The Cumberland Forest Project, a $130 million Nature Conservancy initiative aimed at promoting forest health, carbon storage, and economic opportunity, has acquired 253,000 acres of working forest land in the central Appalachian coalfield region of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia.
The project, one of the largest land conservation and ecological restoration efforts ever pursued by TNC in the eastern United States, includes 100,000 acres acquired in April and 153,000 acres acquired in July. With a total land area larger than the five boroughs of New York City and the District of Columbia combined, the acreage acquired features expansive climate-resilient forests and more than seven hundred miles of headwater streams that feed into globally important waters, including the Clinch, Cumberland, and larger Tennessee and Ohio river systems.
By structuring the project as an investment, TNC built on its decades of donor-funded scientific research and forestry expertise to offer impact-oriented investors a new perspective on the economic value of nature. Capital raised for the project includes a program-related investment from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, which has previously supported TNC's research and forestry work in the central Appalachian region. "We're excited to make the largest single investment in the foundation's history to help protect this essential piece of the Appalachians, North America's most critical climate migration corridor," said DDCF environment program director Sacha Spector. "This project offers a spectacular demonstration of how land conservation and restoration at this scale can safeguard wildlife, support a community's livelihoods, and secure the climate resilience of an entire region."
According to TNC, managing forests to maximize value beyond timber alone can be an attractive strategy and provide both biological and financial diversification. With that approach as a guiding principle, the project will focus on protecting wildlife habitat, securing clean water for both people and nature, and sequestering atmospheric carbon to mitigate climate change, all while fostering important investments in local economies.
"Nature is one of the most important investments we can make," said TNC board chair Tom Tierney. "The Cumberland Forest Project deploys private capital as a powerful tool to achieve large scale conservation. What's more, we think this will prove that sustainably managing natural assets can be good business and deliver big benefits to wildlife, water quality, and the local economy."