At the Conservancy, protecting land – through the acquisition of property or conservation easements – complements other important tools including scientific research, advocacy and land management. That’s why The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky became involved in protecting two large and contiguous forested tracts in western Kentucky’s Big Rivers Corridor, an area containing the number one Forest Legacy Project priority in the nation due to a threat of conversion to non-forested uses.
In 2011, the Conservancy and partners raised part of a non-federal match that, together with support from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund, enabled the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (KDFWR) and Division of Forestry (KDF) to acquire the 2,571-acre Sturgis Tract, a former sustainable working forest and one of only five Forest Stewardship Council-certified forestlands in western Kentucky.
Two years later, the Conservancy acquired the 4,241-acre property located adjacent to the Sturgis Tract thanks to the Conservancy’s land protection fund and additional resources provided by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Indiana Bat Fund, which is administered by the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust. This second phase of the Big Rivers Corridor project represents the largest conservation project ever undertaken by The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky and constitutes the largest land acquisition in Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife and Division of Forestry history.
This is good news for the Commonwealth. Protected together, these properties will allow for effective water quality protection in a critical portion of the Mississippi River Basin.
Additional benefits include species recovery, increased public recreational access, positive state and local economic impacts, and the preservation of unique cultural and geological treasures. The properties also provide ecological connectivity among the big rivers of western Kentucky and other protected areas such as the Shawnee National Forest, Cypress Creek National Wildlife Refuge, Land Between−the−Lakes National Forest, Clark’s River National Wildlife Refuge, state−owned lands, and other non−governmental priority conservation areas.
Once transferred into KDFWR and KDF ownership, the properties will comprise part of the Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area and State Forest, a natural accessible to the public for hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, wildlife viewing and other compatible recreational activities. The agencies will also manage a portion of the landscape as a sustainable timber operation in line with guidelines set by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Size: More than 6,000 acres – the 2,571-acre Sturgis Tract represented in Phase I, and the 4,241 acres acquired during Phase II
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: After being transferred into KDFWR and KDF ownership in 2013, the properties will comprise part of the Big Rivers Wildlife Management Area and State Forest.
Partners: Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky 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
View Kentucky's Big Rivers WMA through a Conservancy Photographer Mark Godfrey's lens.
Kentucky's Big Rivers (long version)