Kieran Roe, executive director of Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, said that if the North Carolina Wildlife Commission does not commit to managing the East Fork Headwaters tract that the deal could fall through.
“There’s a lot riding on what Wildlife Resources decides,” she told The Smoky Mountain News in an interview this week.
Roe is guardedly optimistic that CMLC and its partner The Conservation Fund will be able to close on the property before the end of the year.
On CMLC’s website it states: “Funding for this project is not the chief issue. Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy and our partner, The Conservation Fund, have identified funding sources. While not guaranteed, the funders are unlikely to invest in East Fork Headwaters unless it enters the public domain. Given the high quality hunting and fishing on the tract, WRC is the most likely candidate for managing the tract. Note that WRC is not expected to take title to East Fork Headwaters immediately. The Conservation Fund will continue to own East Fork Headwaters for the time being until the total purchase price has been paid to the landowner. However, The Conservation Fund cannot make the initial $3 million down payment without the commitment of WRC to establish a game land and eventually take title to East Fork Headwaters. The Conservation Fund is not set up to own land indefinitely.”
The state Wildlife Resources Commission is playing it close to the vest. Chris McGrath, faunal diversity coordinator for the agency, said that Wildlife Commission biologists have been to the property, have consulted with the owners and potential buyers, and have assisted in assessing the merits of the property. He said the biologists have written reports detailing their findings for the director’s office, but that any management decisions would have to come from that office.
Geoff Cantrell, Wildlife Commission public information officer, would only say that the Headwaters tract was on the Land Use and Access Committee’s agenda for discussion on Wednesday, Nov. 3, and that the committee report would be on Thursday’s agenda.
Roe noted that Wildlife Commission was, “… not being asked, at this point, for any funding. We’re just asking them to work with us on managing the property.”
(Check online at www.smokymountainnews.com after Thursday’s Wildlife Resources Commission meeting for an update.)
The Commissioners of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission unanimously passed a resolution Thursday, pledging the agency’s support for the management and stewardship of the East Fork Headwaters, an 8,000 acre tract of biologically diverse land in Transylvania County.
During meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, the Commission agreed to manage the land if the Conservation Fund raises the money to purchase it. The Conservation Fund, a nonprofit land protection organization, is under contract to purchase the East Fork Headwaters Tract for $33 million.
“This land is highly desirable for protection and public use, and is truly multipurpose,” said Gordon Myers, executive director of the Commission. “The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission supports The Conservation Fund’s effort to effectuate long-term conservation of this valuable resource.”
The East Fork Headwaters tract is the largest privately owned tract remaining in far western North Carolina and is home to several waterfalls, 50 miles of trout streams and nearly 10 miles of the Foothills Trail where it enters North Carolina. The site contains exceptional recreational opportunities for public hunting, fishing, hiking and other outdoor pursuits. The land is also biologically valuable, containing habitats for a number of species listed in the Wildlife Action Plan.
The Commission cooperatively manages nearly 2 million acres through its game land program, providing valuable conservation stewardship and public access.
A copy of the resolution is available upon request.