July 12, 2023

The Conservation Fund Acts to Protect Approximately 20,000 Acres of At-Risk Forest in Southern Alabama

MONROE COUNTY, Ala. — The Conservation Fund, America’s leading nonprofit in land protection, has acquired approximately 23,000 acres of at-risk forestland in the Red Hills region of southwest Alabama. The property, located in Monroe County between Mobile and Montgomery, contains prime habitat for numerous wildlife species, including the threatened Red Hills salamander. The Conservation Fund’s acquisition is a critical first step towards the forest’s future protection, and the national nonprofit will now work with partners and seek private philanthropic donors to help protect the forest in perpetuity.

This purchase, made possible in part with a $17 million loan from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, will ultimately ensure habitat protection, restoration, public hunting and fishing access, and climate change benefits, as well as economic opportunities via forest-related jobs and a potential new community forest. During its interim ownership, The Conservation Fund will hold and sustainably manage the property temporarily, securing the land from risks of being sold, converted or developed while working with private and public partners to implement permanent conservation strategies.

The 23,000 acres, now known as the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest, were acquired from leading impact real estate asset manager, Conservation Resources, which has sustainably managed the forest since 2009. The acquisition was completed through The Conservation Fund’s Working Forest Fund® — an innovative forest conservation program dedicated to protecting natural ecosystems, mitigating climate change and strengthening rural economies.

“The rapid loss of our nation’s intact, working forests is an immense threat to biodiversity, rural economies and our fight against climate change,” said The Conservation Fund’s President and CEO Larry Selzer. “Since the launch of our Working Forest Fund, we have secured nearly 1 million acres of at-risk forestland across the United States and we have an ambitious goal to protect 5 million acres over the next 10 years. Our most recent acquisition of the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest works towards that larger national goal while also securing a critical resource for local species and community members.”

The Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest is home to the federally threatened Red Hills salamander that is endemic to the region, meaning it is the only place in the world where the species can be found. The small, 25-mile-wide area of Alabama between the Conecuh and Alabama rivers is critical for the salamander and protection of the land could help remove the species from the endangered species list. The property also contains thousands of climate resilient acres and stores roughly 3.5 million tons of CO2 equivalent, which is comparable to removing 779,000 gasoline-powered passenger vehicles from the road for one year.

“The Red Hills region has diverse ecology and dynamic topography, yet most of its land is privately owned, inaccessible to the public and at risk of being lost to development or other non-forest uses,” said Andrew Schock, upper southeast regional director at The Conservation Fund. “By securing the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest, we are one step closer to protecting this unique region for people and wildlife to enjoy in perpetuity.”

“Since our purchase, we were able to permanently protect over 8,400 acres of endangered species habitat,” said Kent Gilges, a partner at Conservation Resources. “We are delighted to work with our longtime partners at The Conservation Fund to continue that effort and see a majority of this important place protected permanently.”

“I recently got to experience and learn a ton about the Red Hills,” said Mike Oetker, acting regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in the Southeast. “I am very excited about this land acquisition where we can provide outdoor recreation, including hunting and fishing, while at the same time protecting habitat for rare species like Alabama pearlshell mussels, gopher tortoises and Red Hills salamanders.”

During the next several years, The Conservation Fund will work with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) to protect critical habitat in the Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest.

“The expansion of the Red Hills Wildlife Management Area will continue the work we and our partners began several years ago to acquire enough land to conserve habitat for the long-term success of the Red Hills salamander,” said Chuck Sykes, director of ADCNR’s wildlife and freshwater fisheries division. “This WMA is a perfect example of how you can provide a sanctuary for threatened species and increase access to outdoor recreation. We look forward to partnering with The Conservation Fund on this project.”

The Conservation Fund is also working with McIntosh S.E.E.D., a regional nonprofit, to explore the idea of developing a locally owned, 1,000-acre community forest on a portion of the land. The goal would be to offer local access and economic benefits from the working land’s resources. McIntosh S.E.E.D. works in the Deep South to improve neglected and low-wealth rural communities through asset-based economic development, education reform, empowerment and environmental preservation.

“McIntosh S.E.E.D. is delighted to work with The Conservation Fund and Monroe County,” said Cheryl Peterson, assistant managing director at McIntosh S.E.E.D. “We look forward to the development of a community forest in partnership with the local community.”

The Conservation Fund used capital from its green bonds and the generous loan from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to purchase the forest. As one of the nation’s top land conservation funders, the Richard King Mellon Foundation’s legacy is etched across every state — with over 4.5 million acres of environmentally sensitive areas protected throughout America.

Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation, said, “The Foundation and The Conservation Fund have a long history of working together to protect environmentally critical lands across the United States. This project is emblematic of that work. It will protect important habitat for a sensitive species, the Red Hills salamander, while enabling Alabama residents and visitors to enjoy and sustainably utilize this exceptional landscape.”

According to the USDA Forest Service’s 2023 state report, Alabama’s forest industry is the second leading economic driver in the state, employing over 40,000 people. The Alabama Red Hills Salamander Forest itself has a total economic impact of more than $10 million.

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 since 1985 to protect nearly 9 million acres of land, including over 36,000 acres in Alabama. Through our Working Forest Fund®, we aim to permanently conserve five million acres of at-risk working forests to mitigate climate change, strengthen rural economies and protect natural ecosystems.

Media Contact: Val Keefer, 703-908-5802, vkeefer@conservationfund.org