December 23, 2019|By Val Keefer| Support our Efforts

Five Momentous Conservation Wins From 2019

“Each year, The Conservation Fund tackles some of the most pressing economic and environmental challenges we face in the United States. With our dual purpose of advancing conservation and economic sustainability, we focus on solutions that are tangible, effective and lasting. 2019 was no different. From acquiring critical lands that protect wildlife and support sustainable rural economies to issuing the first-ever green bond for conservation, we are energized by our role at the leading edge of convergence between conservation and the capital markets. I am proud of our team and have never been more excited about our work.”

– Larry Selzer, The Conservation Fund President & CEO


#1 – Atlanta’s Urban Food Forest, Georgia
The largest public food forest in the United States; the first in the state of Georgia

Image 2 Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill GA c Stacy Funderburke201910247 1Community members in front of Atlanta’s Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill. Photo courtesy of Stacy Funderburke.

Have you ever heard of a food forest? They seem to be popping up all over the country, benefiting many communities with public park and garden spaces AND access to natural, free foods. However, none of them have grown quite as large as the new Urban Food Forest at Browns Mill in Atlanta. This 7.1-acre property—which was once an abandoned urban farmland—is now a public park where community members with minimal access to fresh food can come and pick produce, nuts, and medicinal herbs at zero cost. The space also has on-site honey beehives and composting to provide more educational opportunities and will eventually yield thousands of pounds of produce for residents to enjoy.

Recognizing the potential of this once-abandoned lot, The Conservation Fund purchased the land, helped transform it into a food forest, and then transferred it to the City of Atlanta in Summer 2019 for its permanent protection. Learn more.

#2 – Lake Iliamna, Alaska
The largest and most valuable salmon fishery in the world

12 23 19 Image 3 Iliamna c Brad Meiklejohn 1Panoramic view of Lake Iliamna. Photo courtesy of Brad Meiklejohn.

Lake Iliamna is Alaska’s largest and deepest lake. The depths of its crystal-clear waters produce the largest returns of Sockeye salmon of any lake on Earth. Iliamna is the heart of the $1.5 billion Bristol Bay salmon fishery, which supplies roughly half of the world’s salmon and supports over 10,000 jobs. This year we completed a five-year effort to protect 14,000 acres of islands in the northeast corner of the lake with conservation easements. These beaches are the spawning grounds for a genetically distinct population of Bristol Bay Sockeye and provide habitat for a rare population of freshwater harbor seals, one of only five freshwater seal populations in the world.

As protected land, the Iliamna Islands will continue to serve abundant fish and wildlife, public recreation, and pristine wetland habitat, more than half of which are nationally declining coastal wetlands. Learn more.

#3 – Fones Cliffs, Virginia
Habitat for one of the greatest concentrations of bald eagles in the country

12 23 19 Image 4 FonesCliffs ConservationAcquisitions VirginiaHarlowChandlerIII 017Fones Cliffs sits along the Rappahannock River in Virginia. Photo courtesy of Virginia Harlow Chandler.

Fones Cliffs along the Rappahannock River is one of the most pristine locations on the east coast to view bald eagles. It is not uncommon to see up to 400 eagles along this stretch of river; even when populations were at their lowest. The land was threatened by development for decades, and our protection of this Virginia “crown jewel” had immense significance not only for the surrounding environment, but for American history.

Originally home to the Rappahannock Tribe, the cliffs played a key role in a 1608 encounter between the tribe and Captain John Smith. This year, the land was officially added to the Rappahannock River Valley National Wildlife Refuge to honor its legacy and protect its abundant bald eagle habitat. Learn more.

This project was funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal funding source that uses offshore drilling revenue—not taxpayer dollars—to fund conservation across the country. LWCF saw its own major milestone this year, for it was permanently reauthorized by Congress in March, a historic conservation victory.

#4 – Maggie Valley, North Carolina
Produces some of the cleanest drinking water in the country

12 23 19 Image 5 Maggie Valley North Carolina c Steve Orr20160828 5 19Views of the Maggie Valley watershed. Photo courtesy of Steve Orr.

Nestled just southeast of Smoky Mountain National Park, Maggie Valley, North Carolina produces some of the cleanest and purest drinking water in the United States. Why? Because this year, over 700 acres of the town’s watershed has been protected by The Conservation Fund and the Maggie Valley Sanitary District; and plans for an additional 1,000 acres are already underway. 

Maggie Valley is also known for its abundant elk population, which benefits greatly from the conservation taking place within the watershed. It’s also a popular recreational destination, and land conservation across the area has supported new economic development opportunities to Haywood County and surrounding counties. Learn more.

#5 – Ceylon, Georgia
Protects the single largest undeveloped property on the Southeast Atlantic Coast

12 23 19 Image 6 Gopher Tortoise cTNC Georgia 37315263Roughly 2,000 gopher tortoises are estimated to populate the Ceylon property. Photo courtesy of the Nature Conservancy.

Along the southeast coast of Georgia, over 16,000 acres of prime deep-water ecosystem sat unprotected and at serious risk of development. Roughly the size of Bermuda, this property features a remarkable mix of salt marsh, maritime forest, and fire‐adapted longleaf pine uplands. It’s also one of the most important habitats for the federally threatened gopher tortoise.

This year, The Conservation Fund and the Open Space Institute purchased the property and will continue to work with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to establish a new wildlife management area, protecting it from future development and benefiting Navy operations on the coast. Learn more.

Bonus – here’s one more thing we accomplished this year to address the urgency of our mission. 

This Fall, the Fund closed on a first-of-its-kind, ten-year green bond offering totaling $150 million. Proceeds from the green bonds are being used to increase the scale of our Working Forest Fund®, which is dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. In a few short months, roughly $75 million of bond proceeds have already been invested in various working forest projects across America. Learn more.

12 23 19 Image 7 Gilchrist State Forest Oregon c Justin BailiePhoto courtesy of Justin Bailie.

Written By

Valerie Keefer

As Media Relations Associate for The Conservation Fund, Val conducts media outreach, drives press activities and supports messaging strategies across the organization. She enjoys sharing the Fund’s holistic approach to environmental conservation and economic growth with the community and communicating the local and global impact of the Fund’s many projects. Val is an avid nature enthusiast who loves camping, hiking and rock climbing.