The Nature Conservancy, Texas A&M Forest Service, and the U.S. Forest Service have collaborated to purchase a conservation easement on 4,785 acres of forestland in the Longleaf Ridge area of East Texas, permanently protecting some of the best longleaf pine habitat in the state.

The groups purchased the easement for $2,277,000 from Crown Pine Timber LP, a limited partnership managed by Campbell Global, a timber investment and management firm based in Portland, Oregon. Campbell Global manages over 1 million acres of timberlands in East Texas on behalf of Crown Pine Timber.

The easement was funded through the Forest Legacy Program, a federal program managed by the USDA Forest Service. The Nature Conservancy provided $569,250 in matching funds.

This type of conservation – often called a “working forest” conservation easement – keeps forestlands in private ownership while conserving the land for future generations. Landowners and local communities continue to realize economic gain from timber management while the forest provides other benefits such as watershed protection, wildlife habitat, recreation and scenic values.

Crown Pine Timber will continue to harvest timber on the property according to a forest stewardship plan; however, the easement prohibits subdivision and development of the land by any current or future owner.

“We appreciate our partners for their commitment to maintaining working forests in this critical conservation area. Campbell Global has a rich history of environmental stewardship and sustainable forest management. We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with our partners to protect this land from development and for future generations,” said John Gilleland, CEO of Campbell Global.

Texas A&M Forest Service, a Member of the Texas A&M University System, will monitor and enforce the conditions of the easement.

“This conservation easement is good for Texas. It allows us to protect some of our working forests and the values and services they provide in perpetuity, while keeping the land in private ownership,” said Brad Barber, who coordinates the Forest Legacy Program within the Texas A&M Forest Service.

Longleaf Ridge, where the easement is located, is a large block of undeveloped forestland located north of Jasper, Texas, connecting the Angelina and Sabine National Forests. The easement protects examples of the area’s unique features, including spring-fed creeks, Catahoula rock outcrops, longleaf pine forests, and bogs which are home to wild orchids and insect-eating pitcher plants.

“The United States has lost 95 percent of its longleaf pine forests, which are now among the rarest and most threatened ecosystems in the country,” said Wendy Ledbetter, director of The Nature Conservancy’s forest program in Texas. “With our state’s rapidly increasing population, we must work with private landowners, the timber industry and state and federal partners to restore these vital forests in Texas.”

Longleaf pine forests once stretched from Texas to Virginia, covering some 90 million acres. These forests are among the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the United States, providing habitat for high-priority species such as red-cockaded woodpecker, Louisiana pine snake, Bachman’s sparrow, bobwhite quail, eastern wild turkey, and Louisiana black bears. Today, according to USDA Forest Service, less than three percent is left of the original longleaf forest.

Over the last decade, increased awareness and restoration efforts have begun to reverse the century-long decline of longleaf pine forests, including the recent organization of the America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, a national effort to focus public and private funding on maintaining, improving, and restoring longleaf pine forests throughout its historic range.

According to Brian Gowin, Conservation and SFI Manager for Campbell Global’s Southwest Region, “Campbell Global has taken a proactive approach to protect and conserve longleaf pine ecosystems, working in partnership with non-profits and government agencies.” In addition to this easement, Gowin credits the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and National Wild Turkey Federation for partnering with Campbell Global to restore or enhance over 7,000 acres of longleaf pine forests and associated riparian habitat in Longleaf Ridge since 2008.

“At the moment, opportunities to conserve more forestland are limited only by the availability of funding,” said David Bezanson, the Nature Conservancy’s protection and easement manager. “Forest Legacy Program funding has been shrinking in recent years along with other federal conservation programs. More public and private investment is needed to keep forestlands intact to benefit the economy and wildlife of East Texas.”