At the Conservancy, protecting land – through the acquisition of property or conservation easements – complements other important tools including scientific research, political advocacy and land management. That’s why The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky became interested in ensuring the protection of two large and contiguous forested tracts in western Kentucky referred to as the Big Rivers Corridor Project, a Forest Legacy Area identified in the Kentucky Statewide Assessment of Forest Resources as ecologically significant due to an imminent threat of conversion to non-forested uses.
In 2011, the Conservancy and partners committed to raising a portion of a non-federal match that, together with support from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, will help the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources and Division of Forestry acquire the first of the two forested tracts. The 2,571-acre Sturgis Tract, a former sustainable working forest, represents one of only five Forest Stewardship Council-certified forestlands in the western half of Kentucky. Conservation efforts there will complement similar work being implemented at the Shawnee National Forest, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Land Between-the-Lakes National Forest and Clark’s River National Wildlife Refuge. Down the road, the Conservancy hopes to assist with the acquisition of the adjacent forested parcel as well.
Working with partners to permanently protect the Big Rivers Corridor sends the Conservancy back to its roots in land protection. It also advances The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky’s goal of protecting more lands and waters through direct acquisition and the use of conservation easements by 2015 than in all of the previous years since the chapter opened its doors in 1975.
Size: 6,831 acres. The 2,571-acre Sturgis Tract represents Phase I of the two-phase Big Rivers Corridor Project to acquire a portion of one of the largest private landholdings in Kentucky.
Location: Located along the border between Kentucky and Illinois, the Big Rivers Corridor hosts a portion of six rivers – the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, Green, Tradewater and Cumberland.
What’s At Stake: The Big Rivers Corridor Project has the potential to benefit as many as 16 species of plants and 25 species of animals that are listed as rare by the Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, including many neotropical songbirds.
Specifically, mature, oak-dominated bottomland hardwood forests covering the landscape harbor the federally threatened northern copperbelly water snake and habitat important to federally endangered Indiana and gray bats. Three other endangered species – the fat pocketbook mussel, piping plover and least tern – have also been documented in the area.
The Sturgis Tract, which represents Phase I of the Project, encompasses a significant portion of the Tradewater River Basin, a 132−mile river that drains 943 square miles. Protecting the parcel will benefit the mouth of the Tradewater River, a significant staging and spawning area for many Ohio River fish species, such as paddlefish and shovelnose sturgeon. The Tradewater River is also critical to the restoration of alligator gar, listed by Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission as endangered within Kentucky.
Threats: Imminent subdivision. Also agricultural land use and some mining.
Action: During 2011 the Conservancy has committed to raising a portion of the $3.25 million non-federal match that, together with support from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, will help the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and Division of Forestry purchase the 2,571-acre Sturgis Tract. Once the transaction is complete, KDFWR will manage the property for sustainable timber and as a wildlife management area that will be open to the public.
Partners: Kentucky’s Division of Forestry and Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources; Ducks Unlimited, Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund Board, Kentucky State Nature Preserves Commission, National Wild Turkey Federation, Quality Deer Management Association, The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service