Conecuh Forest gains critical land

Published 7:30 am Thursday, March 2, 2023

One of Alabama’s most ecologically diverse national forests has gained new protected land, announced the USDA Forest Service (USFS) and The Conservation Fund.

With critical funding from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the partners were able to secure roughly 1,000 acres of privately-owned properties within the Conecuh National Forest in southern Alabama, filling in major land gaps for recreation, watershed preservation, wildlife and longleaf pine forest restoration.

“Conecuh National Forest is a unique, ecological backdrop that showcases recreation opportunities and how active forest management improves longleaf pine restoration, rare plant communities and wildlife habitat,” said Cherie Hamilton, Forest Service supervisor of Alabama’s national forests. “Thanks to The Conservation Fund, future generations will benefit greatly from this new land expansion on the Conecuh.”

The announcement celebrates the protection of several properties — known as inholdings — that were previously gridlocked within Conecuh National Forest and faced the risk of being sold for non-conservation or recreational uses. The Conservation Fund, a national environmental nonprofit, acquired these properties and transferred them to the USFS for permanent conservation. Now protected, the land will enhance public recreation and preserve habitat for several terrestrial rare and endangered species including the red-cockaded woodpecker, eastern indigo snake and gopher tortoise. The acquisitions also help improve ongoing longleaf pine restoration.

“Conecuh National Forest protects one of the largest continuous stretches of longleaf pine forest in the Southeast,” said Stacy Funderburke, Alabama associate state director at The Conservation Fund. “Securing these inholdings will allow for better longleaf pine management and improve wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities that support local economies.”

The protection of this land was made possible by the federal LWCF, which was fully and permanently funded by the Great American Outdoors Act in 2020. LWCF is a bipartisan program that conserves ecologically and economically valuable land, including many of Alabama’s iconic natural places. Alabama’s congressional delegation representing the Conecuh National Forest — U.S Senator Katie Britt, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville, U.S. Representative Jerry Carl and U.S. Representative Barry Moore — supported the use of LWCF funding for this project.

“The Conecuh National Forest contains some of the most pristine and ecologically invaluable land in the country, and I’m glad that its conservation mission is being strengthened through these acquisitions,” said U.S. Representative Barry Moore. “All Alabamians who love the outdoors will benefit from the protection and preservation of this beautiful natural space for future generations to treasure and enjoy.”

For many years, the late conservationist M.C. Davis had been acquiring these inholdings with the hope to one day conserve them as part of the national forest. Upon his passing in 2015, The Conservation Fund was able to make this dream a reality by acquiring the properties from Mr. Davis and holding them until funds became available for the USFS’s acquisition.