ATLANTA, July 22, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Reflecting an ongoing commitment to natural resource conservation, Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $3.38 million in grants to protect and restore the longleaf pine ecosystem, including seven projects within the Southern Company system service area. The announcement was made as part of a 5-year anniversary celebration for America's Longleaf Restoration Initiative held in Washington, D.C.
The 15 total grants are part of NFWF's Longleaf Stewardship Fund, a landmark public-private partnership that includes the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service; the U.S. Department of Defense; the Fish and Wildlife Service; Southern Company; and International Paper.
The 2014 projects awarded grants are expected to ultimately restore more than 11,800 acres, of which more than 8,000 acres fall within the Southern Company system service area. Of the 116,000 additional longleaf acres expected to be enhanced by the grants, more than 74,000 acres are within the Southern Company system service area.
"Southern Company's longstanding support of environmental stewardship − including our partnership with NFWF in the Longleaf Stewardship Fund − is a natural extension of our core value of making communities we serve better off because we are there," said Southern Company Chief Environmental Officer Dr. Larry S. Monroe. "The unprecedented level of cooperation across public agencies, nonprofits, businesses and private landowners is making huge conservation gains and is a shining example of collaboration and innovation, two of the hallmarks of our stewardship programs."
The Longleaf Stewardship Fund builds on the success of the Longleaf Legacy program, a partnership between Southern Company and NFWF from 2004-2011 that has invested $8.7 million in projects expected to restore 82,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on it. Additionally, another 20,000 acres were restored through the company's closely aligned Power of Flight program with NFWF.
"Today, we are celebrating the power of partnership to bring resources, vision and commitment together to achieve substantial conservation impacts for this important forest ecosystem," said NFWF Vice President of Conservation Programs David O'Neill. "The $3.38 million in Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants announced today will continue the significant progress we have made toward the recovery of the longleaf pine ecosystem and its multitude of benefits in strategic areas across the Southeast."
The majestic longleaf pine ecosystem once covered more than 90 million acres across nine states from Virginia to Texas, but dropped to only 3 percent of its original acreage. With the diverse public-private commitment to longleaf pine restoration in recent years, longleaf pine forest has increased from roughly 3 million acres to an estimated 4.4 million acres, halting and reversing a century-long decline, benefitting many threatened and endangered species dependent on the habitat.
The 2014 Longleaf Stewardship Fund projects within the Southern Company system service area include:
Apalachicola National Forest Restoration
Recipient: Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance
This project will support existing longleaf management initiatives and continue to increase local implementation team capacity around the Apalachicola National Forest and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. The Nature Conservancy, Florida and partners will establish 1,700 acres of longleaf and enhance more than 26,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat with prescribed fire, mid-story hardwood treatment and invasive species removal. The project will benefit the gopher tortoise and reduce wildlife risk, which will support the natural resource and encroachment protection goals of Tyndall Air Force Base.
Blackwater River State Forest Longleaf Restoration
Recipient: Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership
This project will restore and manage the longleaf ecosystem in the Florida panhandle and southern Alabama. The Longleaf Alliance and partners will burn 20,000 acres, control invasive species on 350 acres, treat 1,100 acres of mid-story hardwoods and restore 330 acres of longleaf pine in Blackwater River State Forest. Outreach to engage private landowners will include demonstration sites showcasing effective methods to establish native groundcover and control invasive species. The project also will support the natural resource and encroachment protection goals of Eglin Air Force Base by expanding potential off-base habitat for listed species, including the flatwoods salamander.
Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area (WMA) Groundcover Restoration
Recipient: Georgia Department of Natural Resources
This project will restore 400 acres of longleaf pine in the Big Lazer Creek Wildlife Management Area in west-central Georgia. This project will promote native groundcover restoration for the benefit of bobwhite quail, Bachman's sparrow and other savanna-dependent species. The forest also will serve as a highly visible example of longleaf habitat to the many visitors to the Big Lazer Creek WMA.
Fort Stewart/Altamaha Longleaf and Wildlife Restoration
Recipient: Fort Stewart/Altamaha Longleaf Restoration Partnership
This project will continue developing a local implementation team to expand the longleaf pine ecosystem restoration on public and private lands in the Fort Stewart/Altamaha vicinity of southeast Georgia. The Longleaf Alliance will work with partners to burn 14,000 acres on public and private lands, plant 700 acres of longleaf, establish a 5-acre groundcover demonstration area and conduct two landowner outreach field days. The project will benefit the gopher tortoise and other wildlife and support the natural resource goals and military mission of Fort Stewart and Townsend Bombing Range.
Alabama Longleaf Restoration
Recipient: National Wildlife Federation and Alabama Wildlife Federation
This project will work with partners to restore 4,000 acres of longleaf pine on private lands and enhance an additional 1,000 acres with prescribed fire. The project will continue progress connecting, partnering and building a network of practitioners and advocates of longleaf pine restoration in Alabama. The project also will provide technical assistance and information to landowners in high-priority areas, including cost-share programs to develop conservation plans for establishing and managing longleaf and a prescribed fire training series.
Coosa Wildlife Management Area Longleaf Restoration
Recipient: Talladega-Mountain Longleaf Pine Conservation Partnership
This project will engage private landowners in on-the-ground longleaf restoration and education projects. The Nature Conservancy's Alabama Chapter and partners will establish longleaf on 100 acres of private lands and 300 acres of the Coosa Wildlife Management Area, which is extremely important to one of Alabama's largest red-cockaded woodpecker populations. The project also will enhance more than 8,100 acres of longleaf habitat through prescribed fire and other management practices.
DeSoto National Forest Longleaf Restoration
Recipient: DeSoto National Forest/Camp Shelby Partnership
This project will engage consulting foresters to develop private sector capacity and expertise to restore and manage longleaf around the DeSoto National Forest area of southeast Mississippi. Mississippi State University will support a series of longleaf courses and workshops to train certified burn managers and consulting foresters who work with private landowners and use workshops and financial incentives to educate and engage private landowners in planting longleaf and conducting prescribed burns. The project will restore 490 acres of longleaf, enhance more than 3,000 acres of existing longleaf habitat, and engage 100 private landowners through education and technical assistance. Efforts will improve habitat for a number of at-risk species on lands near Camp Shelby while also supporting the installation's natural resource goals.
With 4.4 million customers and nearly 46,000 megawatts of generating capacity, Atlanta-based Southern Company (NYSE: SO) is the premier energy company serving the Southeast through its subsidiaries. A leading U.S. producer of clean, safe, reliable and affordable electricity, Southern Company owns electric utilities in four states and a growing competitive generation company, as well as fiber optics and wireless communications. Southern Company brands are known for energy innovation, excellent customer service, high reliability and retail electric prices that are below the national average. Southern Company and its subsidiaries are leading the nation's nuclear renaissance through the construction of the first new nuclear units to be built in a generation of Americans and are demonstrating their commitment to energy innovation through the development of a state-of-the-art coal gasification plant. Southern Company has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense and G.I. Jobs magazine as a top military employer, listed by DiversityInc as a top company for Blacks and designated a 2013 Top Employer for Hispanics by Hispanic Network. The company received the Edison Award from the Edison Electric Institute for its leadership in new nuclear development, was named Electric Light & Power magazine's Utility of the Year for 2012 and is continually ranked among the top utilities in Fortune's annual World's Most Admired Electric and Gas Utility rankings. Visit our website at www.southerncompany.com.
SOURCE Southern Company