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Open Space Institute and Partners Celebrate Creation of Tennessee’s Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge

FRANKLIN COUNTY, TN (October 14, 2023)—The Open Space Institute’s (OSI) Appalachian Landscapes Protection Fund (ALPF) played a vital role in the creation of the newest addition to the United States’ National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) System. The 87-acre Niedergeses property established the Paint Rock River NWR situated along the border of Tennessee and Alabama. Potentially protecting tens of thousands of acres in the headwaters, the Refuge will establish a critical link between vast swaths of conserved lands in the region, protecting wildlife habitat and safeguarding the Paint Rock River watershed.

The tract establishing Paint Rock River NWR was donated to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service by The Nature Conservancy, with the largest source of funding coming from OSI.

“This property and those around it form a huge biodiversity hotspot, one that is worthy of the highest level of protection we have to offer,” said Joel Houser, OSI’s Director of Capital Grants. “This Refuge ensures that these forests will have room to grow and that wildlife will have space to thrive. OSI was immensely proud to work with our partners to protect this spectacular property.”

With its creation, the Refuge will safeguard the headwaters of the Paint Rock River, which originates in Franklin County, Tennessee. Along its course south toward the confluence of Estill Fork and Hurricane Creek in northwest Jackson County, Alabama, the river and its tributaries support an extremely diverse array of aquatic life. These waters are home to 100 species of fish, including one species confined solely to the river and one stream in Kentucky; and about 50 freshwater mussel species, including about a dozen globally rare species and one that is found nowhere else in the world.

“Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and every community in America,” said Deb Haaland, US Secretary of the Interior, at a celebration in October marking the opening of the new Refuge. “National wildlife refuges help connect Americans to a diverse array of public lands, while also serving as a crucial means of protecting wildlife and conserving habitat.”

A group of people in front of flags and a beautiful new National Wildlife Refuge
Laurel Creech (State Director TN, TNC), Martha Williams (Director, USFWS), Deb Haaland (Secretary of the Interior), Joel Houser (Director of Capital Grants, OSI), Mike Bell (Senior Advisor, TWRA), Cynthia Martinez (Refuge Chief)

The Refuge was the result of many years of determined work by local conservationists and partner organizations, including OSI, which has been involved in efforts to preserve the Refuge for more than a decade.

“The Service is grateful for incredible partnerships like these that lead to demonstrated successes across the country on behalf of wildlife and people,” said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Martha Williams. “Locally led conservation efforts provide a lasting impact on our efforts to protect crucial wildlife habitat for threatened, endangered and priority species while prioritizing recreational access.”

OSI’s ALPF catalyzes land protection along the Appalachian Mountain range — an area that is home to the world’s largest broadleaf forest, stores most of the nation’s forest carbon, and provides essential refuge for plants and animals at risk of habitat loss from climate change. The Fund is made possible thanks to major support from the Doris Duke Foundation and additional funding from the Lyndhurst Foundation, Riverview Foundation, Footprint Foundation, the McKee Family, and other private foundations.

A longtime supporter for creation of the Refuge, OSI has also partnered in the protection of more than 40,000 acres atop the Cumberland Plateau. Home to the longest hardwood forested plateau in the world, the Cumberland Plateau stretches across four states — Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

Creation of the Paint Rock River National Wildlife Refuge supports President Biden's America the Beautiful initiative, which has a goal of conserving at least 30 percent of the nation's lands and waters by 2030 for people and nature.

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