Partnership with the state and The Conservation Fund opens new public recreational access, secures habitat for endangered species and protects ecologically sensitive forest in the Cumberland Plateau
FENTRESS COUNTY —The Conservation Fund, in partnership with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, announced Wednesday the protection of 3,041 acres that have been added to the state’s Skinner Wildlife Management Area (WMA). The newly conserved forestland will be open to the public for hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing and other recreational activities, while continuing to support the local economy through sustainably harvested timber production.
Located within a dramatic landscape of gorges, cliffs, waterfalls and caves that shelter federally listed Indiana bats, gray bats, and northern long-eared bats, the property was first purchased by The Conservation Fund in 2017 as part of the 14,770-acre Skinner Mountain Forest. Recognizing the critical ecological and economic importance of the area, the national nonprofit utilized its Working Forest Fund® program, with generous support from the Richard King Mellon Foundation, to acquire the entire Skinner Mountain Forest to ensure the threatened landscape would remain forested.
“Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau contains some of the most ecologically diverse forestland in the country that also plays a major role in supporting the state’s timber products sector,” said Ralph Knoll, The Conservation Fund’s Tennessee representative. “As the transfer of large, industrial-size forests happens more and more frequently, our job is to ensure that forestland of community- and state-wide importance will always remain forested. Protecting critical wildlife habitat while keeping a portion of the Skinner Mountain Forest as a working forest will sustain 80 jobs, keep local mills in operation, and provide nearly $5 million a year to the local economy. This is a win-win for wildlife and communities.”
On July 10, The Conservation Fund transferred 3,041 acres in two separate tracts to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The conserved property includes frontage on the East Fork of the Obey River and provides significant habitat for a variety of endangered and declining species of bats, mussels, migratory songbirds and plants. The Mountain Eye Cave system is located within the newly conserved lands, providing critical habitat for 11 bat species of concern.
“The addition of these new lands at Skinner Mountain WMA is a conservation win for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts,” said Ed Carter, executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. “It provides permanent protection to an area of high biological and recreational value.”
Funding from a variety of partners made this conservation success possible, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program; the Tennessee Conservation Heritage Trust Fund; the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund; the Tennessee Parks & Greenways Foundation’s (TennGreen) coal mitigation fund established by the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club; The Tucker Foundation; Beveridge & Diamond, P.C., in honor of Henry Diamond; and the National Wild Turkey Federation.
“The Tucker Foundation is interested in permanently protecting large tracts of land with ecological significance,” said Andrew G. Cope, President of the Tucker Foundation. “The Skinner Mountain Forest was attractive to our trustees because it not only enhances wildlife habitat and improves water quality, but it provides opportunities for Tennesseans to participate in outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, and hunting.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration program was created more than 80 years ago and allows for money from a pre-existing federal tax on hunting equipment, including firearms and ammunition, to be distributed to the states and territories for the management and restoration of wildlife. The program is congressionally authorized.
“The Conservation Fund has played a large role in protecting Tennessee’s outdoors for over 30 years, and their work with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to add 3,041 acres to Skinner Wildlife Management Area will preserve even more of our state’s beautiful land and recreation areas,” said U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander.
“We are excited that Tennessee’s Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund could play a role in this acquisition,” stated Lee Andrews, Field Supervisor for the USFWS’s Tennessee Ecological Services Field Office. “Forest loss and degradation affect several listed and at-risk bat species across the eastern U.S. so keeping these forests in-place and as a valuable part of our economy helps not only ensure the quality of life on the plateau but provides habitat for these and numerous other species. The Skinner Mountain project is a perfect example of the way the Pittman-Robertson wildlife restoration program works. Hunters and the hunting and shooting sports industries have contributed billions of dollars to fish and wildlife conservation over the past 75-plus years. This project conserves land and water, benefits at-risk fish and wildlife, provides more access to lands for hunting and fishing, and keeps working lands working for the benefit of the public.”
The entire Skinner Mountain Forest plays a major role in sustaining the water quality of the Obey River watershed, including Dale Hollow Lake, filtering nearly 18 billion gallons of water annually and featuring 43 miles of streams.
The Conservation Fund anticipates working with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency in the coming year to protect the remaining 11,759 acres with a working forest conservation easement. This next phase will be made possible with support from The Nature Conservancy and funding from the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation through Walmart’s Acres for America Program and Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund, the Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee, the Frank E. and Seba B. Payne Foundation, and U-Haul.
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than eight million acres of land, including more than 321,000 acres of important natural resources, wildlife habitat and recreational lands in Tennessee at iconic places like the Cherokee National Forest, the Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park, along the Fiery Gizzard Trail and Nashville’s urban parks and greenspace. www.conservationfund.org