$1.7 Million in Grants to Enhance Forest and Freshwater Habitats in the Cumberland Plateau Region Announced by NFWF

Four projects will improve habitat for forest birds, freshwater fish, and mussels

WASHINGTON, D.C., Aug. 28, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $1.7 million in grants to implement wildlife-focused forest management and improved grazing practices in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The grants will generate $1.6 million in matching contributions from grantees for a total conservation impact of $3.3 million to enhance and restore shortleaf and white oak forests, in-stream habitats, and establish plant and pollinator habitats.

The grants were awarded through the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund (CPSF), a partnership between NFWF and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, International Paper’s Forestland Stewards Partnership, Cargill, Nestlé, and the Altria Group. This landscape-scale program supports implementation of voluntary conservation practices across the region’s farms, forests and grazing lands, helping to improve and protect the land and waters that wildlife and local communities rely on.

“These projects are expanding our restoration efforts in the Cumberland Plateau to support a fuller array of landowners,” said Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF. “The expertise and resources brought to bear by this coalition of funding partners enables us to implement voluntary conservation at a landscape-scale benefitting a host of at-risk and imperiled species, while also supporting working farms and forests which are vital to local economies.”

The projects supported by the four grants announced today will help restore and improve shortleaf pine and white oak forests through plantings, prescribed burning and other management practices, including by reforesting formerly mined lands with native trees. These projects will also improve aquatic habitats by engaging landowners in the restoration of riparian buffers and retrofitting culverts and removing other stream barriers which impede fish passage.

“Producers play an important role in stewarding the diverse landscape of the Cumberland Plateau, including protecting its stream, forest, and grassland habitats,” said Terry Cosby, NRCS Chief. “By working with farmers to implement voluntary conservation practices, these grants will protect at-risk species while also improving producers’ operations and improving the health of our shared natural resources.”

Two projects supported by the Forest Service received funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law for the revegetation of mined lands.

“The Bipartisan Infrastructure Legislation recognizes the potential for reforestation to increase carbon sequestration, improve water quality and enhance outdoor recreation,” said Alice Ewen, Forest Service Assistant Director for Cooperative Forestry. “The Forest Service is honored to contribute toward locally-driven efforts in the Cumberland Plateau that will foster ecological resiliency and invest in rural communities while taking action to protect our climate.”

Cattle farmers will be engaged through outreach and technical assistance to help implement improved grazing practices, such as rotational grazing, planting of native warm-season grasses, and installation of fencing along streams to exclude cattle, which can help improve water quality, reduce soil erosion and create habitats for game species such as northern bobwhite, as well as a variety of at-risk and imperiled species that call the region home.

“We are honored to have joined forces with Nestlé and NFWF to help revive the Cumberland Plateau by combining and mobilizing resources and expertise to support ranchers in the adoption of regenerative practices,” said Jeffrey Fitzpatrick-Stilwell, Cargill BeefUp Sustainability Program Lead. “We often say beef is a force for good and with grazing, it’s one of the most productive uses of grasslands that not only helps in the fight against climate change, fosters biodiversity, but also supports our local ranching and farming communities.”

“Supporting farmers and ranchers in implementing on-farm practices that can help reduce the impacts of climate change and preserve and restore natural resources is a critical step in creating long-term, sustainable impact,” said Emily Johannes, Director, Diverse and Sustainable Sourcing, Nestlé USA. “This set of grants through the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund demonstrates exciting progress in our partnership with NFWF and Cargill. The work will help scale the adoption of regenerative farming practices that aim to improve soil health and biodiversity, and ultimately, help all of us work together in creating a regenerative, healthy food system.”

Collectively, these projects will help restore or enhance nearly 8,000 acres of forest, including the planting of more than 700,000 trees, implement improved grazing practices on more than 1,500 acres and improve more than 15 miles of stream habitat benefiting fish such as the blackside dace, as well as amphibians and reptiles. Much of the Cumberland Plateau is privately owned and grantees will engage landowners through outreach and technical assistance to implement wildlife focused forest management and improved grazing practices.

“It is vitally important to work side-by-side with those investing in nature,” said acting Regional Director, Mike Oetker of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “We are pleased to join in the work of private landowners and our partners managing shortleaf pine and oak savanna forests. Communities, economies, and nature all thrive with healthy lands and waters.”

“Our Forestland Stewards partnership with NFWF has worked for more than a decade to catalyze targeted investments that benefit wildlife, people and the planet,” said Sophie Beckham, International Paper Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer. “IP is proud to continue this great work by supporting restoration efforts that will have real impact on the ecosystems in the Cumberland Plateau.”

