Partnership restores high value forest habitat and honors legacy of renowned African-American sportsman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries

HOLLANDALE, Miss. (Feb. 27, 2014) – The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) announced today the completion of a multi-year effort to add 724 acres of restored forest to Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge southeast of Greenville, Mississippi. Reforested with native bottomland hardwood tree species, the land will provide ideal habitat for the federally threatened Louisiana black bear as well as breeding and replenishing grounds for large numbers of resident and migratory birds.

The Conservation Fund, with help from Wildlife Mississippi, acquired the properties in 2006 and secured private funds for most of the restoration and acquisition costs. The restored lands, in three tracts, are in the process of being transferred to the USFWS, which utilized the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to acquire the budding forestland at a considerable bargain. The Conservation Fund saved the USFWS around $1.5 million in restoration and acquisition costs. Over the past three decades, The Conservation Fund has helped USFWS add more than 160,000 acres to national wildlife refuges in the Southeast and along the Mississippi River as well as restore approximately 26,000 acres with more than 10 million trees.

With support from the Mississippi Congressional Delegation for passage of the 2014 omnibus appropriations bill, Congress provided funding for LWCF, a visionary and bipartisan federal program that uses a percentage of proceeds from offshore oil and gas royalties – not taxpayer dollars – for the protection of irreplaceable lands and improvement of outdoor recreation opportunities across the country. The USFWS prioritized using LWCF to complete this acquisition for approximately $68,000—or one-tenth the value of the property—thanks to The Conservation Fund’s leveraging of private funds.

“I am pleased that The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) have been able to complete this effort. The additional 724 acres Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge of Greenville has received will have a significant economic impact on our state, and foster the interests of hunters and anglers alike. I applaud this effort and look forward to a continued partnership,” said Congressman Bennie Thompson (MS-02).

Established in 2004 through legislation sponsored by Senator Cochran and Congressman Thompson, the Refuge was named after former slave Holt Collier, who as a teenager served as a Confederate sharpshooter, cavalryman and spy during the Civil War. After the war, Collier’s knowledge of the wilderness and his expertise in tracking game allowed him to become a professional hunter. Hunting was an extreme physical challenge and a great test of one’s courage at that time, but Collier’s prowess and reputation as a bear hunter became well renowned.

When President Theodore Roosevelt, a passionate sportsman, traveled to Mississippi for a private bear hunt in 1902, Collier was tasked with planning almost every aspect of the adventure, including tracking and driving a bear to the President’s hunting blind to offer him a clear shot. However, the timing didn’t work out as planned, and President Roosevelt left the blind for lunch at the camp before Collier’s team could bring the bear into position. To protect his hunting team, Collier restrained the bear and tied it to a tree. When President Roosevelt arrived, he, like any hunter of honor, would not shoot the restrained animal. The event was publicized nationwide and resulted in the creation of the first stuffed toy bear called “Teddy’s bear.” President Roosevelt told Collier during the trip that he, “…was the best guide and hunter he’d ever seen.”

Much has changed since Collier’s time. In the early 1800s, bottomland hardwood forest dominated the area. Today, more than 75 percent of the forestland has been lost due to agriculture, transportation, industrialization and urbanization – and with it went the plentiful black bear population. Once widely found throughout the LowerMississippi RiverValley, the Louisiana black bear is now a threatened species, existing in only very small areas in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.

“We are excited about the addition of these restored lands at Holt Collier National Wildlife Refuge,” said Mike Rich, Refuge Manager of the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge Complex, which includes Holt Collier. “The land will provide additional opportunities for the public to hunt, fish and conduct wildlife viewing activities. It will also allow the Service to restore the natural hydrology to these lands which will enhance these floodplain habitats for black bear, songbirds and other wildlife.

“The conservation success we celebrate today further ensures that wildlife, including the iconic black bear, will always have a home in Mississippi,” said Ray Herndon, director of The Conservation Fund’s Lower Mississippi region. “We are thankful to our dedicated partners – the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Senator Cochran, Senator Wicker, Congressman Thompson and Wildlife Mississippi – for their support and endurance in this long-term effort.”

“We greatly appreciate the leadership of The Conservation Fund and the Mississippi Congressional Delegation for making this acquisition happen,” added James L. Cummins, Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi. “It is very rewarding when one can be a part of a project that pays tribute to such a great American – Holt Collier – conserve such an important resource and provide much needed recreation.”

Sources: The Conservation Fund and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

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