A private real estate partnership owned 323 acres of land stretching across parts of Cherokee and Etowah counties in northeast Alabama in close proximity to the Coosa River, Lake Weiss and the Talladega National Forest. Notably, the property’s location in the Southern Shale Valleys region meant the property had significant potential as an income-generating operational mine project.
However, conserving the land in perpetuity via a conservation easement was a desirable alternative. The area’s most fertile soils had been put to work for agricultural purposes, and between 50 and 75 percent of local oak-hickory-pine forests had been destroyed. The broad expanses of forest located on this tract of land had become a rarity in this region. Further, the property also serves as a watershed for the Coosa River. In all, preserving the land for future generations would be an ideal outcome.
The partnership owning the land enlisted the help of the Atlantic Coast Conservancy (ACC), an experienced land trust that stewards numerous conservation easement donations throughout the American Southeast. In conducting a comprehensive baseline review of the property, ACC confirmed the property’s significant conservation value.
The landowners and the ACC then jointly formulated a plan to negotiate the terms of the easement, which focused on preserving the property’s natural, undeveloped state. In 2015, a conservation easement was placed on the property, guaranteeing it will continue to exist in a natural state for future generations.
Working hand-in-hand, the landowners and ACC had five primary conservation goals in mind when crafting the deed of the easement:
A couple years after the easement transaction was completed, ACC discovered that the endangered Trispot Darter, a fish in the perch family, lived in the property’s watershed for the Coosa River. The species, not currently protected under the Endangered Species Act, has a population in the mere hundreds and a limited habitat – freshwater tributaries located in northern Alabama, southeastern Tennessee and northern Georgia. The leading cause of the species’ decline has been habitat fragmentation caused by the conversion of natural lands to agricultural use and the alteration of delicate hydrologic systems including dam impoundments.
Lee Holt, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS) Partners for Fish and Wildlife Program, remarked that, “The Trispot Darter (Etheostoma trisella) is an imperiled freshwater fish species that is currently proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. Due to limited information on the species and unknown population sizes, pro-active conservation efforts are greatly needed to recover the Trispot Darter. Specifically, reducing the threats to, or destruction of, existing habitat will provide some progress in trying to protect and recover the species.”
Holt added that ACC’s conservation efforts encourage the public to aid in the recovery of the Trispot Darter, from preserving its current habitat to providing researchers an opportunity to learn more about the species and promoting conservation partnerships as a tool in conserving aquatic habitats.
Of this project, Robert Keller of ACC said, “The conservation of this property means this land will be forever protected, and we will be able to continue our efforts to preserve critical habitat and ensure water quality, two factors crucial to the survival of the Trispot Darter.” This important conservation effort would not have been possible without private individuals seeking out new opportunities to preserve and protect our lands. Ultimately, their work led to the protection of the Trispot Darter habitat, a clear win for the wildlife conservation movement.
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