PUSHMATAHA CO., Okla. — The Conservation Fund announced its acquisition of 11,332 acres of forestland in southeastern Oklahoma from Nuveen Natural Capital, a real assets-focused investment capability of the TIAA asset-management arm, Nuveen. The national nonprofit’s purchase provides time for the land to be permanently conserved in partnership with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry as its first state forest.
Located east of the Ouachita National Forest and within driving distance of Oklahoma City, the Round Mountain Forest provides potential opportunities for new recreational access and local outdoor economic activities in the region. Also, the remoteness of the forest makes it an ideal location to become a demonstration forest for invasive species management and a training ground for prescribed fire management programs.
“It is gratifying to partner with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to preserve this unique property,” said Ginny Moore, Oklahoma and Kansas representative of The Conservation Fund. “Establishing Oklahoma’s first state forest provides multiple benefits: supporting the region’s rural economy, enhancing recreational opportunities and providing space for outdoor enthusiasts who just want to enjoy the beauty of nature.”
During its interim ownership, The Conservation Fund will manage the property as a sustainable working forest and will work with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to seek private, state and federal funding for its permanent conservation, including from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program, funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Once conveyed to the state, a plan for recreational access will be established that additionally allows the state to manage the land for its conservation resources and as a tree improvement center.
“Oklahoma’s forests support an industry that annually contributes $5.1 billion to our economy, employs a workforce of over 19,000 people, and provides the forest products we need in our daily lives,” said Mark Goeller, state forester and director of Oklahoma Forestry Services. “Equally as important is our forest’s contribution to Oklahoma’s environmental health. Oklahoma’s forests many benefits include clean water, clean air and carbon sequestration. Acquisition of this land is a great opportunity to help sustain Oklahoma’s economic and environmental well-being.”
“This is truly a unique opportunity for our state,” said Craig Marquardt, forest management chief and assistant director for Oklahoma Forestry Services. “To be in a position to acquire these significant parcels of land and to be able to keep that land in working forests is one that does not come around often. These forested lands will provide timber, wildlife habitat and recreational opportunities for Oklahomans for generations to come. We are grateful to our partners at The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Forest Service for their expertise, insight and patience as we make our way through the acquisition process.”
Recognizing a regional uptick in forestland being subdivided and converted to non-forest uses, specifically for out-of-state second home buyers, The Conservation Fund prioritized this purchase through its Working Forest Fund®, which is dedicated to mitigating climate change, strengthening rural economies and protecting natural ecosystems through the permanent conservation of at-risk working forests. Capital from the organization’s green bonds — the first of its kind dedicated to conservation in the U.S. — and bridge financing from the Richard King Mellon Foundation supported this conservation acquisition.
“Nuveen Natural Capital excels at combining active management and nature-based solutions to create transactions that are accretive for our clients. These types of transactions are good for nature, climate and people and it was a pleasure working with The Conservation Fund on this opportunity,” said Chris Lipton, Head of Timberland Investments for Nuveen Natural Capital.
“Over its 75-year history, the Richard King Mellon Foundation has protected more than 4.5 million acres of precious land and cultural sites in all 50 states,” said Foundation Director Sam Reiman. “Our past investments in Oklahoma expanded the Ouachita National Forest and the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site. Today, the Foundation is pleased to support The Conservation Fund’s collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry to create Oklahoma’s inaugural state forest, providing for habitat conservation and sustainable timbering, while expanding public access for outdoor recreation.”
The Round Mountain Forest’s clear streams provide critical habitat for the federally threatened Leopard Darter, which can only be found in the streams of three Oklahoma rivers, including the Little River, which runs through the property. Other species of concern that would potentially benefit from conservation of this forest include multiple types of warblers and bats, the Rich Mountain slit‐mouthed snail, the Rich Mountain salamander and multiple plant species.
About The Conservation Fund
At The Conservation Fund, we make conservation work for America. By creating solutions that make environmental and economic sense, we are redefining conservation to demonstrate its essential role in our future prosperity. Top-ranked for efficiency and effectiveness, we have worked in all 50 states since 1985 to protect more than 8.5 million acres of land, including over 25,000 acres in Oklahoma. conservationfund.org
Nuveen, the investment manager of TIAA, offers a comprehensive range of outcome-focused investment solutions designed to secure the long-term financial goals of institutional and individual investors. Nuveen has $1.1 trillion in assets under management as of 31 Dec 2022 and operations in 27 countries. Its investment specialists offer deep expertise across a comprehensive range of traditional and alternative investments through a wide array of vehicles and customized strategies. For more information, please visit www.nuveen.com.
–The Conservation Fund