NEW YORK, NY — January 14, 2014 — With generous support from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, the Open Space Institute has completed the first project in its Resilient Landscapes Initiative—the protection of more than 900 acres in Morgan and Hampshire counties in West Virginia.
OSI launched the $6 million Resilient Landscapes Initiative six months ago to preserve climate change-resilient landscapes in the eastern U.S.
“This West Virginia tract really stood out among other properties we've looked at in the east,” said Peter Howell, OSI's executive vice president. “There's a lot of variation in elevation, soil types and topography. It has a lot of cliffs and ravines that will provide temperature and sunlight variations, creating different microclimate options for plants and animals as climate changes.”
About half of the parcel, owned by a hunting club for the past 50 years, lies atop rare moderately calcareous soils—calcium carbonate-bearing soils that have a higher pH content, supporting a greater diversity of plant and animal species. Sinkholes and ravines add to the tract's diverse landscape, creating places where plants and animals can thrive and adapt to changes in the future.
“We have choices we have to make with the limited funding that’s available for conservation,” said David Ray, OSI’s Southern Appalachians field coordinator. “By protecting land areas that are going to be more enduring, we’re going to protect as much of the broad range of existing biodiversity as possible.”
Also significant is the fact that the tract adjoins the 6,000-acre Cacapon Resort State Park, allowing animal and plant species to move through the land without running into roads or other barriers as climatic changes push them from one area to another.
A $210,000 grant from OSI’s Resilient Landscapes Initiative allowed the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust to acquire a conservation easement on the 750-acre hunt club property, which will remain in its natural state and continue to be used for hunting for generations of club members.
In addition to connecting to Cacapon Resort State Park, the hunt club tract also links to two parcels totaling about 700 acres that had earlier been protected by the land trust. The club also used the proceeds from its conservation easement sale to buy and protect a neighboring 160-acre tract on which residential development had once been planned, bringing the total of preserved land to over 900 acres.
“When you can protect nearly 1,000 acres in this small valley, it's significant,” said Nancy Ailes, executive director of the Cacapon and Lost Rivers Land Trust.
The Potomac River headwaters area, which includes the Cacapon River Valley, is one of four climate-resilient landscapes identified by OSI using The Nature Conservancy’s analysis of 13 eastern states. The other resilient areas—the focus areas of OSI’s initiative—are the forests of southern New Hampshire and Maine, the mid-Connecticut River region of Massachusetts and Vermont, and the highlands of the Kittatinny Ridge in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Jim Baker, the president of the West Virginia hunting club, said he’s comforted knowing that this rugged piece of property will remain in its natural state.
“You become attached to it over time after hunting on it, walking on it, maintaining it, seeing it through all the seasons and knowing that it’s yours,” he said. “For some of us we want to see that piece of property as it is so at night we can think that’s the way it’s going to be forever.”