Bezos Earth Fund Invests $30 Million to Restore Longleaf Pine Forests, Northern Great Plains Grasslands

pine forest in day light

(Credit: Unsplash.com)

by | Nov 27, 2023

In a significant move towards environmental conservation and ecosystem restoration, the Bezos Earth Fund recently awarded $30 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

This grant aims to accelerate the recovery of two critically imperiled landscapes: longleaf pine forests and Northern Great Plains grasslands. The announcement came during the 15-year celebration of America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, hosted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of Defense, and Department of the Interior. This marks the third award from the Earth Fund to NFWF and the second focusing exclusively on these vital landscapes.

Reviving Imperiled Landscapes

The funding from the Bezos Earth Fund will provide crucial support to an estimated 30 local groups through NFWF’s Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund and the Northern Great Plains Program. Their joint mission is to restore and manage 200,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and 600,000 acres of Northern Great Plains grasslands.

This collective effort is projected to sequester up to 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2055 and aid in the recovery of 10 at-risk species, including the red-cocked woodpecker and black-footed ferret. Additionally, these initiatives will significantly contribute to broader landscape goals, with the aim of restoring 8 million acres of longleaf pine and 6 million acres of Northern Great Plains grasslands by 2030.

Longleaf pine forests and the Northern Great Plains grasslands are home to some of the planet’s most biodiverse yet threatened ecosystems. In the United States, longleaf pine forests have dwindled to just 5% of their historical range, despite their biodiversity rivaling that of tropical rainforests. On the other hand, the Northern Great Plains grasslands, among the world’s most endangered ecosystems, house some of North America’s most endangered and rapidly declining species.

Urgency and Opportunity

The Bezos Earth Fund’s grant arrives at a pivotal moment for both landscapes. Over the past year, project applications have surged by nearly five-fold, indicating a heightened commitment from local community groups, research institutions, ranchers, farmers, and Native Nations. Despite record-breaking fundraising efforts in both the Longleaf and Northern Great Plains landscapes, the demand for high-quality projects still surpasses the available investment.

Cristián Samper, managing director and leader for nature solutions at the Bezos Earth Fund, emphasized the significance of these landscapes, stating, “Longleaf pine forests and the grasslands of the Northern Great Plains are national treasures. Not only are these ecosystems vital for the economic and cultural well-being of local communities, but they are also places that can have a globally significant impact in terms of nature protection and carbon sequestration.”

A Remarkable Commitment

Jeff Trandahl, executive director and CEO of NFWF, expressed gratitude for the ongoing support from the Bezos Earth Fund.

“We want to recognize the strong and ongoing commitment from the Bezos Earth Fund in supporting the people and wildlife dependent on these threatened ecosystems,” he said. “This kind of commitment is remarkable and so vital in building community capacity to succeed.”

The partnership between NFWF and the Bezos Earth Fund in 2022 resulted in 51 conservation projects across 15 states, as well as Saskatchewan and Alberta in Canada. These projects have generated more than $90 million in conservation impact, focusing on forest and grassland habitat restoration and protection in the Northern Great Plains and longleaf pine ecosystems. Through these grants, NFWF is working to build capacity within underserved communities to accelerate and amplify nature-based solutions and address long-term climate challenges.

Expanding the Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund plays a pivotal role in expanding, enhancing, and accelerating longleaf pine ecosystem restoration across its historical range in the southeastern United States. This unique ecosystem, which once spanned some 90 million acres from Virginia to Texas, is home to a remarkable diversity of plants and animals, including rare and endangered species like the indigo snake, red-cockaded woodpecker, and gopher tortoise.

The Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund represents a groundbreaking public-private partnership, supported by federal funding from various entities, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the Department of Defense, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as private contributors like International Paper’s Forestland Stewards Partnership, One Tree Planted, Southern Company, American Forest Foundation, the Arbor Day Foundation, Altria Group, and The Orton Foundation, an affiliate of The Moore Charitable Foundation.

Funding Priorities

The Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund prioritizes several critical areas, including:

  • Restoring the longleaf pine ecosystem in alignment with the Range-Wide Conservation Plan for Longleaf Pine.
  • Enhancing and expanding the productive understory habitat of the longleaf pine ecosystem.
  • Assisting federal agencies in achieving their mission-oriented objectives.
  • Supporting the recovery of iconic species through habitat enhancements, strengthening the capacity of local organizations to lead longleaf pine ecosystem restoration efforts.
  • Expanding engagement with landowners for longleaf pine restoration and maintenance on private lands, while highlighting the environmental and socioeconomic benefits of working forests.

The Longleaf Landscape Stewardship Fund builds upon the achievements of the Longleaf Legacy Program, a partnership between Southern Company and NFWF since 2004. This initiative has invested more than $8.7 million in projects dedicated to restoring over 87,000 acres of longleaf pine forest and the native species that rely on it. These collaborative efforts reflect a commitment to restoring and preserving the ecological and cultural heritage of the southeastern United States.

 

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