December 15, 2021

To Be Conserved: 14 Miles Of Ecologically Sensitive Suwannee River In Georgia

ATLANTA — The Conservation Fund announced its recent purchase of 8,760 acres along the upper Suwannee River in southeast Georgia, the first step to safeguarding the riverfront forestland from conversion and development.

The national nonprofit’s acquisition provides time for the implementation of permanent conservation strategies over the next few years that aim to increase public recreational access, ensure sustainable forest management and longleaf pine restoration, and enhance protection for the Suwannee River headwaters and critical habitats within one of the country’s most biodiverse ecosystems and the largest protected wildlife corridor east of the Mississippi River.

“We’ve been working over the past decade to expand protection for forestlands within the Suwannee River watershed in both Florida and Georgia,” said Andrew Schock, Georgia and Alabama State Director for The Conservation Fund. “Our goal is to ensure these large landscapes remain forested and sustainably managed so they can continue to support water quality, lessen the impacts of flooding during storms, sequester harmful CO2e, and create resilient ecosystems in the face of climate change that benefit both people and wildlife.”

Located just upriver from the city of Fargo, the property, now referred to as the Suwannee River Headwaters Forest, features a mosaic of upland and wetland habitats adjacent to Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) that support a variety of species, including the gopher tortoise, Suwannee alligator snapping turtle, eastern diamondback rattlesnake, Alabama shad, Gulf sturgeon, Suwannee bass, and Suwannee cooter. The area also provides important habitat for approximately 230 migrant and resident bird species, including a variety of warblers, songbirds and waterbirds like the rusty blackbird, bobolink, sandhill crane, red-headed woodpecker, tricolored heron, and swallow-tailed kite.

A popular paddling destination, The Conservation Fund’s purchase will enable the future creation of two new river access points for entering and exiting along a 14-mile stretch of Suwannee River in Clinch County. The river plays an important role by providing most of the surficial fresh water to the Gulf of Mexico’s “Big Bend” coast that supports the second largest seagrass area in the region, the Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve.

The Conservation Fund’s acquisition from Three Steps Forest, LLC in November 2021 was made possible through its Working Forest Fund®, dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. Capital from the organization’s green bonds—the first of its kind dedicated to conservation in the U.S.—a loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, and a grant from the EJK Foundation enabled the purchase.

“Since our acquisition of the property in 2013, we have worked cooperatively with The Conservation Fund and the Refuge to protect critical parts of our ownership,” says Kent Gilges, a partner at Conservation Resources. “We appreciate the Fund’s long-term commitment to complete this conservation transaction, protect the Suwannee River corridor, and improve the contiguity of the Refuge.”

During its ownership, The Conservation Fund intends to begin restoration of over 5,000 acres to longleaf pine habitat, which will help to increase fire resiliency on the western side of the Refuge. The organization will seek funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to transfer the restored acreage to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in phases to be managed as part of the Okefenokee NWR. It will also work to secure private and public funding—including LWCF funding via the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program—to protect the remaining acreage under a conservation easement and then intends to sell the easement-encumbered land to a private buyer for continued sustainable management.

U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff support the two applications for LWCF funding from the USFWS and U.S. Forest Service, which will need to be approved in 2022 by the U.S. Congress as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 Appropriations bill.

“The Forest Legacy Program project will offer Georgians a new public access point to the river for recreation, while the Okefenokee-portion will increase public access within the National Wildlife Refuge. These efforts will support new outdoor opportunities for families across Georgia and will support our state’s recreation economy. We support the use of LWCF funding to protect the Suwannee River for the benefit of current and future generations of Georgians,” said U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock and U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff in a recent letter supporting these efforts.

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 more than 8.5 million acres of land, including over 168,000 acres in Georgia.

About Conservation Resources
Conservation Resources is an investment organization that seeks to align private equity with conservation capital to acquire and manage a diverse portfolio of real asset properties. Since our founding in 2005, we have invested over $1.1 billion in farms and forests in the United States, and we have permanently protected over 370,000 acres of land.

Ann Simonelli | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5809 |