Kentucky woodland, forestland

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- An Arlington, Virginia-based charitable organization has announced plans to purchase a big chunk of privately owned Kentucky forestland.

According to a news release, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) announced on Monday its plans to acquire 100,000 acres of woodland in the Central Appalachian Mountains of southeast Kentucky and northeast Tennessee. 

David Phemister, state director for TNC in Kentucky, declined to divulge the purchase price Monday morning, but said it was financed in part by approximately 2 million tons of carbon offsets eligible for the California cap-and-trade market.

Phemister said these credits currently trade in the neighborhood of $11-$13 per ton. That would put the estimated value of the offsets used in the transaction at between $22 million and $26 million, depending on the market value at the time the offsets are sold.

"The whole sort of premise of this project is to demonstrate that sustainable forestry can provide good conservation outcomes -- good economic outcomes -- and the biggest revenue source from the property will be these carbon credits or carbon offsets," Phemister said.

Phemister would not comment on what percentage of the purchase price was financed by carbon offsets.

He said the land is privately owned and the seller was a single client of Jackson, Miss.-based Molpus Woodlands Group.

In the past, the land has been leased from the seller by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, and has been open to the public. Phemister said TNC would continue this arrangement.

"It will be open for hunting, hiking, bird watching, fishing," he said. "So it will remain open to the public, and we will manage the property as a sustainable forestry operation."

TNC describes itself as, "a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together."

The property is known as "Ataya" and according to the news release, represents "one of the largest land conservation and ecological restoration projects TNC has targeted in the Central Appalachians."

"The Ataya acquisition represents a deep investment in the Central Appalachians -- its forests, its wildlife, its streams, its economy, and its communities -- and a significant win for nature and people," said Phemister, in a statement. "As a land conservation opportunity alone the scale of this project is impressive, but this is much more than a land deal. Fundamentally, the project seeks to demonstrate that sustainable forestry can yield both smart conservation and good business, potentially creating a model that TNC, partners and communities could replicate across the Appalachians."

The project is being supported in part by a Program-Related investment loan from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

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