By Commissioner Jim Fyke
Governor Bredesen continues to deliver a visionary conservation agenda for Tennessee as the General Assembly recently approved his Heart of the Cumberlands initiative. This project dedicates $82 million in state funds for the conservation of 124,000 acres on the North Cumberland Plateau and represents the largest current one-state investment in a single land project in the United States.
Partnering with the Nature Conservancy and conservation-minded timber investment companies, the State of Tennessee will participate in a total land acquisition project worth $150 million. The state and its partners will acquire lands through fee simple processes plus purchase conservation and working forest easements and timber rights in four counties on the Plateau - Morgan, Scott, Campbell and Anderson counties. All 124,000 acres touched by this initiative will be open to the public. More than 40,000 additional acres will be available for hunting and fishing while 10,000 acres will be added to Frozen Head State Park and Natural Area at Emory River, including Love and Bird Mountains. The state is also purchasing timber rights for 75,000 acres in the Sundquist Wildlife Management Area, ensuring that the natural timber resources on an existing state investment will be sustainably managed.
More than 90 percent of the 125,000 acres will stay in active timber production, demonstrating that conservation and public use can work hand-in-hand with economic development on the Plateau. As landowners, the timber companies will pay property taxes, and the state will pay in-lieu-of taxes on the property it buys under fee simple arrangements around Frozen Head.
The Heart of the Cumberlands represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the State of Tennessee to protect majestic woodlands on the Northern Cumberland Plateau that include some of the most important forests, mountains, streams and wildlife habitat remaining in North America. The “landscape scale” of this project will help preserve the purity of streams and rivers and provide a natural corridor for wildlife such as elk, deer, songbirds and bats to move and migrate freely. The initiative will also protect the region’s diverse plant life that has been recognized as offering the greatest variety of wildflowers and plants in the Eastern United States. You can read more about the Cumberland Plateau’s floral complexity and ecological diversity in Andrea Bishop’s article, “The Cumberlands: A Noah’s Ark for Plants,” in this issue.
While there is still much work to be done in bringing this project to fulfillment, the extraordinary conservation and public access benefits generated by the Heart of the Cumberlands initiative will make a positive difference for current and future generations of Tennesseans. I am proud to be part of the effort that is enabling our state to protect these special places through this landmark partnership.