NEW YORK, NY — August 13, 2013 — The Open Space Institute is pleased to announce the extension of its Resilient Landscape Initiative to the southeastern United States, and the selection of the Southern Cumberlands as the first focus area in the region in which OSI will make land capital grants to protect resilient wildlife habitat.
Resilient sites are natural places 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 identifies the most resilient sites in selected southeastern states.
Through a $6.2 million grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (DDCF), OSI is launching the Southeast Resilient Landscapes Fund with a first round of re-grants for land acquisition in the Southern Cumberlands. This area, selected for its highly resilient landscapes, contains large forest blocks and extensive underground cave systems supporting rich animal and plant diversity. Both are threatened with high rates of habitat loss due to development, fragmentation, conversion and, increasingly, climate change.
“We recognize the pivotal role that strategic private land conservation can play in the Southeast in protecting some of the nation’s best examples of resilient habitat,” said Andrew Bowman, program director for the environment at the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. “We are pleased to support the groundbreaking science of The Nature Conservancy and the Open Space Institute’s translation and application of that science to drive strategic conservation on the ground.”
This fall, in addition to the Southern Cumberlands, OSI, with help from a group of, will select two to three additional areas in the Southeast where it will make additional re-grants for land protection projects that facilitate wildlife adaptation to climate change. Using smaller “Catalyst Grants,” OSI will also provide land trusts and other organizations with assistance in planning and mapping to utilize new climate science in their land protection work.
“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. Jon Evans, Sewanee’s Assistant Provost for Environmental Stewardship & Sustainability. Evans, a biology professor who also serves on the OSI’s science advisory committee, believes that “by putting the new science front and center, the Initiative adds another layer of imperativeness to land conservation work.”
Under a previous $6M grant from DDCF, OSI has been making land capital re-grants and Catalyst Grants in the Northeast since 2012. 2,065 acres of resilient habitat have been protected in the Northeast, and 7 organizations have incorporated resilience science in various public and nonprofit conservation plans with the support of OSI Catalyst Grants.
“With a changing climate, land trusts shouldn’t prioritize lands to conserve based only on where biodiversity is rich today. We need to identify places that are most likely to retain or attract biodiversity tomorrow 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.”
The Cumberlands was selected as a first site for investment because of its complex and connected limestone topography, which is unparalleled in the Southeast. The undulating landscape of coves, slopes cliffs and valleys provides a diversity of microclimates where wildlife can adjust to changing temperatures. The underlying limestone geology provides preferential habitat to over 600 rare species and yet is largely unprotected. Over 50% of limestone areas are developed or used for agriculture, while only 3% are protected.
The Open Space Institute has been active over the past decade helping to conserve land in the Southeast. Through its loans and grants, OSI has helped to protect more than 20,000 acres of land in western North Carolina, northwest Georgia and Alabama. It also recently co-acquired, with The Nature Conservancy, and protected the 2,200-acre Fairlawn tract in coastal South Carolina, which is expected to become an addition to the Francis Marion National Forest.
The Resilient Landscapes Initiative builds on earlier work in the Southern Cumberlands where OSI has helped to conserve 11,700 acres of land in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee through its Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund, supported by the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and the Merck Family Fund.