The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and The Conservation Fund announced today the protection of 2,531 acres of working timberland near the town of Drakes Branch. The land will ultimately become part of Virginia’s 26th state forest, Charlotte State Forest, and the first publicly accessible state land in Charlotte County.
“Land conservation and retaining forests and farmland are top priorities of the Northam Administration,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “This property has a rich legacy of forest and wildlife stewardship. The shared vision and dedication among all partners will honor that history while safeguarding water quality along the Roanoke Creek for future generations.”
The 2,531 acres have been sustainably managed for nearly a century for timber resources, high quality wildlife habitat and water resources. Prior to The Conservation Fund’s purchase in 2019 through its Working Forest Fund®, the forest was owned by Thomas Bahnson Stanley, the
Commonwealth’s 57th governor, and subsequently the Stanley Land and Lumber Corporation, providing shortleaf and Virginia pine, as well as white oak and hickory to local mills for furniture.
Located along Saxkey Road, a designated Virginia Scenic Byway, the upland forests feature critical foraging and potential roosting habitat for federally threatened northern long-eared bats, and the wetlands provide exceptional waterfowl habitat. Now under VDOF ownership, the land will continue to be sustainably harvested for timber under the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) and American Tree Farm Standards (ATFS), while conserving key habitat areas and providing new public access to outdoor recreation activities, like fishing, hunting and birdwatching.
Forest includes approximately 13 miles of the Roanoke and Wards Ford Creeks—two tributary streams to the Roanoke River, a designated Virginia Scenic River. VDOF plans to acquire an additional 2,500 adjacent acres currently owned by The Conservation Fund, creating the fifth largest SFI-certified state forest in the Commonwealth.
“The creation of a new state forest on the Stanley land celebrates a long legacy of well-managed working forests,” said Heather Richards, Virginia state director for The Conservation Fund. “We are honored to assist the Commonwealth in the protection of these timberlands to support local forestry jobs, protect key wildlife habitat and provide new public recreational access for a variety of activities in Charlotte County.”
Federal, state and private funding allowed VDOF to acquire the forestland from The Conservation Fund, including from the USDA Forest Legacy Program through the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), VDOF mitigation funds, additional LWCF Stateside grant funding administered by the Virginia Department of Conservation & Recreation (DCR), the Virginia Outdoors Foundation (VOF) Forest Community Opportunities for Restoration and Enhancement (CORE) Fund, and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation also administered by DCR.
The Conservation Fund worked with Goldman Sachs to issue the nation’s first green bond solely dedicated to conservation in the United States. Capital from the bond and a loan from the Richard King Mellon Foundation enabled the nonprofit’s purchase of this land as part of 7,888 acres from Stanley in 2019. Its temporary ownership has and continues to provide the State time to determine and secure funding for permanent conservation strategies on most of the land.
The Conservation Fund is seeking public and private support to protect the remaining 2,679 acres with conservation easements and a third addition of 368 acres to the state forest. The protection of these additional lands will further secure tributaries to the Roanoke River.
Virginia forests contribute $21 billion annually to the state’s economy. Forestry is the third leading industry in the Commonwealth, employing more than 108,000 Virginians in forestry, forest products and related industries. Charlotte County is located within the state’s highest timber producing region. The river, stream and wetland resources on these forests drain into Kerr Lake, which provides drinking water to nearly 500,000 residents in Virginia and North Carolina.
The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians. With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 108,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide an overall economic output of more than $21 Billion annually.