The Nature Conservancy in Kentucky (TNC), the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources (Kentucky Fish and Wildlife) and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) announced yesterday the largest conservation easement in Kentucky history on the nearly 55,000-acre Cumberland Forest Wildlife Management Area in Bell, Knox and Leslie counties.
The easement will be held by Kentucky Fish and Wildlife. Already a popular hunting destination for elk and other species thanks to an annual agreement between TNC and Kentucky Fish and Wildlife, the property is now permanently open to the public for recreation activities such as hiking, wildlife watching and hunting.
The partner organizations are at work on a public recreation management plan to guide hunting and other recreation activities. Research projects on elk and other species, as well as reforestation of former mine lands, forest management and other habitat work will continue. The Nature Conservancy, Green Forests Work and Beam Suntory have already planted more than 160,000 trees on the property to enhance climate resiliency and provide food and habitat for wildlife.
Public access to the easement will support the economic benefits of outdoor recreation in eastern Kentucky. Statewide, the total economic impact of wildlife-related recreation, including wildlife watching and hunting, is estimated at $5.9 billion annually. Interest in viewing and hunting elk is growing, and these activities bring in millions of dollars per year to the region’s economy.
We expect it to be a WMA, we have been told it will be a WMA, and the title "WMA" means something special to public lands people in KY.
There will be a dedication and larger celebration on the property this spring. We’ll keep you posted so you can attend and see your newest hunting and wildlife viewing destination.