This grant cycle for CPSF sought projects that would accelerate the restoration and enhancement of critical forest grassland and freshwater habitats. NFWF wants to increase the voluntary adoption of conservation practices on working agricultural lands in the region to benefit wildlife and improve soil health, water quality and quantity, and carbon sequestration.

Spanning from northwest Alabama to the Kentucky-West Virginia border, the Cumberland Plateau region is the world’s longest expanse of hardwood-forested plateau. It features various elevations, complex geology and landforms that allow for a wide range of habitats. The habitat diversity makes it so that the plateau plays host to everything from amphibians, mollusks, and fish like the striped darter to birds like the golden-winged warbler and ruffed grouse. The region was once covered by shortleaf pine, white oak, and grassland communities but these have been in decline over the past several decades.

There are a variety of factors that have contributed to the decline in these essential habitats such as conversion of forest types, development and changes in agricultural practices, fire suppression, disease and pest infestations. These changes in forest and land-use types and conditions contributed to the decline of multiple species of birds that rely on open-canopy woodlands and early successional and grassland habitats, as well as bat species such as the Indiana bat. Simultaneously, former surface mines, agriculture runoff, sedimentation, development and the modification of streams threaten the region’s many freshwater species.

A complete list of the 2023 grants made through the Cumberland Plateau Stewardship Fund is available here

About the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Chartered by Congress in 1984, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores the nation’s fish, wildlife, plants and habitats. Working with federal, corporate, foundation and individual partners, NFWF has funded more than 6,000 organizations and generated a total conservation impact of $8.1 billion. NFWF is an equal opportunity provider. Learn more at nfwf.org.

About the Natural Resources Conservation Service

As the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s primary private lands conservation agency, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners make investments in their operations and local communities to keep working lands working, boost rural economies, increase the competitiveness of American agriculture, and improve the quality of our air, water, soil, and habitat. Through one-on-one, personalized and voluntary assistance, NRCS works with producers and communities to find the best solutions to meet their unique conservation and business goals to ensure the health of our natural resources and the long-term sustainability of American agriculture.

About the U.S. Forest Service

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is, “To sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.” The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of forest lands with tribal governments, state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forest research organization in the world.

About the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit www.fws.gov.

About International Paper

International Paper (NYSE: IP) is a leading global supplier of renewable fiber-based products. We produce corrugated packaging products that protect and promote goods, and enable worldwide commerce, and pulp for diapers, tissue and other personal care products that promote health and wellness. Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., we employ approximately 38,000 colleagues globally. We serve customers worldwide, with manufacturing operations in North America, Latin America, North Africa and Europe. Net sales for 2021 were $19.4 billion. See how we’re building a better future for people, the planet, and our company at internationalpaper.com/Vision-2030.

About Cargill

Cargill helps the world’s food system work for you. We connect farmers with markets, customers with ingredients and families with daily essentials—from the foods they eat to the floors they walk on. Our 160,000 team members around the world innovate with purpose, empowering our partners and communities as we work to nourish the world in a safe, responsible, sustainability way.

From the feed that reduces methane emissions to waste-based renewable fuels, the possibilities are boundless. But our values remain the same. We put people first. We reach higher. We do the right thing. It’s how we’ve met the needs of the people we call neighbors and the planet we call home for 158 years—and how we’ll do so for generations to come. For more information, visit Cargill.com and our News Center.

About Nestlé USA

Nestlé USA is committed to unlocking the power of food to enhance quality of life for everyone, today and for generations to come. The company's food and beverage portfolio includes some of the most recognizable brands in the United States including Coffee mate, DiGiorno and Nestlé Toll House as well as category disruptors such as Sweet Earth, and are in nearly every home in the country. Nestlé USA also boasts the largest coffee portfolio in the U.S., including Nescafé and Nestlé Starbucks Coffee. Nestlé USA is part of Nestlé S.A. headquartered in Vevey, Switzerland — the world's largest food and beverage company, which has been named among "The World's Most Admired Food Companies" by Fortune magazine for twenty-five consecutive years.  For more information, visit nestleusa.com.

About Altria Group

Altria Group is a Fortune 200 company located in Richmond Va. Altria’s tobacco companies include some of the most enduring names in American business including Philip Morris USA, the maker of Marlboro cigarettes, and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, the maker of Copenhagen and Skoal. Altria complements its total tobacco platform with ownership of Ste. Michelle Wine Estates, a collection of distinctive wine estates, and significant equity investment in Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer.



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