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The Nature Conservancy in Alabama Acquires Largest, Private Conservation Easement in Chapter History

BIRMINGHAM, AL--(Marketwired - January 06, 2016) - The Nature Conservancy in Alabama has acquired the largest, private conservation easement in chapter history -- approximately 860 acres in Jackson County. A unique partnership between a public utility, a federal agency, and a philanthropic institute, the purchase will permanently benefit the Paint Rock River watershed. Preservation of these headwater hardwood forests will contribute to high quality groundwater and cleaner air, prevent soil erosion and expand upon past conservation efforts to improve the climate resiliency of the Southern Cumberland ecosystems.

"Our family is very excited to be able to partner with The Nature Conservancy to preserve this beautiful, environmentally sensitive property forever," said property owner John H. Gully. "Nature and conservation are an important part of our lives and this provides us with a great opportunity to give back to future generations. We have learned a lot from the Conservancy and look forward to continuing to do so."

"Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) recognizes the need to protect biodiversity in this area," said TVA Vice President of Natural Resources Rebecca Tolene. TVA provided funding as a part of its commitment to protect and improve aquatic biodiversity in the Tennessee River. "By forming a partnership with The Nature Conservancy and the Gully Family, we're keeping our promise to serve the people of the Tennessee Valley through environmental stewardship." 

Five miles west of the Walls of Jericho and less than 40 miles from Huntsville, this critical property also includes upland oak hickory forest to bottom-land hardwood streams with caves and intermitted wetlands. The easement will protect water quality in Burks Creek, an especially sensitive tributary to Estill Fork and the Paint Rock River that drains to Wheeler Reservoir and Tennessee River, the main drinking water source for the Huntsville area. In addition, the cave systems in this area contain several rare and imperiled species, including the Tennessee cave salamander, gray bat, Eastern big-eared bat and numerous cave invertebrates.

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is dedicated to conserving sensitive habitats, including karst ecosystems. These systems often harbor federally threatened or endangered species, or species at-risk of becoming federally listed," said Rob Hurt, Privatelands Biologist and Assistant Refuge Manager at Wheeler National Wildlife Refuge. 

"This conservation easement will help protect our most precious resource -- clean water -- which supports an extremely diverse array of aquatic life, including approximately 100 species of fish and 45 species of mussels," said Steve Northcutt, Director of Protection for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama. 

The project was supported by grants from the Open Space Institute (OSI) because of the tract's importance in facilitating wildlife adaption to climate change. OSI assembled funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations, and Merck Family Fund.

"The resilience science indicates that the diverse topography on the Gully property and surrounding lands creates micro-climates with varying temperature and moisture," said David Ray, Southeast Field Coordinator for the Open Space Institute. "Because of this, climate-sensitive plants and animals have more options to adapt as the climate changes, making these lands a classic 'natural stronghold' for wildlife on a warming planet."

In addition, the project was supported by a generous donation from Fred and Alice Stanback and Mike Leonard of North Carolina. Leonard a longtime proponent of land conservation in Alabama said, "The area that includes the Gully Tract and the Walls of Jericho was recognized as important for land conservation over 35 years ago in the 1970s because of the great hardwood forest and spectacularly rugged terrain. I visited the area for the first time in the late 70s, and I am pleased to see Fred and Alice Stanback contributing towards the protection of additional land in this area that has been important to southern based land conservationists for so many years."

While the conservation easement remains in private ownership, The Nature Conservancy holds the conservation easement and is responsible for monitoring and making sure the easement's terms are followed into the future.

The Nature Conservancy is the leading organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. The Conservancy and its more than one million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org

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