Governor Signs $32 Million Conservation Bond Act to Protect 39,000 Acres

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A groundbreaking new conservation deal has ensured that nearly 39,000 acres of working forestland, recreation lands and wildlife habitat in South Carolina will be protected.

As part of a broad-based initiative to conserve land across the South, The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy announced that they would acquire two forest parcels, 25,668 acres in Marion County known as the Woodbury tract and 13,281 acres in Hampton County known as Hamilton Ridge, from International Paper. The organizations have agreed to split the acquisition cost and jointly hold these properties until the land can be transferred to the public for long-term stewardship.

The agreement comes just as South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford signed into law a measure that would allow the South Carolina Heritage Trust to borrow about $32 million for forest acquisition across the state. The Heritage Trust is a 30-year-old division of the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

"This bill and this land acquisition will go a long way toward preserving the way South Carolina looks and feels as a state," Gov. Sanford said. "The quality of life in our state is going to be an increasingly important part of South Carolina's competitive edge when it comes to the global race for jobs and investment. I want to thank International Paper, the Conservation Fund, the Nature Conservancy, and DNR for their roles in this historic conservation initiative."

The South Carolina agreement, when completed, will be the largest conservation purchase by the state in its history.

“This announcement is extraordinary in every sense of the word—from its scope and scale to its tremendous conservation outcomes,” said The Conservation Fund’s President, Larry Selzer. “Thanks to the vision and leadership of Governor Sanford and the State of South Carolina and the commitment of International Paper and The Nature Conservancy, these important lands will protect wildlife habitat, enhance air and water quality, support local economies and provide exceptional outdoor recreation opportunities for future generations.”

In addition to providing recreational opportunities, these forests protect large tracts of habitat for several important wildlife and aquatic species, including such birds as the Kentucky warbler, Louisiana waterthrush, rusty blackbird, swallow-tailed kite, Swainson’s warbler and others. These tracts will provide river corridor protection to 27 miles on the Great Pee Dee, 11 miles on the Little Pee Dee and eight miles on the Savannah River.

“The Woodbury and Hamilton Ridge tracts protect outstanding wildlife habitat, native forests, migratory bird nesting areas and precious water resources in the Savannah, Pee Dee and Little Pee Dee Rivers,” said Mike Andrews, Chief Operating Officer of The Nature Conservancy. “These lands have been conservation priorities for more than a decade. Together, these two projects will be the largest conservation land purchase by the state in its history. The Nature Conservancy is proud to be a partner in conserving South Carolina’s way of life, traditions and natural heritage for generations to come.”

The Southern United States represents the most biologically diverse region in the country—and is one of the most threatened. The continued fragmentation of forests because of subdivision, land use change and development is one of the most pressing threats facing the American landscape today. Forests - both public and private - protect biodiversity, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts and jobs for more than 1.6 million Americans. Protecting large contiguous tracts of working forests like the Woodbury and Hamilton Ridge properties offers the best opportunity to conserve these forest ecosystems.

“Today’s announcement provides the state with the opportunity to conserve some of our most ecologically significant landscapes,” said DNR Director John Frampton. “South Carolina is known for its diverse forests, abundant waterways and wildlife related recreational opportunities. We now have an opportunity to ensure that these resources are protected.”

The 39,000-acre South Carolina acquisition is part of a broader agreement among International Paper, The Nature Conservancy and The Conservation Fund to protect a total of 218,000 acres of forestland across 10 states. The Nature Conservancy will acquire more than 173,000 additional acres in North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Louisiana and Mississippi. The Conservation Fund will acquire more than 5,000 acres in Florida and 500 in North Carolina. Tracts included in this agreement represent some of IP’s most ecologically important lands.

“Today’s announcement illustrates the compatibility between environmental, social and economic interests,” said John Faraci, International Paper chairman and chief executive officer. “When we work together to strike the right balance among all of these interests, we not only protect valuable forest resources, but we ultimately enhance the quality of life for all of us, today and for generations to come. We can all celebrate this historic transaction, which is a great example of the results that can be accomplished when the public and private sectors work together.”

International Paper has been sustainably managing forestlands for 105 years and has worked with both The Conservation Fund and The Nature Conservancy on several conservation agreements in the past. Lands included in this sale represent some of the most ecologically important landscapes in the South. In a number of states, the conservation organizations are working closely with state agencies and other partners to ensure these lands are conserved for future generations. Today’s announcement represents the beginning of this landmark conservation project.

About International Paper

Headquartered in the United States, International Paper businesses include paper, packaging and forest products. As one of the largest private landowners in the world, IP professional foresters and wildlife biologists manage the woods with great care in compliance with the rigorous standards of the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® program. The SFI® program is an independent forest certification system that ensures the perpetual planting, growing and harvesting of trees while protecting biodiversity, wildlife, plants, soil, water and air quality. The company also has a long-standing policy of using no wood from endangered forests.

About The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization that preserves plants, animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 15 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 102 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific.

About The Conservation Fund

The Conservation Fund is the nation’s foremost environmental nonprofit dedicated to protecting America’s land and water legacy for current and future generations. Seeking innovative conservation solutions for the 21st century, the Fund works to integrate economic and environmental goals. Since its founding in 1985, the Fund has helped its partners safeguard wildlife habitat, working landscapes, community “greenspace,” and historic sites totaling more than 5 million acres. With 1 percent fund raising costs and 96 percent program allocation, The Conservation Fund is recognized as the nation’s top rated environmental nonprofit by both the American Institute of Philanthropy and Charity Navigator.