Nearly 6,900 acres of East Texas forestland to be protected

Published: Oct. 28, 2016 at 6:24 PM CDT|Updated: Oct. 31, 2016 at 1:09 PM CDT
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(Source: The Conversation Fund)
(Source: The Conversation Fund)
(Source: The Conversation Fund)
(Source: The Conversation Fund)

EAST TEXAS (KLTV) - The Conservation Fund and Texas A&M Forest Service announced the protection of 6,899 acres of working forestland near Palestine.

Officials with The Conservation Fund said along with the nearly 6,900 acres of forested wetlands, eleven miles of the Neches River near Palestine, and vital wildlife habitat for state and federally-listed species have been protected under a working forest conservation easement.

Funding from U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program, through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, has also enabled the protection of the viewshed of the Texas State Historical Railroad line and has helped secure water supply and quality for Jacksonville, Woodville, Lufkin, Nacogdoches, Palestine and Tyler.

The press release goes on to say,

With more than a third of the property, known as Bobcat Ridge, located within the authorized boundary of the Neches River National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), its protection will nearly double the amount of conserved lands within the boundary.

"Texas forests play a critical role in water and air quality as well as a host of other benefits contributing to the quality of life for Texans," said Texas A&M Forest Service Partnership Coordinator Gretchen Riley. "Bobcat Ridge is a key working forest, and we are pleased to hold a conservation easement that protects it from conversion to non-forest. Sustaining forests in a state growing as rapidly as Texas is made easier with partners like The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service."

The Conservation Fund purchased the Bobcat Ridge property in 2011 through its Working Forest Fund® with generous support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation and the PulteGroup Land Legacy Fund, protecting it from subdivision and conversion. The Texas A&M Forest Service purchased a working forest conservation easement on the land in September 2016 with $2.3 million from the LWCF—a bipartisan, federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties, not taxpayer dollars—which was provided through the merit-based Forest Legacy Program and was implemented in partnership with the Texas A&M Forest Service. LWCF is annually funded by the U.S. Congress, including Texas' U.S. delegation representing Anderson County: U.S. Senator John Cornyn, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz and U.S. Representative Jeb Hensarling (TX-5).

"Thanks to funding through the Forest Legacy Program, our state partners have a greater ability to conserve ecosystems and working forests vulnerable to encroaching development," said Michael Murphy, the Forest Legacy program manager with the U.S. Forest Service's Southern Region. "Future generations of Texans will now be able to enjoy the unique beauty and biodiversity of Bobcat Ridge, as well as the economic benefits gained through sustainable forest management."

The forested wetlands at Bobcat Ridge comprise one of the most biologically productive habitats in Texas, providing critical habitat for the federally-endangered red-cockaded woodpecker and 12 state-threatened species, including the peregrine falcon, wood stork, swallow-tailed kite, bald eagle, paddlefish, Rafineque's big-eared bat, alligator snapping turtle, timber rattlesnake and four freshwater mussel species. Bottomland forests located in Eastern Texas and in Oklahoma offer the only significant breeding habitat of the wood duck and are one of the most important wintering areas for the mallard in the Central Flyway. Forty-three percent (273) of all bird species documented in Texas are found on Bobcat Ridge and in the adjoining Neches River NWR.

"The forested wetland habitat now permanently protected at Bobcat Ridge was deemed a top-tier 'Priority 1 Site' by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service due to its excellent quality bottomlands of high value to key waterfowl species," stated Julie Shackelford, Texas Programs Director for The Conservation Fund in its East Texas office. "Many of these Priority 1 sites in Texas have been flooded or developed in the last 30 years. Being able to protect this habitat is a real victory. We are grateful to the Texas legislative delegation for supporting programs like the Forest Legacy Program that conserve privately owned lands."

"Protecting the environmentally sensitive Bobcat Ridge forestland is just the most recent project in which PulteGroup has partnered with The Conservation Fund, but it is also one of the most important," said Ryan Marshall, PulteGroup President and CEO. "Through The Conservation Fund's leadership, we look forward to supporting the protection of other vital land positions that can further enhance the environment and the quality of life for people throughout the country."

Since 2000, The Conservation Fund has secured over $60 million in public and private dollars to acquire 108 river miles (roughly 60,000 acres) within the Neches River corridor including private lands and properties within the Neches River NWR and the Big Thicket National Preserve.

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