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Southern Company and partners announce longleaf conservation grants

In a continuous effort to support wildlife protection and natural resource conservation, Southern Company and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced $4.6 million in grants to establish and enhance more than 173,000 acres of longleaf pine. Among the grants are 11 projects within the Southern Company system service area in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

The 2015 grants will support 22 projects that are a 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Southern Company; International Paper's Forestland Stewards Initiative; and Altria Group.

These projects are designed to establish more than 11,600 acres and enhance more than 163,000 additional acres of longleaf pine habitat across the historic longleaf range. The 11 projects within the Southern Company system service territory are expected to impact more than 132,000 acres. Two of these projects are also receiving funding through the company's Power of Flight program, in partnership with NFWF.

"The Longleaf Stewardship program continues to expand and leverage the power of public-private partnerships to support critical conservation needs in the Southeast," said Southern Company Chief Environmental Officer Dr. Larry S. Monroe. "We join with these partners in our shared commitment to restore the longleaf ecosystem with all of its ecological, economic and cultural benefits."

The Longleaf Stewardship Fund builds on the success of the Longleaf Legacy program, a partnership between Southern Company and NFWF that from 2004-2011 invested $8.7 million in projects 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.

"The progress made over the past decade in restoring the longleaf ecosystem is truly remarkable," said NFWF Executive Director and CEO Jeff Trandahl. "The $4.6 million in Longleaf Stewardship Fund grants announced today will continue to build on that record of success and serve as a powerful reminder of the importance of public-private partnerships in conserving America's natural wonders."

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.

Of the 11 projects within the Southern Company system service area, six are located in significant geographic areas (SGAs) for longleaf pine conservation, which are areas anchored by federal lands including military bases, national forests and national wildlife areas.

The 2015 Longleaf Stewardship Fund planned projects within the Southern Company system service area include:

The Nature Conservancy's Alabama Chapter and the American Forest Foundation will partner on a strategic education and outreach effort to increase longleaf restoration on private lands in southwest Alabama. Partners will implement a social marketing outreach effort to engage private landowners in sustainable forest management. In total, outreach activities conducted across Alabama will result in 2,500 landowners contacted, 160 citizens engaged and 10 landowners certified to sustainability programs. Partners will establish 200 acres of longleaf pine and assist with delivery of prescribed fire and other management treatments on an additional 4,000 acres.

The Alabama Forest Resources Center and partners will continue habitat management benefitting the red-cockaded woodpecker (RCW) on Enon and Sehoy plantations and adjacent properties. Work performed from 2007 to 2014 including annual provisioning of artificial cavities, monitoring and competitor management resulted in 29 RCW groups, with the two subpopulations separated by less than three miles. Continued management through this project will help the RCWs maintain 30 or more self-sustaining groups. The project will also maintain habitats through regular prescribed burning and mid-story control, along with planting 100 acres of longleaf pine in gaps of dying shortleaf. Additional partners include U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, U.S. Department of Defense, Auburn University, Alabama Wildlife Federation, The Longleaf Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Natural Heritage Program and private landowners.

The Fort Stewart/Altamaha Longleaf Restoration Partnership will continue efforts to restore and enhance longleaf pine habitat in the Fort Stewart/Altamaha SGA. Partners will establish 210 acres of longleaf pine within the Sansavilla Wildlife Management Area, which contains the second-largest gopher tortoise population in Georgia and provides a critical buffer to Townsend Bombing Range. The project will enhance 8,000 acres of longleaf habitat on public and private lands using prescribed fire and establish native groundcover seed collection sites on private lands. Additional partners include Fort Stewart/Hunter Army Airfield, Marine Corps Air Station-Beaufort, S.C., Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Forestry Commission, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Georgia Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, The Longleaf Alliance, The Conservation Fund, International Forest Company, Southern Company subsidiary Georgia Power, The Orianne Society and Reese Thompson.

The Apalachicola Regional Stewardship Alliance will build upon its previous programs through a focus on longleaf restoration efficiencies and novel outreach tools. The project will plant 1,300 acres of longleaf pine and enhance an additional 20,800 acres of existing longleaf habitat. Partners will continue to fund long-term projects that balance restoration scale and complexity, such as the complete sandhill reconstruction at Torreya State Park, and bring new properties in strategic geographies into the beginning stages of longleaf conversion. The project will also pursue innovative communication approaches to further educate the local community on longleaf pine. Partners include The Nature Conservancy-Florida, U.S. Department of Defense-Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Northwest Florida Water Management District, North Florida Program of The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Forest Service-Apalachicola National Forest, Florida Forest Service-Tate's Hell State Forest and Private Landowner Financial Assistance, Wallwood Boy Scout Camp and the University of Florida.

