Over 100,000 Acres Protected by Forever Wild Land Trust
Alabama’s Forever Wild Land Trust acquisitions now total 107,000 acres, land which might otherwise be commercially developed or kept in private hands. Acreage in the program is used for the most common groups of outdoor interests: nature preserves, additions to state parks, outdoor recreational areas and wildlife management areas for public hunting. Ninety-three percent of the total Forever Wild acreage is available for public hunting.
A bill currently making its way through the Senate would cut one-third of Forever Wild money and reallocate it to support volunteer fire departments, the Soil and Water Conservation Committee and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. Senate Bill 255 is sponsored by Senator Gerald Dial.
In 1992, citizens of Alabama overwhelmingly voted to establish the Forever Wild Land Trust and its Board of Trustees. The constitutional amendment passed by a vote of 83 percent, the largest margin for a land trust amendment in any southeastern state. The first land purchase was made in 1994, and since then many significant tracts have been added to Alabama’s land trust program. Habitat for bald eagles, wetlands, and recreation such as hiking, bird watching, horseback riding and hunting are just some of the uses of Forever Wild land.
All Forever Wild Land Purchases are managed by the State Lands Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. According to Assistant Division Director Greg Lein, many Forever Wild acquisitions are accomplished utilizing both state funding and other monies. “We are able to leverage state money with federal funding and grants to establish greater purchasing power,” he said.
The Forever Wild Program is funded by a percentage of the interest earned from state royalties on offshore natural gas leases belonging to Alabama. “In essence,” Lein said, “money from one natural resource – gas – is being reinvested in another natural resource – land – for the benefit of Alabama citizens. Land is a tangible resource that will be here forever.”
One of the more prominent tracts purchased by Forever Wild is the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Tract, which includes more than 45,000 acres of bottomland hardwoods, cypress-tupelo swamps, bogs, marshes and a variety of other wetland habitat types and waterways.
The Lauderdale and Freedom Hills Wildlife Management Area Tract in northwest Alabama comprise 31,000 acres that serve as public land additions to two wildlife management areas. This land is a much-needed addition to public hunting areas that are in recent decline.
A Forever Wild Acquisition that has garnered much recent publicity is the Walls of Jericho purchase in Jackson County. This 12,500-acre tract is comprised of mountainous and woody terrain and hosts caves, bluffs and springs. The site is already popular with hikers, campers, wildlife watchers and hunters.
Not all purchases are so large, however. Many smaller tracts are just as important to Alabama’s land conservation program. For instance, the Fort Toulouse Tract in Elmore County consists of 254 acres of upland pine-hardwood forestland along the Alabama River. It has a long natural history that includes the development of Native American cultures, the interaction between Indian and European cultures and the development of the American State of Alabama. It is being managed as a park addition to Historic Fort Toulouse-Jackson National Historic Park.
Conservation Commissioner Barnett Lawley emphasizes that every Forever Wild tract is significant to Alabama. “The Board examines the benefits of every nominated tract and only those that meet the land use requirements are purchased. I’m very proud of the decisions made by the Board on behalf of the people of Alabama,” Lawley said.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources promotes wise stewardship, management and enjoyment of Alabama’s natural resources through five divisions: Marine Police, Marine Resources, State Parks, State Lands, and Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries.