ATLANTA - In one of the South's largest conservation deals, a land preservation group has paid $24 million for 38,000 acres of isolated woods and wetlands in southeastern North Carolina.
The North Carolina chapter of the Nature Conservancy eventually will turn the property over to the state for permanent protection as a natural area. The group bought the land from International Paper.
The acquisition, combined with unspoiled land the state already owns, would cluster about 100,000 acres together. Such huge tracts of undeveloped land where few people live are hard to come by these days, conservationists say.
"These large protected areas are essential for larger animals like the black bear, which requires an extensive amount of habitat for breeding and foraging," said Fred Annand of the Nature Conservancy. "We will also permanently protect habitats for everything from butterflies to a long list of rare plants."
One of those plants is the Venus flytrap, an insect-eating plant found only within a 75-mile radius of Wilmington, N.C.
The acquisition also will help protect portions of the Black River, known for its 1,700-year-old bald cypress trees and rare mussels, and help preserve miles of floodplains and bottomlands.
The 38,000 acres nudge North Carolina toward its goal of preserving 1 million acres of open space by 2010. Through last year, the state had accumulated about 172,000 acres.
To date, International Paper has sold nearly 43,000 acres of forest land or conservation easements in North Carolina under the state's open space initiative.