Chestnut Mountain: A Gift That Will Keep on Giving

This new Tennessee preserve showcases the latest in forest management and plans to demonstrate it

The new preserve connects a mosaic of 60,000 acres of protected public lands on the Cumberland Plateau. Click the photo for a larger map.

No one was expecting the 5,763-acre gift. But when the Bridgestone tire company donated its Chestnut Mountain forests to The Nature Conservancy—the largest gift in the history of our Tennessee Chapter—it didn’t take long for the donation to be put to good use.

The property gives wildlife room to range, connecting a mosaic of 60,000 acres of protected public lands on the Cumberland Plateau. And yet the impact of these forests goes even further—serving as a living laboratory for innovative, nature-based climate change solutions. 

A Carbon Storehouse

According to a recent peer-reviewed study coauthored by Nature Conservancy scientists, trees have the greatest potential to cost effectively reduce climate emissions.

Our staff plan to manage the forests of the newly named Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain as a site for carbon sequestration and offset sales. Currently, there are about 200,000 metric tons of carbon stored on the property.

Trees capture carbon from the carbon dioxide in the air as they produce oxygen. Because scientists and economists can quantify the carbon-capturing power of these forests, wooded properties can enroll in carbon markets and sell carbon credits to businesses seeking to offset their carbon dioxide emissions.

With state-of-the-art forest management, that carbon inventory can be increased. “We’ve been working with Bridgestone on forest management at this property since 2014,” says Terry Cook, state director for TNC in Tennessee, “so now that we own it, we have a very good idea of the many things we can do with it—in addition to protecting it as a preserve.”

“The carbon revenue we earn from Chestnut Mountain will help us pay for stewardship of this property,” says Alex Wyss, conservation director for TNC in Tennessee. “It should also help us scale up our other forest conservation projects across the Cumberland Plateau.”

An Outdoor Classroom

And in the spirit of scaling up, Chestnut Mountain will also serve as a living laboratory for foresters and landowners to learn how they too can potentially take part in an income-earning exercise that tackles climate change.

“We’ll use Chestnut Mountain as a demonstration site to show other landowners in the region how they can benefit financially from sequestering carbon and selling credits for their forests,” Wyss adds.

One forest management technique on demonstration at Chestnut Mountain will be the restoration of native shortleaf pine stands and pine-oak savannahs. Shortleaf pines were once the most prevalent pine tree in the eastern United States. But in only 30 years, these long-living evergreens have decreased by more than 50 percent in the Southeast. Restoring shortleaf pines and their surrounding savannahs on drier hilltops will also help re-establish habitat for ground-nesting birds like bobwhite quail and other species.

A Haven for Rare Species

The preserve provides habitat to more than 100 species of conservation concern, including the golden eagle, the barking tree frog and the green salamander.

“The property is just spectacular,” says Cook. “Thousands of acres of Cumberland Plateau forests, a 100-acre lake, caves and streams, all capped by Chestnut Mountain itself—the highest peak in the county at 2,000 feet."

Plans for the Bridgestone Nature Reserve at Chestnut Mountain will include public access and the creation of connector trails between Chestnut Mountain and the other protected lands in the area. The Nature Conservancy will develop a master plan for public access first. Thanks to the carbon value of the trees at Chestnut Mountain, many costs will be defrayed.

“Protecting and maximizing forests is beyond a business strategy for us,” says Cook. “Avoiding forest loss is one of the most effective and economical nature-based climate solutions we can pursue.

“We’re honored that Bridgestone entrusted The Nature Conservancy to manage this important forest,” he adds. “They’re setting an example for how corporations can protect the planet in collaboration with the conservation community.”

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