Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Friday announced the U.S. Forest Service will dedicate $40.6 million for 27 exceptional land acquisition projects in 15 states that will help safeguard clean water, provide recreational access, preserve wildlife habitat, enhance scenic vistas and protect historic and wilderness areas. Rocky Fork, Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee will receive $5 million in funding.
This acquisition will provide protection for what was recently one of the largest contiguous tracts of private forest land in the East. The Forest Service identified Rocky Fork as a “national priority” because of its high natural resource values and recreational opportunities including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, blue-ribbon trout fishing, and a variety of recreational activities such as wildlife watching, rock climbing and hunting.
Projects funded are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. Projects range from protecting nationally significant lands from threat of residential development in North Carolina to help pave the way to help purchase the largest single parcel of privately held land with the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
“In keeping with the Obama Administration’s America’s Great Outdoors conservation initiative, USDA is committed to conserving and restoring our forests and bringing jobs to rural America,” said Vilsack. “Through our partnerships with states, communities, tribes and others, it is vital that we step up our efforts to safeguard our country's natural resources.”
“The pristine wildernesses, flowing waters and majestic vistas help define what makes this country great,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “These projects will help ensure a long future of quality open space for those hunters and anglers, hikers, campers and other nature lovers who enjoy America’s great outdoors. The funding will also reduce administrative costs and provide us increased flexibility in how we restore lands across the country.”
The money is made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Congress in 1964 to provide funding to federal, state and local governments to purchase land, water and wetlands. The fund receives the majority of its money through royalty payments from offshore oil and gas revenues to mitigate the environmental impacts of those activities. Those funds also are augmented by additional money or in-kind services of a variety of partnerships.
Lands are purchased from willing sellers at fair-market value or through partial or outright donations of property. Landowners may also sell or donate easements on their property that restrict commercial development while keeping the land in private ownership.
The fund supports many goals set out in President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative, including the need to support locally-led efforts to protect and renew rivers and other waters; conserve and restore national parks, wildlife refuges and other federal lands and waters; and enhance recreational access and opportunities.
The projects were selected through a competitive process based on ability to safeguard watersheds, provide recreational access, restore healthy forests, mitigate climate change, defend communities from wildfire, create management efficiency, and reconnect fragmented landscapes and ecosystems.
To see applications for funding on each project, visit the Land and Water Conservation Fund.