New KY Nature Reserve Could Help Restore Rare Species

The state’s newest nature reserve is a 338-acre hilly hideaway a few miles from the largely forested Kentucky River with a beautiful stream running through it and the potential to restore endangered plants and rare mussels.

Drennon Creek State Nature Reserve in Henry County is the first new reserve added to the state system in a decade.

The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (OKNP) acquired title to the land in early 2020.

“It was truly an extraordinary property,” said Zeb Weese, executive director of the agency.

Mary Margaret Lowe and Eugene Lacefield, both former University of Kentucky employees, bought the land for a getaway in 1978.

They built a solar house and trails, eradicated invasive plants, and practiced good forest management.

Ultimately, they realized they wanted to do something with the land for the benefit of other people in the future, which led to almost all of their 350 acres being donated to OKNP.

The designation as a nature reserve carries the highest level of legal protection for the land.

“We are interested in habitat preservation,” said Lowe, who also worked for many years at Georgetown College.

The land they donated was valued at just over $ 1 million.

Lowe and Lacefield said they hope their donation will encourage others to think about ways to protect the environment.

Kentucky Nature Reserve
Mary Margaret Lowe and Eugene Lacefield donated 338 acres in Henry County to establish Kentucky’s first new nature reserve in a decade, Drennon Creek State Nature Reserve. Kirsten delamarter Kentucky Nature Reserves Office

“We were amazed. . . that two people could offer and provide a state nature reserve for everyone in and around Kentucky, ”Lacefield said in the OKNP annual report.

“One of the best examples”

It is not uncommon for the state to add land to existing nature reserves, but it does not often create a new reserve, for a number of reasons.

The owners must be willing to sell or donate the land because the OKNP only acquires the land from willing participants, and the state must have the money to buy and manage the property. It is also helpful to have larger tracts of land, as this creates more potential for conservation work.

In addition, the land must have specific attributes in order to benefit from protection as a nature reserve. These include the best remaining examples of rare species populations or some of the best landscapes in the state.

“In order for us to truly acquire something as a state nature reserve, it has to be one of the best examples of this ecological community, this type of habitat, federally threatened species” or ‘species listed in Kentucky as endangered or threatened, Weese said.

One thing that qualified the Henry County Preserve was the potential for restoring a federally endangered species called Braun’s watercress, which is rare in the world.

It has only been found in Franklin, Henry, and Owen counties in Kentucky, often on the steep slopes along the Kentucky River, and in two counties in Tennessee.

The Drennon Creek Preserve is near the northernmost spot where the flower was found.

Drennon Creek Preserve
The state added its first new nature reserve in a decade with a 338-acre donation completed in 202o to establish Drennon Creek State Nature Preserve in Henry County. Kirsten delamarter Kentucky Nature Reserves Office

Future spot for hiking and bird watching

The reserve’s first priority is to plant Braun watercress to try and develop a sustainable population, according to the OKNP annual report.

There is also potential at the site for restoring another endangered plant called the Kentucky swim bladder and restoring rare species of mussels, Weese said.

Once restoration of Braun’s watercress reaches an acceptable level, the state will consider opening the reserve to hiking and other low-impact activities, such as bird watching.

The OKNP offers treks and other activities on the conservation lands it manages, but its main mission is to protect lands recognized for their natural importance, including rare species.

Of the state’s 372 plant species designated as Endangered, Threatened or Special Concern, for example, 206 are conserved in nature reserves or nature areas of the OKNP, according to the report.

One of the many sinkholes along the Palisades Loop Trail in Tom Dorman State Nature Reserve in Garrard County, Ky., Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Alex Slitz [email protected]

In addition to nature reserves, the OKNP uses other programs to conserve land and protect the environment and rare species, including conservation easements and partnerships with federal, state and local governments, non-profit agencies. lucrative and private owners.

The agency also manages the state’s wild rivers program.

The agency added 2,700 acres to protected status in fiscal year 2020, which was between July 1, 2019 and June 30, 2020.

At the start of the current 2021 fiscal year, there were a total of 143,435 acres under protection through various OKNP programs, including more than 40 state nature reserves. This represented less than 0.6 percent of Kentucky’s land.

The agency is halfway through the goal of conserving some properties in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties, Weese said.

Find endangered species

It is not uncommon for OKNP botanists and ecologists to find new populations of species listed as endangered or threatened as they carry out constant work to locate, assess and protect species. rare and important natural areas.

In fiscal year 2020, for example, the agency found dozens of new plant populations. Perhaps most notable is the discovery of a population of four-angled pink gentian in Pulaski County, according to the annual report.

The plant had never been recorded west of the Appalachians.

Rare Kentucky Flower
A population of four-angled pink gentian was first discovered in Kentucky in 2020. It was the first time the flower was discovered west of the Appalachians. Kentucky Nature Reserves Office

It is a challenge to stay ahead of impacts such as development and climate change, but there are successes.

An example: Survey work during the most recent fiscal year showed that the state’s population of a plant called the common buffalo is stable enough to remove it from the endangered species list, according to the report by the OKNP.

“I’m sure we are falling behind on some species and moving forward on others,” Weese said of efforts to conserve species in Kentucky.

The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves began working with the State Transportation Cabinet in fiscal 2020 to search for rare plants and grasslands, as well as habitat for pollinators such as bees and bees. butterflies, on rights-of-way along national roads.

Botanists surveyed 7,000 miles of roads in 23 counties in FY2020 and found more than 20 locations that could provide prime habitat for pollinating insects, and many had rare plants, according to the OKNP report.

The agency plans to investigate all national highways over five years.

“They are part of who we are”

Funding for conservation work has declined from some sources in recent years, but it was good news for the OKNP that the one-year budget approved by the legislature in the 2020 session did not take any notice. Kentucky Land Heritage Conservation Fund money to be used for other purposes.

This is the first budget since 2014 that has not withdrawn money from the fund.

The Land Conservation Fund receives money from a number of sources, including the state’s share of a tax on unexploded coal, environmental fines, interest income, donations and the sale of natural license plates.

The 1.54 mile Upper Palisades Loop overlooking the Kentucky River at Tom Dorman State Nature Reserve in Garrard County, Ky., Wednesday, December 16, 2020. Alex Slitz [email protected]

However, unmined minerals tax revenue fell sharply due to a reduction in the assessed value of coal, so the OKNP received nothing from this source in FY2020.

Revenue from natural license plates also declined, from $ 678,117 in 2010 to $ 361,460 in 2020, mainly because the state approved more specialty plates, creating more causes to support.

Weese said purchasing a natural license plate is an easy way for residents of Kentucky to help support land conservation, habitat management and ecotourism.

People often ask why it is important to preserve a particular plant or insect. The answer is, all of them are part of what makes Kentucky unique, Weese said.

“They are part of who we are,” Weese said. “When we lose these places, not only do we lose these areas, we lose part of our history. It’s protecting what makes Kentucky, Kentucky.

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