Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced the U.S. Forest Service will dedicate $40.6 million for 27 exceptional land acquisition projects in 15 states that will help safeguard clean water, provide recreational access, preserve wildlife habitat, enhance scenic vistas and protect historic and wilderness areas.
Projects funded are in Alaska, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah and Washington. Projects range from protecting nationally significant lands from threat of residential development in North Carolina to help pave the way to help purchase the largest single parcel of privately held land with the Kootznoowoo Wilderness on the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.
The money is made available through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, created by Congress in 1964 to provide funding to federal, state and local governments to purchase land, water and wetlands. The fund receives the majority of its money through royalty payments from offshore oil and gas revenues to mitigate the environmental impacts of those activities. Those funds also are augmented by additional money or in-kind services of a variety of partnerships.
Lands are purchased from willing sellers at fair-market value or through partial or outright donations of property. Landowners may also sell or donate easements on their property that restrict commercial development while keeping the land in private ownership.
Three projects have been approved in the Great Smoky Mountains region:
* $5 million has been appropriated for Rocky Fork in the Cherokee National Forest: This acquisition will provide protection for what was recently one of the largest contiguous tracts of private forest land in the East. The Forest Service identified Rocky Fork as a “national priority” because of its high natural resource values and recreational opportunities including a portion of the Appalachian Trail, blue-ribbon trout fishing, and a variety of recreational activities such as wildlife watching, rock climbing and hunting.
* $1 million towards lands adjacent to National Forests in North Carolina: Nationally, land managed by the National Forests in North Carolina rank second in recreation visits but are among the most vulnerable to adjacent commercial and residential development. Forest fragmentation is a major issue and the acquisition will help to ensure recreation access, ecological integrity and watershed values on adjacent federal lands and for downstream resources.
* $2 million has been appropriated to protect areas near the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest: Georgia’s national forests are near population centers numbering in the millions, creating tremendous pressures for clean water and recreation on the nearby public lands. These acquisitions focus on providing recreation opportunities and protecting watershed and wetlands in an area where the viability and availability of clean, abundant water is critical.
To see all of the projects approved for funding in 2012, please click here.