Groups to preserve forest along Blackwater River

Published 8:09 am Friday, March 20, 2009

FRANKLIN—More than 400 acres of forest in Southampton County, including 3.3 miles along the Blackwater River, will be preserved after an agreement was reached between two conservation groups.

The Nature Conservancy of Virginia announced Thursday that it has reached an agreement with Conservation Forestry LLC to place 416 acres of forest into a conservation easement. The parcel includes 287 acres of mature hardwood forest along the river and 129 acres of upland pine forest. Plans call for the pines to be permanently managed as “working forestland.”

Conservation Forestry LLC, an investment organization based in Exeter, N.H., that helps acquire forestland for conservation, purchased the land from International Paper Co. in 2006. The parcel is located in the southeast corner of Southampton County, south of the city of Franklin and east of U.S. Route 258.

According to Nature Conservancy, the project cost $416,000, half of which was funded through the North American Wetlands Conservation Act by Ducks Unlimited, a wetland and waterfowl conservation group based in Memphis, Tenn.

The other half of the project was funded by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, which is administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.

DCR has designated the land as part of the state’s Natural Area Preserve system.

“We’re thrilled with the fact that the land is protected, and there is 3.3 miles of riverfront that is going to be set aside for future generations to enjoy,” said Brian Van Eerden, the Southern Rivers Program Director for The Nature Conservancy in Virginia. “We’re very grateful for the support that we got from the state and also from Ducks Unlimited.”

Van Eerden added that swamp forests along rivers, such as those in the conservation easement, “serve as important nursery areas for migratory fish species such as herring. Young herring raised in the Blackwater move on to the Atlantic Ocean to become a vital part of marine foodwebs.”

Riverkeeper Jeff Turner said that for the last several years, he had assisted the Nature Conservancy by taking them and officials with the Virginia Department of Forestry to look at the property. He said he discovered an eagle nest there shortly after becoming riverkeeper in 2000.

“I guess there’s some money out there now that (projects like this) are going to happen,” Turner said. “I’ve been praying that this was going to come to fruition. I’m very happy about it.”

Michael Lipford, the director of The Nature Conservancy of Virginia, echoed that sentiment.

“The property offers a protected haven for bald eagles, migratory songbirds and other Virginia wildlife,” Lipford said. “From an environmental perspective, it is as important as it is beautiful.”