Today The Nature Conservancy and BHP Billiton announced the joint Sustainable Rivers and Forests Initiative, which has led to the protection of nearly 3,700 acres of critical riverfront property and forestland in Texas and Arkansas.
Funded by a $14 million donation from BHP Billiton, the program has helped the Conservancy renew conservation efforts near Houston, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States, and will enable nearly a dozen restoration and water quality improvement projects to benefit drinking water, fishing habitat and rare species in Arkansas.
“BHP Billiton is excited to partner with The Nature Conservancy on this critical conservation initiative. We look beyond our operations to identify opportunities that enhance the resilience of our natural environment because we recognize that watershed protection through critical habitat conservation has a far reaching impact,” said Steve Pastor, President Petroleum Operations, BHP Billiton.
In 2013, BHP Billiton approached The Nature Conservancy about making a lasting commitment to conservation in the two states. The selected sites, the Columbia Bottomlands in Texas and Arkansas’ Greers Ferry Lake watershed, were natural choices—each area is considered a national conservation priority and the work will benefit both people and nature.
“For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing conservation,” said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “We applaud BHP Billiton’s leadership for pursuing conservation as a business strategy and for a level of investment that will make a lasting difference in both states. We have a shared commitment to improving our communities and protecting the natural systems that we all depend on.”
In Texas, the Conservancy has purchased close to 1,900 acres of forestland on the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, in a region southwest of Houston known as the Columbia Bottomlands.
Protecting and restoring the old-growth forests in this region protects water quality in the Brazos, San Bernard, and other important rivers and streams. The Columbia Bottomlands are also one of the largest and most important migratory bird stopovers in North America, supporting more than 200 species of birds.
In Arkansas, BHP Billiton’s investment has enabled the Conservancy to purchase 1,840 acres along the upper Little Red River. Located in the scenic Ozark Mountains, Arkansas’ upper Little Red River is home to more than 80 native fish and aquatic species; more than a dozen of them are rare, and some are found nowhere else on Earth. The river also supports Arkansas’ robust tourism industry and is a tributary of Greers Ferry Lake, a source of drinking water for more than 150,000 people and a recreational area for millions.
“The health of Arkansas’ rivers, lakes and streams are dependent on good water quality,” said Scott Simon, Arkansas state director for The Nature Conservancy. “BHP Billiton’s investment will play a critical role in shaping the future of Greers Ferry Lake and the rivers that feed it, not only through the initial land purchases, but through the planned water quality improvement projects in the watershed.”
The initiative will fund nearly a dozen water quality improvement projects ranging from reforestation, stream restoration and unpaved road improvement, which will ultimately serve as demonstration sites. The properties will also offer people from neighboring cities and communities, researchers, partner organizations and schools opportunities to spend time in nature and learn about conservation in these important landscapes.
“Working with The Nature Conservancy ensures that BHP Billiton’s contribution will create long-term value for the community and the environment in these areas of national conservation significance. These investments in Arkansas and Texas provide benefits that will outlast our operations for generations to come,” said Pastor.
In addition to funding important conservation work in North America, BHP Billiton has invested in Conservancy programs in Australia and Chile.