with The Nature Conservancy the 2,200-acre Fairlawn tract in coastal South Carolina, a key inholding and longleaf restoration project that is expected to become an addition to the Francis Marion National Forest (see press release).

The Resilient Landscapes Initiative builds on OSI’s work in the Southern Cumberlands, where OSI has helped partners conserve almost 17,000 acres of land in Alabama and Georgia through two other capital funds supported by the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and the Merck Family Fund. 

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