In May 2013, Brookfield Renewable Energy Group agreed to transfer 4,000 acres of mountain forests to The Nature Conservancy, and the sale was completed in October 2013. This forestland is the watershed for the Little Tennessee River as it flows into Calderwood Lake.
The area is rich in animal and plant life. Surveys of the region have found 21 rare, threatened and endangered species. Among the rare species are the bald eagle, the peregrine falcon, bristle fern, chalk maple, smoky dace, hellbender and the Junaluska salamander.
Relicensing Leads to Protection
The protection of this land is the culmination of a nine-year journey. Federal energy regulations required that when the Alcoa company relicensed its four hydropower dams on the Little Tennessee River, compensating environmental protection measures had to be in place. In 2004, The Nature Conservancy and nine other conservation groups developed a historic conservation agreement protecting 10,000 acres via conservation easements. The agreement also enabled the relicensing of Alcoa's hydropower dams in this region. In return Alcoa agreed to allowed The Nature Conservancy to protect 10,000 acres surrounding the Little Tennessee River.
Expansion of Park Lands
The 2004 relicensing agreement led to The Nature Conservancy purchasing nearly 6,000 acres of the land and then transferring it to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Cherokee National Forest and state Wildlife Management Area lands. The agreement further ensured the protection of another 4,000 acres of forest for the next 40 years via a conservation easement.
When Brookfield Renewable Energy Group purchased Alcoa's four hydropower dams in 2012, the 2004 agreement opened the door for Brookfield and The Nature Conservancy to pursue a transfer of the lands to The Nature Conservancy.
In late 2013, the final 4,000 acres of the original 10,000 were transferred to The Nature Conservancy. In late 2015, the Conservancy completed transferring all of those lands to the U.S. Forest Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency so they can be open to the public and managed to protect these important lands and waters, and the wildlife that depend on them.