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Tapping the Power of Land Protection (2020)

Image Credit: Mac Stone

In 2015, the Open Space Institute was challenged by the Wyss Foundation to identify large swaths of land available for conservation in the Eastern US that abutted existing public land, with an eye toward expanding wilderness in the dense and fragmented part of the country. In just four and a half years, OSI successfully met this challenge — protecting five large properties totaling more than 37,000 wilderness acres and connecting to nearly 2.7 million acres of protected land.

OSI's Eastern Lands Initiative met the goal to expand wilderness areas in the Eastern US — but there is much more to the story. From clean drinking water to fighting climate change, the newly protected 37,000 acres showcase the wide-ranging benefits of land conservation.

The 16,000-acre Ceylon tract, one of the last large, undeveloped, unprotected Atlantic shoreline properties, was in imminent danger of development before its protection by OSI and The Conservation Fund. Because the topography of the coastal Georgia property features a rare, gradual rise in elevation, it will prove critical for salt marsh migration, buffering habitat and local municipalities alike as a changing climate causes sea levels to rise. Ceylon’s connection to more than 30,000 acres of similar habitat on and around Cumberland Island National Seashore will help maintain the long-term integrity of invaluable ecology on the property, which is also home to longleaf pine habitat and the densest population of federally endangered gopher tortoises in Georgia.
The permanent protection of more than 4,300 forested acres in the North Maine Woods was one of the state’s first land acquisition projects to harness the use of carbon offset credits. As a result, at least 100,000 tons of carbon stored in the property’s forests is now protected through the California cap-and-trade market, a proactive policy tool in the national effort to address climate change. To acquire the land, OSI made a critical contribution: a million-dollar grant and a $900,000 no-interest loan to the Appalachian Mountain Club, repaid through the sale of the carbon credits. Thanks to OSI, the Silver Lake property, which is contiguous with 70,000 acres of previously-protected land, will continue to provide thousands of people every year with opportunities for hiking, camping, and paddling; and the land will continue to be home for the northern long-eared bat, Canada lynx, and many other species of significance.
Image Credit: Jerry Monkman
Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western Virginia, and surrounded by National Forest land, is the heavily forested Grace Furnace property. This newly protected tract will continue to store carbon, while also protecting the headwaters of the James River and, ultimately, the water quality of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, native brook trout and threatened species, including the James spinymussel, the Atlantic pigtoe mussel, and the orange madtom fish, will benefit from the permanent protection of the property’s ten miles of cool, clear streams and rich limestone forests. To conserve the 4,672-acre tract, OSI purchased it for $5 million in 2016. In 2019, using funding available through the Land & Water Conservation Fund, the US Forest Service (USFS) secured the property from OSI — making Grace Furnace the largest purchase by USFS in the state of Virginia in nearly a century, and preserving habitat for wildlife, even as the climate changes.
Image Credit: Brett Cole
Located 100 miles south of Orlando in the Everglades Headwaters National Wildlife Refuge, the Triple Diamond Ranch property is in one of the most biologically rich grasslands in the world. The nearly 4,000-acre property is home to rare species including the Florida grasshopper sparrow and the federally listed gopher tortoise, as well as the indigo snake, crested caracara, red-cockaded woodpecker, and a range of wading birds. The refuge is a key part of a matrix of lands filtering water for the Kissimmee River and, ultimately, Lake Okeechobee — the source of water for one in three Floridians. In 2018, the property was conserved after OSI acquired it for $9.7 million and transferred it to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the US Fish & Wildlife Service. With its conservation, the land was added to more than 200,000 adjoining protected acres — an expanse that will harbor wildlife even as habitats shift from climate change.
Image Credit: Carlton Ward
The Cabin Bluff property will provide outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities, including fishing, wildlife viewing, nature photography, boating, hunting, and hiking. Located near, and connected ecologically to, the Cumberland Island National Seashore and Crooked River State Park, this coastal Georgia property is also a key link within a system of maritime forest, marsh, and creeks draining into the Satilla, Cumberland, and Crooked Rivers. These marshlands are extremely effective at sequestering carbon. Numerous native species make the property and its waters home, including manatee, bald eagle, eastern indigo snake, and gopher tortoise. To protect the land, OSI provided The Nature Conservancy with a $3-million, no-interest loan to secure 8,000 acres of the 11,176-acre property. This land is to become the Cabin Bluff Wildlife Management Area. The US Navy is also providing funding to purchase easements on the property and the neighboring Cabin Bluff tract, thereby protecting the nearby Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.
Image Credit: Mac Stone

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