The Talladega Mountain Longleaf Pine Conservation Partnership will further longleaf restoration throughout the mountain longleaf pine region of Alabama and northwest Georgia. The project will create and support a prescribed fire crew that will operate within the project range for direct support of restoration efforts, including burns on 12,500 acres of existing longleaf habitat. Partners will also establish longleaf on 282 acres of the Choccolocco State Forest-an important corridor and linkage between two of the most important areas in the montane longleaf range, the Mountain Longleaf National Wildlife Refuge and the Talladega National Forest. Partners include The Nature Conservancy-Alabama, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, The Longleaf Alliance, Alabama Wildlife Federation, National Wild Turkey Federation, Natural Resource Conservation Service, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, Alabama Forestry Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Munford School, Jacksonville State University and Berry College.

The Okefenokee/Osceola Longleaf Implementation Team will conduct longleaf pine restoration and hazard fuel reduction on public and private lands in one of the most fire-prone areas of the U.S. The project will establish longleaf pine on 444 acres of public and private lands and use hazard fuel mapping to prioritize 5,000 acres for prescribed fire and other fuel-reduction techniques. Goals include prescribed burns conducted on 20,000 acres of public and private lands and an additional 360 acres of private land treated to reduce fuel levels. Workshops will provide at least 100 private landowners with information on longleaf pine management and restoration. Partners include The Nature Conservancy-Georgia, U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Wildlife Federation, Greater Okefenokee Association of Landowners, National Wild Turkey Federation, The Conservation Fund, The Longleaf Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Rayonier, Superior Pine and Toledo Manufacturing.

The Chattahoochee Fall Line Conservation Partnership will accelerate and demonstrate longleaf conservation on more than 22,000 acres in west Georgia and east Alabama, including 1,500 acres of longleaf planted and more than 20,000 acres enhanced through prescribed fire and other treatments. The project will build on a network of model demonstration sites for landowners to observe restoration and management results and understand the economic and ecological costs and benefits of longleaf. Outreach will build on past successes in Georgia and expand into Alabama, engaging 1,000 stakeholders and introducing 200 private landowners to cost-share programs. Partners include The Nature Conservancy-Georgia, The Longleaf Alliance, Jones Ecological Research Center, Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Georgia Forestry Commission, Fort Benning, National Resources Conservation Service, The Nature Conservancy, Auburn University, Columbus State University, Tuskegee University, Alabama Forestry Commission, Tuskegee National Forest, Alabama Wildlife Federation, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, East Gulf Coast Joint Venture, National Wildlife Federation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Longleaf Alliance and partners will monitor approximately 110 groups of RCWs for breeding activity, band nestlings of successful breeding pairs and translocate approximately 30 subadults from the pool of successful fledglings on the Apalachicola National Forest (ANF) in Florida. The project will also collect cluster, cavity-tree and cavity-status data on multiple clusters on the ANF. These efforts provide critical status data annually on 275 of the approximately 559 active RCW clusters on the ANF, a significant contribution to the world's largest RCW population.

The Gulf Coastal Plain Ecosystem Partnership will complete 24,000 acres of prescribed fire, 250 acres of invasive species control and 575 acres of mechanical treatments. The project will establish more than 730 acres of longleaf pine, including on an important parcel linking Blackwater River State Forest to Eglin Air Force Base. Partners will use ecological monitoring, surveying and mapping to continue to improve longleaf restoration through adaptive management. Habitat improvements will benefit both the reticulated salamander and the RCW. In addition, partners will increase private landowner outreach, education and technical assistance. Partners include The Longleaf Alliance, U.S. Department of Defense, Florida Forest Service, Northwest Florida Water Management District, National Forests in Alabama, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Nokuse Plantation, National Park Service, Southern Company subsidiary Gulf Power, The Nature Conservancy – Florida, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Westervelt Ecological Services.

The Alabama Forestry Association and partners will establish community-based landowner prescribed fire networks in order to increase prescribed fire capacity, resulting in 200 acres of longleaf pine established and 7,000 acres of existing habitat enhanced to benefit fire-dependent species including the black pine snake. Partners will train landowners to become active burners and coordinate access to technical and cost-share assistance, which will create a replicable model for increasing regional prescribed fire capacity. The project will directly distribute information to 5,900 landowners in the 14 counties of Alabama and Mississippi historically occupied by the black pine snake. Additional partners include Mississippi Forestry Association, American Forest Foundation, Alabama Forestry Commission, Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division, Alabama Prescribed Fire Council, Mississippi Forestry Commission, Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks, Mississippi Prescribed Fire Council, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service and National Forests of Mississippi.

The Longleaf Alliance will maintain a longleaf consul position. The consul will coordinate and exchange information between 17 local implementation teams (LITs), multipartner groups responsible for organizing, planning and delivering conservation actions to restore and enhance the longleaf pine ecosystem across the historic longleaf range. The position will serve an integral role in assisting LITs with conservation business plan development for their respective SGAs, which will establish spatially explicit conservation priorities and outcomes.