By Rebecca Stowe
The Pascagoula Purchase. A lofty name for a lofty project. The purchase of 32,000 acres of pristine bottomland swamp in 1976 was a monumental feat that changed the way the Conservancy looked at land protection.
In the early 1970s the Conservancy was contacted about a large block of land on the Pascagoula River, one of the largest undammed rivers in the lower 48 states. Through negotiations with the family owned Pascagoula Hardwood Company, the Conservancy finally came to a compromise and was able to take ownership of the 32,000 acres. This was the largest land deal that the Conservancy had ever made at that point.
We worked diligently with the State of Mississippi, who also made history through the last minute passage of a $15 million bond to pay for the land. The purchase was the largest bottomland hardwood tract acquired by a state out of its own funds for the purpose of conservation. After the initial purchase through a private loan, the Conservancy sold the property to the state. Since 1976, the public has been able to enjoy the beauty and richness of the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area — thanks to this partnership.
Mississippi soon became a model for conservation because of this successful state/non-profit partnership. Soon thereafter, this approach to conservation was quickly put in place throughout the Conservancy and other conservation organizations. Many of these methods are now standard practice.
What the Nature Conservancy is doing Today
Just over one year ago, The Nature Conservancy began a new chapter in a long and storied history of conservation in Mississippi. With the help of partners, the Conservancy acquired 2,100 acres along the Leaf and Pascagoula Rivers in the George and Greene County region of the Pascagoula River Basin—adding to the Chapter’s largest public-private partnership to date. The purchase was the chapter’s first land acquisition in more than 10 years and it brought in $3.4 million dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
In addition to making a conservation impact across the state, the purchase connected more than 450,000 contiguous acres between the De Soto National Forest and the Pascagoula Wildlife Management Area, the largest tract of contiguous conserved lands in Mississippi. The opportunities for conservation easements and fee simple programs provide a key tool for families and farmers in this economically depressed region to use to further their farming operations. Additionally, conserved lands mean intact habitat, which supports a broad range of species in this landscape, as well as the associated hunting, fishing, boating, and wildlife viewing activities that are part of the region’s history, culture, and economies.
“What this acquisition demonstrates is that conservation that benefits our natural resources also offers benefits for people and local communities as well,” said Alex Littlejohn, Associate State Director of TNC’s Mississippi Chapter.
Now, this chapter of the story is complete. In October 2016, the land was transferred to the Mississippi Forestry Commission for future management and protection. The transfer happened approximately 40 years to the month after the Conservancy signed 32,000 acres of pristine bottomland over to the State of Mississippi to establish the Pascagoula River Wildlife Management Area (WMA)—the largest land acquisition ever negotiated by The Conservancy at the time. These two achievements bookend 40 years of conservation milestones in Mississippi and signal a bright future for conservation efforts.
Learn More About the Pascagoula River:
Nature Conservancy Preserves on the Pascagoula River: