The Nature Conservancy and Greenbrier County Farmland Protection Board have joined with a local landowner to protect 934 acres of land that is covered in forest and pasture and perforated with cave openings, sinkholes, springs and hidden underground streams.
A conservation easement recently donated by the landowner, Dr. Jann Holwick, will protect the rare subterranean habitat, the groundwater that flows through it, and the agricultural land that is used for cattle grazing. Dr. Holwick will continue to own and manage her property under the terms of the agreement.
Conservation easements are voluntary legal agreements that allow landowners to protect specific natural values of the property while keeping their property in private hands. Easements are effective conservation tools and their use has successfully protected millions of acres of wildlife habitat and open space across the country.
For several years, Dr. Holwick has worked to protect the natural assets of her property by partnering with The Nature Conservancy, the Natural Resources Conservation Services (USDA) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said Rodney Bartgis, the state director for the Conservancy in West Virginia.
The partnerships resulted in temporary protection of the cave and sinkhole openings and streams and springs. This agreement makes those improvements permanent and conserves the agricultural uses of the land for future generations.
“Dr. Holwick is committed to conserving her property,” said Diana Everett, chairman of the Greenbrier County Farmland Protection Board. Since 2002, Greenbrier County has lost 15,604 acres, or about 8 percent, of its farmland, Everett said. “This project is a model of public-private cooperation and will protect both prime agricultural land and Greenbrier Valley karst,” she said.
Karst refers to a landscape in which the bedrock, usually limestone, reacts with natural chemicals and weathering to form underground caves, sinkholes and streams. The Holwick property has all these, and these underground waterways are linked to similar geology in other parts of the Greenbrier Valley, Bartgis said.
“By protecting this property we protect groundwater that is important for human uses and the quality of our surface streams. In addition, there is a wealth of creatures, often blind and without pigment, that spend their entire lives underground and are found only in the cave systems of the Greenbrier Valley and nowhere else on Earth,” he said.
The recent easement is the most recent example of how The Nature Conservancy has been protecting cave habitat throughout West Virginia and the Central Appalachian Mountains. The recent easement is near the Conservancy-owned General Davis Cave and Piercy’s Cave. In March, the Conservancy protected 272 acres near Elkins, WV that also included caves.
The work to protect the cave system has been a cooperative effort that involves a number of organizations and agencies, including those named above and the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources and Division of Forestry.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
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