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OSI loan helps partners protect Little Yellow Mountain in the highlands of Roan, NC

NEW YORK, NY - December 1, 2009 - With a loan from the Southern Appalachians Protection Fund, the Open Space Institute has assisted The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in protecting a significant peak that reinforces a prime wildlife habitat corridor in the Southern Appalachians of western North Carolina.

TNC’s acquisition of 466 acres at the summit of Little Yellow Mountain in Avery and Mitchell counties is a valuable addition to a large pocket of protected land in the Greater Roan Highlands, much of which is classified as nationally significant by the North Carolina Natural Heritage Program. At 5,504 feet, Little Yellow is one of the higher peaks in the Southern Appalachians. It has also been designated as part of the Audubon Society’s Roan Mountain Important Bird Area (IBA).

“It is important that we conserve as much unfragmented forest as possible in this area,” said Merrill Lynch, who runs TNC’s Boone, N.C. office. “There are a huge number of birds that breed in the Roan Mountain area that are extremely sensitive to fragmentation.”

Species include the Canada warbler, the chestnut-sided warbler, the blackburnian warbler and the scarlet tanager. The Roan IBA is also noted for fall broad-winged hawk migration.

TNC was able to make the acquisition with the aid of a $1.2 million loan from the Open Space Conservancy, OSI’s conservation finance affiliate.

“OSI has an interest in protecting wildlife habitat in the Southern Appalachians,” said Marc Hunt, OSI’s Southern Appalachians field coordinator, “and preserving Little Yellow is an important part of that work.”

Much of OSI’s conservation finance work in the Southern Appalachians has focused on habitat conservation. The Southern Appalachians Protection Fund, funded by the Lyndhurst, Benwood and Z. Smith Reynolds foundations, was created to help accelerate the protection of wildlife habitat throughout the Southern Appalachians—a 40 million-acre ecosystem that is home to the richest biodiversity in North America. Since 2005, OSI has funded $16.8 million in conservation in the region, leading to the protection of nearly 14,000 acres to date, more than 3,000 of which are in North Carolina.

Mixed hardwood forests of yellow birch, sugar maple and northern red oak run along the slopes of Little Yellow Mountain. The rare Carolina saxifrage, with its tiny white flowers, is found there along with other uncommon plant species. At its top, Little Yellow is an open area covered in sedges, grasses and a variety of wildflowers.

“This is a keystone tract, with a high conservation value,” said David Ray, TNC’s mountain project director. “It provides a safe corridor for wildlife movement and protects natural communities and rare plants that are found in the area. In addition to its conservation value, it is a prominent feature in the Greater Roan Highlands. It would have been very noticeable if it had been logged or developed.”

In the future, The Nature Conservancy expects to transfer the Little Yellow Mountain land to the North Carolina State Parks System for inclusion in the recently established Yellow Mountain State Natural Area.

“There’s more work to be done in the Greater Roan Highlands, but the development risk to this property is behind us,” Ray said. “This is the kind of place that people are really going to enjoy in the future.”

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