North Carolina Receives Funding to Purchase New Habitat

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Thanks to a series of monetary grants from the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission has secured funding to purchase more than 3,000 acres of sensitive natural habitat, much of it formerly owned by International Paper.

Fund trustees voted to give the Commission more than $4.7 million in grants on Tuesday (April 23). The state's wildlife agency will use that money to buy five properties that will be added to the public game lands system in the near future.

"Trustees of the Natural Heritage Trust Fund continue to demonstrate long-term support of the Commission's land acquisition efforts," said David Cobb, the division chief of Wildlife Management. "Without support of the Trustees for making sure these high-quality tracts are in a perpetual conservation ownership, many of them would be developed or otherwise converted."

The funding continues a process that began in April 2006, when International Paper sold more than 65,000 acres of North Carolina land to the Nature Conservancy, which in turn agreed to sell much of the acreage to state conservation agencies such as the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission.

The properties consist of high-quality habitat upland and bottomland forests, as well as floodplains and wetlands, making them valuable for water quality protection and wildlife habitats. Some tracts also contain rare and endangered plants and animals.

The Trust Fund's allocation of $1.77 million for several tracts in Warren and Franklin counties will allow the Commission to purchase more than 1,100 combined acres of land along the Tar River's tributaries. Many of these creeks have very high water quality for the Piedmont, and several harbor rare and endangered species of freshwater mussels.

Another property to be acquired through the Trust Fund is Jessup Mill Pond, which will enlarge Sugg's Mill Pond Game Land by more than 700 acres. Jessup's is a scenic body of water that offers great fishing and recreational opportunities among its standing Cypress trees, all within easy access of the Fayetteville area.

Grant requests for the acquisition of lands around Juniper (approximately 1,000 acres), Roquist Pocosin (more than 300 acres) and the Roanoke River (roughly 90 acres) were also funded.

The Commission will continue to pursue International Paper lands, utilizing money from its own budget as well as other grant opportunities. The North Carolina properties were part of a massive sale by the paper company last year, which transferred ownership of more than 218,000 acres in 10 southeastern states.