November 29, 2018

Protection of 3,719 Acres in Florida's Gulf Coastal Plain Advances Effort to Restore Longleaf Pine Forests Across the Southeast 

Santa Rosa County, Fla.—As part of a multi-year effort to expand longleaf pine forests across the Southeast, the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), The Conservation Fund and Resource Management Service, LLC (RMS) announced today the establishment of a 3,719-acre conservation easement in Florida’s panhandle. This easement will restore important longleaf pine habitat, protect water quality and quantity in the Gulf of Mexico and provide other environmental and economic benefits to the region. With funding from NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), The Conservation Fund and RMS, this Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP) conservation easement will restrict development and require restoration of longleaf pine, while allowing the land to remain in private ownership for timber production as a sustainable working longleaf forest.

“The Conservation Fund, in partnership with many other organizations, has long strived to reverse the trend of longleaf pine ecosystem loss across the Gulf Coastal Plain region, and slowly, these forests are coming back—a win for the environment and timber jobs in the area,” said Lauren Day, Florida Representative for The Conservation Fund. “We’re honored to partner with RMS, which has a long history of sustainable forest management and ecosystem stewardship, and are grateful to Congress and NRCS for the RCPP program, which brought together federal, state and local agencies and organizations to create a model for future longleaf restoration and protection that marries both environmental and economic benefits on large private land holdings.”

Longleaf pine forests once stretched across 90 million acres in the Southeast, but due to deforestation, just 4.7 percent of the original forests remain. As part of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative — a collaborative, public-private effort to restore the longleaf pine ecosystem across eight million acres by 2025 — The Conservation Fund and RMS are leading an initiative to establish the first, landscape-scale model for restoring and conserving longleaf habitat on privately-owned land. The 3,719-acre property, located in the Florida panhandle, is the first to be conserved as part of a landscape of up to 200,000 acres known as the Coastal Headwaters Longleaf Forest.

“Longleaf pine is part of the South's heritage. It was the tree species upon which our forest products industry was built and it has helped anchor our regional identity and outdoor culture for generations,” said Jimmy Bullock, Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability at Resource Management Service. 

“Collaborating on this initiative with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, other state and federal agencies and officials, and our friends at The Conservation Fund is rewarding because it demonstrates what can be accomplished when we work together," continued Bullock. “We see this easement as the first step in restoring longleaf pine where it makes economic and ecological sense in the areas we operate. The establishment of this easement reflects RMS' commitment to balancing the environmental and social dimensions of managing timberland investments with the need to generate competitive financial returns that help fund pension benefits for retirees, the good work of charitable organizations, the endeavors of families and the objectives of our leading educational and financial institutions.”   

The project will provide habitat for imperiled species, such as the gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snake, Bachman’s sparrow, swallow-tailed kite, Florida flame azalea and white-topped pitcher plant. With longleaf restoration, experts are working to restore an ephemeral wetland on the property — an ecosystem that historically provided habitat for the endangered reticulated flatwoods salamander. The restoration of this wetland will support potential future efforts to reintroduce the salamander to this property. Management on the property will include the re-establishment of regular fire via prescribed burns, which will improve habitat for many rare species. The protection of this land will also protect water quality and quantity within the Blackwater River Watershed.

RCPP, which provided funding for the HFRP easement, is a program authorized by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill and administered by U.S. Department of Agriculture’s NRCS. RCPP offers new opportunities for the NRCS, conservation partners and agricultural producers to work together to harness innovation, expand the conservation mission and demonstrate the value and efficacy of voluntary, private lands conservation.

“These public-private partnerships can have an impact that’s well beyond what the Federal government could accomplish on its own,” said  Russell Morgan, Florida NRCS state conservationist. “These efforts keep our land and water clean, and promote economic growth in agriculture, construction, tourism, and other industries.”

“Today’s announcement builds on the tremendous progress we have seen around the state of Florida to expand innovative programs to protect working landscapes, restore native habitat, and improve water quality,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I was proud to support funding for this important project, and will continue to work with state and local partners to identify additional opportunities to advance economic and environmental benefits through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.” 

“I am extremely pleased at the establishment of a conservation easement for longleaf pine in Northwest Florida. In addition to preserving longleaf pine, this 3,719-acre conservation area preserves an important habitat for many threatened animal species,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz. “Many agencies and groups worked together to make the Healthy Forest Reserve Program conservation area a reality, including the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the Conservation Fund and Resource Management Service, LLC. Public-private partnerships like this harness the power of both the federal government and the private sector, exponentially improving environmental outcomes and driving local economic growth. Congratulations to everyone involved on a job well done — we in Northwest Florida appreciate your hard work!”

In addition to providing important habitat and economic benefits as a working longleaf forest, longleaf pine is known for its strength and ability to withstand intense storms and wildfires, a quality that will help it remain resilient to the impacts of climate change and protect inland coastal areas from severe storm damage.

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 eight million acres of land, including more than 131,000 acres in Florida. Visit conservationfund.org for additional information.

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 adviser with $4.5 billion of timberland assets under management in the southern U.S., Brazil, Australia, New Zealand, and China. Visit 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 financial and technical assistance to agricultural landowners to conserve natural resources through easements and conservation practices. The 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.

Contacts
Katie Valentine | The Conservation Fund | 703-908-5802 | kvalentine@conservationfund.org  
Jimmy Bullock | Resource Management Service | 601-529-1144 | jbullock@resourcemgt.com
Renee Bodine | Natural Resources Conservation Service | 352-338-9565 | Renee.Bodine@fl.usda.gov