VOF announces $3.9 million for forest conservation in five counties

VOF announces $3.9 million for forest conservation in five counties
Landscape view of Poor Mountain near the southwest end of the preserve.

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) has awarded $3,927,054 in grants to support six on-the-ground projects that protect and restore forests in Bland, Roanoke, Botetourt, Rockbridge, and Charlotte counties. Several of the projects will also create new opportunities for outdoor recreation and education in their communities.

These grants were awarded from the Forest CORE (Community Opportunities for Restoration and Enhancement) Fund — a component of VOF’s TERRA program, which administers funds resulting from legal and regulatory actions involving Virginia’s natural resources. The Forest CORE Fund was established with $15 million received by the Commonwealth of Virginia to mitigate for forest fragmentation caused by the Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Forest fragmentation occurs when large, contiguous forests are broken into smaller forests separated by roads, utility corridors, housing, and other development. Fragmentation can weaken forest health resiliency, degrade habitat, interfere with the movement and reproduction of animals, and increase invasive plants and other pests, resulting in loss of biodiversity.

This is the second round of Forest CORE grants to be announced. VOF awarded $3.6 million to seven other projects in December 2018. The expenditure of the funds is tied to the tree-clearing and grubbing activity of pipeline developers. Approximately 70 percent of the pipeline right-of-way in Virginia has been cleared and grubbed to date.

VOF developed the Forest CORE grant criteria in consultation with local officials, planning districts, conservation partners, and state agencies to ensure that community needs would be well represented.

The projects that have been approved for funding are:

Chestnut Ridge-Phase Two, Bland County, $999,500

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation proposes to acquire 770 acres of forest in one of the highest-rated and least-protected ecological cores in the region. The proposed acreage buffers a documented stand of old-growth forest that is partially protected on an existing state natural area preserve. If acquired, the acreage would be managed for the long-term benefit of this forest community, including American chestnut and butternut — species that have been widely decimated throughout the region.

Poor Mountain-Phase Two, Roanoke County, $452,500

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation proposes to acquire 100 acres adjacent to Poor Mountain Natural Area Preserve. The two properties support mature pine-oak heath forests and the globally rare pirate bush. This acquisition will reduce opportunities for fragmentation and greatly narrow the gap between disjunct parts of the preserve and other conserved lands nearby. The properties also contribute to scenic viewsheds for Salem and Roanoke.

Doc’s Way, Botetourt County, $700,000

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) proposes to acquire 236.5 acres of high-quality forest in the viewshed of McAfee Knob, which is one of the most photographed vistas on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. The parcel is currently under contract by ATC, with an agreement secured by funds raised by local citizen donations. The parcel has very high development potential. The property will be ultimately transferred to the National Park Service.

House Mountain, Rockbridge County, $155,000

The Virginia Outdoors Foundation proposes to acquire two parcels totaling 108 acres to be added to the existing 878-acre House Mountain Reserve. Deed restrictions to be held by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will codify existing VOF policies that make the land available for passive public recreation and permanently protect the forests. The property is regularly used for recreation and education by students from Washington and Lee University and the Virginia Military Institute, as well as groups of Scouts.

Read Mountain North, Roanoke County, $620,054

Roanoke County proposes to add 304 acres of forestland to the existing Read Mountain Preserve. The preserve has five miles of hiking trails. The main destination, Buzzards Rock, is located on the property proposed for acquisition and has been accessible to the public only by permission from the landowner. The new acquisition would make Buzzards Rock permanently accessible to the public, add trails to the preserve, prevent future development, and expand opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing and bird-watching.

Stanley Land and Lumber, Charlotte County, $1,000,000

Located at the confluence of Roanoke and Wards Ford Creeks, the Stanley Land and Lumber project will protect 4,944 acres in Charlotte County, 750 acres of which would be covered by Forest CORE funds. The Conservation Fund and Virginia Department of Forestry are acquiring this property to create a new state forest. The property contains significant hardwood stands, with massive oaks and hickories, as well as native mixed pine stands, with Virginia and shortleaf pine. More than 900 acres of forested wetlands protect water quality and provide waterfowl habitat. The bottomland areas protected by the Forest CORE funds would prohibit any commercial timbering.

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