January 14, 2015

Birmingham, Ala.—Today The Conservation Fund and Resource Management Service, LLC (RMS) announced the receipt of both federal and private funding to launch a historic partnership to create a 205,000-acre sustainable working forest comprised of native longleaf pine in the lower Alabama and Florida panhandle region. As part of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative—a collaborative, public-private effort to restore the threatened longleaf ecosystems across 8 million acres by 2020—The Conservation Fund and RMS plan to establish the first large landscape-level model for reestablishing and conserving longleaf habitat on privately-owned land, which will have the dual benefit of providing environmental and economic benefits—explicitly by keeping the lands in timber production.

The Coastal Headwaters Forest project received a significant boost today when it was awarded a $5 million grant from the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP); private funds have also been awarded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) through its Acres for America program funded by Walmart. The RCPP, administered by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services, is a new program created by the U.S. Congress through the enactment of the 2014 Farm Bill. Its goal is to provide landscape-scale conservation assistance and significantly leverage partnerships and non-federal funding. The grants will be used to protect a portion of the 205,000-acre Coastal Headwaters Forest under a conservation easement during the first phase of this multi-year project.

The application was supported by: U.S. Senators Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, Representative Bradley Byrne (AL-1), and Representative Jeff Miller (FL-1). Additionally, the project has broad-based support from over 25 entities including federal, state, local agencies and organizations.

“I am pleased to learn that the Coastal Headwaters Project has secured the resources necessary to begin restoration efforts of longleaf pine,” said U.S. Senator Richard Shelby. “The establishment of a private-public partnership for this important project is positive news for both the environment and the economy in Alabama.” 

“I am pleased that the Coastal Headwaters project has been chosen to receive assistance through USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions. “I am particularly pleased that this project is the largest single longleaf pine restoration project in U.S. history.  The longleaf pine is a remarkable tree and its forest acres have been drastically reduced over the last 150 years. This will be a large step in advancing the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative. Cooperative efforts like this between government and private stakeholders are an important component of efforts to protect and restore the longleaf forests throughout the Southeast. Alabama has been blessed with a beautiful and diverse environment and an abundance of natural resources, and wise stewardship is necessary for ensuring future generations are able to enjoy the benefits they provide.”

“The Coastal Headwaters Forest project is a critical effort to rebuild the longleaf pine ecosystem around the Gulf Coast, and I am pleased the project has received much needed financial support. It is exactly these kinds of public-private partnerships, which take into consideration both the economic and environmental needs, that we need to see more of in our country,” said Congressman Bradley Byrne. “I was proud to play a role in securing this significant funding.”

“Restoring longleaf pine is something that is important to many of my constituents in Florida’s First Congressional District, and I believe that the Coastal Headwaters project presents an opportunity to advance this important initiative,” Congressman Jeff Miller said.  “I also believe that the project could have a positive impact on Northwest Florida’s crucial military installations by creating military buffers near both Eglin Air Force Base and Naval Air Station Whiting Field.”

This Coastal Headwaters Forest conservation initiative, focused on lands managed by RMS, will preserve a variety of critical wildlife habitats, restore a considerable stretch of native longleaf forest to the lower Coastal Plain, improve water quality for five major rivers that flow into the Gulf of Mexico, all while supporting local economies and timber industry jobs.

Longleaf pine forests were once the dominant landscape of the American South, covering more than 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas. Today it is one of the most endangered ecosystems in the U.S., having been reduced to a mere 3% of its historic range (most of which is on public lands). The longleaf pine ecosystem is one of the most ecologically diverse, with 29 federally Threatened and Endangered species and more than 900 plants found nowhere else in the world. Used since the colonial era to build America’s homes, bridges, ships and railroads, longleaf timber is exceptionally insect-resistant, fire and wind tolerant, and able to grown in sandy, dry, and infertile soils.

“The Coastal Headwaters Forest is truly a flagship endeavor not only for us but also for the entire longleaf coalition that is diligently working to reverse the trend of longleaf pine loss across the Coastal Plain region,” said Andrew Schock, Alabama & Georgia State Director for The Conservation Fund. “We’re honored to partner with RMS, who has a long history of sustainable forest management and ecosystem stewardship, and we hope that this project can be a model for future longleaf restoration and protection that marries both environmental and economic benefits on large private land holdings.”

“Coastal Headwaters is a game changer; a project that demonstrates landscape scale longleaf forest restoration can occur within an economically viable working forest. This project ensures local communities benefit from the economic and social values of a working forest, and restores and maintains the ecological values for plants and animals inherent to the longleaf ecosystem,” said Jimmy Bullock, Senior Vice President, Forest Sustainability for RMS.

“RCPP puts our partners in the driver’s seat,” said Dr. William E. Puckett, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service State Conservationist in Alabama. “Projects are led locally, and demonstrate the value of strong public-private partnerships that deliver solutions to tough natural resource challenges. The Coastal Headwaters project is a phenomenal example of this partnership approach for conservation that will leave an impact on the entire Gulf ecosystem.”

About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states to protect more than 7.5 million acres of land since 1985.

About Resource Management Service, LLC
Founded in 1950, Resource Management Service, LLC (“RMS”) is a global timberland investment firm serving public pension funds, endowments, foundations, insurance companies, and family offices.  Based in Birmingham, Alabama, RMS is a Registered Investment Advisor with $4.4 billion of timberland assets under management in the southern U.S., Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and China.  Visit www.resourcemgt.com for additional information.

About the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Services and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program  
The Natural Resource Conservation Service provides assistance to landowners to conserve natural resources through conservation easements and other program contracts.  The new Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) provides conservation assistance to landowners and supports collaborative projects that improve soil quality, water quality/quantity, wildlife habitat and other natural resource values. 

Press Release Contacts
Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 | asimonelli@conservationfund.org
Robin Murphy | The Conservation Fund | 703-797- 2507 | rmurphy@conservationfund.org
Jimmy Bullock | Resource Management Service, LLC | 601-529-1144 | jbullock@resourcemgt.com