Bill includes $4.3 million to buy 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat in West Tennessee


State Gazette

Tennessee - State and federal agencies will receive $4.3 million to buy nearly 6,000 acres of wildlife habitat in West Tennessee.

The land will help create habitat corridors that provide vital territory for migratory birds and other creatures.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency plans to use a $3.5 million Forest Legacy Program grant and additional state funds to buy the second part of the Anderson-Tully tract in Lauderdale County. The Nature Conservancy purchased the forestland last year in order to protect it from development.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also will get $500,000 for land acquisition at Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge and another $300,000 for land acquisition at Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge.

The money was included in the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which President George Bush signed about two weeks ago. Sens. Bill Frist and Lamar Alexander announced the appropriations in a joint press release. The bill also includes millions more for other outdoor areas across the state, a National Biological Information Infrastructure network in Knoxville and $9.5 million to replace buses and upgrade bus facilities throughout Tennessee.

"The beauty of Tennessee will be greatly enhanced by the improvements and preservation funding provided in this bill," Frist said. "While this funding is long overdue, it provides critical support for our state's priorities, including our scenic parks. In addition, mass transportation continues to need significant investment and we've made great progress with these funds for new buses and facilities. Supporting mass transit, while encouraging preservation at our parks makes a lot of environmental sense."

Alexander agreed. "Conservation is an important part of protecting our environment, and these funds enable the preservation of key natural areas across the state," he said. "Projects like these are vital to building a reliable infrastructure across the state and encouraging growth and economic development, while maintaining the beauty of Tennessee."

Anderson-Tully land

The Anderson-Tully tract contains nearly 11,800 acres near Fort Pillow State Park in Lauderdale County. Although it belonged to the Anderson-Tully lumber company, TWRA had managed the land as a wildlife management area for 45 years.

Then, the company decided to sell. The Nature Conservancy bought the land last year and agreed to hold it until TWRA had enough money to buy it.

TWRA is buying the land in stages.

It purchased approximately 6,327 acres last spring for $9 million. The state obtained a $4.5 million Forest Legacy grant and combined that with a $1 million grant from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, smaller grants from other organizations and money from the state's Wetlands Acquisition Fund and the state's Lands Acquisition Fund.

This year, TWRA is receiving a second Forest Legacy grant of $3.5 million and another $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant. With those grants, additional assistance from NAWCA and The Nature Conservancy, and about $1.7 million from the state's Wetlands Acquisition Fund, TWRA will spend about $6.4 million to acquire the remaining 5,458.66 acres.

John Gregory, chief of TWRA's real estate and forestry division, said the purchase must be approved by the state building commission, which will consider the proposal in April. In the meantime, The Nature Conservancy is completing the appraisals. Gregory said he hopes to close the deal in early June.

Gregory and Gina Hancock of The Nature Conservancy said they believe it is important for the state to purchase the Anderson-Tully tract for several reasons.

First, public ownership will ensure that the land remains open to the public, as it has been for 45 years. TWRA had leased the property from the lumber company to provide a public hunting area for deer, dove, quail, rabbits, raccoons and squirrels and to provide hiking and bird-watching opportunities. More than 7,000 persons use the Anderson-Tully tract each year.

Second, there aren't many large tracts of bottomland hardwoods left in the Mississippi Delta and this tract provides vital wildlife habitat, especially for neotropical songbirds. Neotropical songbirds spend the winter in South America and come back to West Tennessee to nest and raise their young.

Gregory noted that the Anderson-Tully tract was one of the last remaining blocks of timber that is not under public ownership and that is used by neotropical birds. Some of the songbirds need 4,000 to 5,000 acres of forestland in order to find enough food and shelter to sustain them, he said.

The birds will share the forest with the Tennessee Division of Forestry, which plans to establish a 2,000-acre demonstration forest there. The land will be used to test and demonstrate best management practices, such as erosion prevention on roadways and skid trails; wildlife habitat enhancement; prescribed burning techniques; various forest-regeneration methods; and long-term management.

USFWS land

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also will be able to provide more habitat for songbirds and other animals when it expands the Chickasaw National Wildlife Refuge and the Lower Hatchie National Wildlife Refuge.

Randy Cook, the USFWS manager who oversees activities in the national refuges along the Mississippi River in West Tennessee, said the $800,000 should be enough to buy about 400 acres. Purchase agreements have already been drawn up with the landowners, but Cook hesitated to pinpoint the locations until the deals were finalized.

All of the land that will be purchased lies within the acquisition boundaries approved in 2000. The boundaries include 31,480 acres the USFWS would like to buy around the Chickasaw refuge and another 12,052 acres around Lower Hatchie. The service is allowed to buy only from willing sellers.

Most of the land within the acquisition boundaries is marginal agricultural land with some timber and forested wetlands, he said. The USFWS plans to encourage the bottomland hardwood areas to regenerate and create more habitat for the migratory songbirds. Of course, many other species also will benefit.


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