Colorful trees cover a mountain ridge.
Cumberland Forest The Cumberland Forest project protects 253,000 acres of forestland in Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. © Byron Jorjorian

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Cumberland Forest Project Sells a 43,000-acre Easement to the State of Tennessee

The transaction achieves a habitat connectivity vision that represents the largest state-held conservation easement in Tennessee history.

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) announced that the 43,000-acre Ed Carter Unit of the North Cumberland Wildlife Management Area (WMA) will be permanently protected after the sale of a conservation easement associated with the property. The easement, located in an area known as Ataya and as Tackett Creek, will also protect 179 miles of streams and provides habitat for the Tennessee elk herd, which attracts thousands of visitors each year for sport and wildlife watching.

A conservation easement restricts certain land uses to protect specific conservation values on a property while it remains in private ownership and generates local property tax revenue. A land trust or government agency, in this case TWRA, holds and enforces the easement, which is legally binding in perpetuity regardless of whether the property is sold or passed to heirs.

In addition to limiting development on the Ed Carter Unit of the North Cumberland WMA, the terms of this easement allow TWRA to manage wildlife habitats and public recreation access, including multi-use trails.

“Purchase of this easement is a major accomplishment for habitat conservation and public recreation,” says Tim Churchill, TWRA’s chief of federal aid and real estate. “Protecting the resources at the Ed Carter Unit has been considered one of our agency’s highest priorities for several decades.”

After transfer of the easement, TNC will continue to oversee daily operations as part of its Cumberland Forest Project, an impact investment project that manages this property as well as an additional 200,000+-acre network of high conservation value lands and waters located along the Tennessee-Kentucky border and in a portion of Southwest Virginia.

“Over the next decade, our primary goal is to manage these lands as working forests, space for people to play, and permanently protected, critical habitats for our region’s game and non-game species,” says Terry Cook, TNC’s Tennessee state director. “This transaction advances that goal—a win for forests, water, wildlife and people.”

To help fund the transaction, TNC secured a $620,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Acres for America conservation program to augment state funds dedicated to purchasing the easement. The Cumberland Forest project is also pursuing opportunities to generate revenue through sustainable forestry, the sale of leases and licenses for hunting and fishing, participation in the carbon marketplace, and transforming former mining operations into sites for solar and other forms of renewable energy.

The Ed Carter Unit of the North Cumberland WMA is located in the heart of the Central Appalachian Mountains, a globally significant, connected and resilient temperate hardwood forest representing the single most critical landscape east of the Mississippi for climate resiliency and ecological services (clean water, clean air, carbon storage) benefiting tens of millions of people. In 2021, TNC identified the Appalachian Mountains as one of the most globally significant landscapes key to pursuing the dual goals of slowing the pace of climate change and protecting 30 percent of the planet’s biodiversity by 2030. 

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 76 countries and territories: 37 by direct conservation impact and 39 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.