RALEIGH, N.C. (Nov. 7) – The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission will soon add 22,000-plus acres to its Game Land Program, thanks to the Natural Heritage Trust Fund, which awarded the agency more than $12 million in grants on Oct. 22 at its semi-annual meeting in Boone.

The grants will help with the purchase of six land tracts in seven Piedmont and Coastal region counties.

The largest of the tracts, Juniper Creek, is former International Paper land and consists of 18,624 acres of bottomland hardwood forest that connects the Green Swamp to the Waccamaw River. Juniper Creek is located in Columbus and Brunswick counties and is considered a great landscape connector, providing excellent habitat for several rare and state-threatened aquatic animals, such as the pygmy sunfish and the Waccamaw spike, a freshwater mussel.

Another former International Paper tract, 904 acres on the upper Tar River in Warren County, will be managed as early successional habitat, which is characterized by sparse tree cover and dense, shrubby groundcover. Due to changing land use practices, early successional habitat has declined significantly in North Carolina and is identified in the agency's N.C. Wildlife Action Plan as critical habitat to maintain for the wide array of species that depend on it, such as grassland birds, songbirds, reptiles and small mammals.

The New Hope Valley tract, located in Orange and Chatham counties, will add 342 acres to Jordan Lake Game Land. The area is used as a prime roosting site for the Piedmont's highest concentration of bald eagles feeding in Jordan Lake.

The Kassab tract, which will add 55 acres to the Stone Creek Game Land, is located south of Camp Lejeune. This tract would have been a prime target for development due to its close proximity to Jacksonville.

The 447-acre McCotter tract in Onslow County will protect a critical habitat connector for black bears between Croatan National Forest and Camp Lejeune, while the Diggs tract in Richmond County will provide 1,659 acres of ideal wetland habitat for Piedmont ducks. 

The Natural Heritage Trust Fund, which provides supplemental funding to select state agencies for the acquisition and protection of important natural areas, is supported by 25 percent of the state's portion of the tax on real estate deed transfers and by a portion of the fees for personalized license plates.

Since 1990, the Trust Fund has awarded the Commission more than $137 million in grants that have gone toward the purchase of 80,000+ acres for the state Game Land Program.

"Through its funding to the Wildlife Commission and other agencies and organizations for land acquisitions, the Natural Heritage Trust Fund contributes significantly to land conservation in North Carolina," said David Cobb, chief of the division of Wildlife Management. "As a result of its dedication to this mission, many areas that would have been lost to development and other altered land uses are conserved in perpetuity and provide significant biological, social and economic benefits to our state." 

For more information on these Game Land acquisitions, visit the Commission's Web site, www.ncwildlife.org.