Land Protection Success in the Longleaf Region of North Carolina

Land Protection Success in the Longleaf Region of North Carolina

By Hervey McIver, The Nature Conservancy

Acquiring important lands has long been an important objective for North Carolina’s conservation partners.  For the three longleaf pine landscapes - Sandhills, Onslow Bight and Cape Fear Arch - land acquisition is directed by conservation plans which delineate priority sites that 1) protect outstanding examples of natural communities, 2) connect large conservation areas or 3) buffer such areas.  

In 2015, The Nature Conservancy, NC Coastal Land Trust, Wildlife Resources Commission, and State Parks acquired over 20 properties and 3 easements totaling over 6,700 acres.  Essential support came from the cooperative agreements with the Army and Marine Corps, funding through the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the State of North Carolina as well as generous contributions from private donors.

A strength of the Sandhills program is its close relationship with landowners.  An inquiry initiated in 1982 and nurtured over time led to a 130-acre purchase of an important clay-based Carolina Bay wetland, habitat for an endangered plant and many rare amphibians.  Other long-term relationships resulted in protecting the 128-acre home place of an older landowner next to Fort Bragg and a 108-acre easement next to the Army’s Camp Mackall.  These, along with several other acquisitions, helped connect blocks of the Sandhills Game Land.

Moving towards the coast and into the Cape Fear Arch, connectivity was also the driver behind a 445-acre acquisition that almost links Bladen Lakes State Forest to a nearby game land.  Similarly, a 1,337-acre purchase along Juniper Creek further southeast finalized the linkage of the Green Swamp to the Waccamaw River.  And beside the Army’s Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point, 420 acres were protected providing critical habitat for the Carolina gopher frog, a potential candidate species under the Endangered Species Act.

In the Onslow Bight, the NC Coastal Land Trust was instrumental in protecting two 1,000+ acre tracts adding to the Angola Bay conservation complex.  And in a highly fragmented area NC State Parks acquired 200 acres adding both diversity (including longleaf forest) and buffer to coastal Hammocks Beach State Park. 

Image 1:  TNC recently purchased the Moses tract, protecting 125 acres of longleaf adjacent to Fort Bragg in the NC Sandhills.  Photo by Jeffrey Marcus.