Kentucky Natural Lands Trust (KNLT) is working to protect, connect, and restore wildlands, large forest tracts, and migratory corridors. Efforts began with protection of the largest remaining old-growth tract in the state, expanded to a large landscape conservation initiative, and now include a range of conservation projects. KNLT’s primary goal is to protect biodiversity within climate resilient landscapes in ways that benefit communities. The organization has become a national leader in large landscape conservation. The 2015-2020 Strategic Plan outlines KNLT’s land protection and stewardship strategies which have been guiding these efforts in recent years.
Current conservation projects are focused on forested habitat and critical corridors in Central Appalachia. Through the Pine Mountain Wildlands Corridor, KNLT is working to protect key wildlands and connect existing conservation lands along Pine Mountain to form a 125-mile contiguous forested wildlands corridor from Tennessee through Kentucky to Virginia. This is the largest conservation effort in Kentucky’s history, which aims to:
Species-driven conservation efforts are also underway. Over the last decade, KNLT has partnered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Kentucky Ecological Services Field Office to manage the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund, a multi-faceted fund that uses a combination of grant, mitigation, and federal discretionary funding to focus resources on bat, forest, and at-risk terrestrial species conservation in Kentucky. The fund has partnered with federal, state and nonprofit organizations to help protect over 30,000 acres statewide while also funding important research and stewardship.
Climate change considerations are being incorporated into KNLT’s comprehensive protection and stewardship planning efforts aimed at defining strategies to both protect large landscapes and defend the conservation value of their properties. The organization’s work has always been rooted in conservation biology, informed by the natural heritage network and inspired by innovative big conservation ideas. KNLT’s 2015-2020 Strategic Plan includes straightforward references to climate change and emphasizes the organization’s commitment to science-driven conservation which is aimed at protecting biologically diverse resilient landscapes like Pine Mountain. KNLT staff are now drafting the 2020-2025 plan in which the organization confirms its longstanding commitments to biodiversity and large landscape conservation while outlining unfolding opportunities and definitive commitments to providing natural climate solutions.
Based on the edge of Appalachia in Berea, Kentucky, KNLT has seven staff persons and a highly engaged and supportive board of directors and advisors. Since its inception, KNLT has prided itself on being a science-based, science-driven organization. Members of both the board and staff have vast knowledge of Kentucky’s unique biodiversity and extensive on the ground conservation experience. This has led the organization to adopt land protection criteria and to formulate strategic land conservation plans emphasizing the importance of conserving the state’s biodiversity and large forested landscapes. Over time, KNLT efforts have illustrated that protecting large, ecologically healthy, and unfragmented landscapes helps conserve the associated flora and fauna while also benefiting local communities. Working at landscape-scale requires partnerships with federal, state, and nonprofit organizations, as well as, with local communities. KNLT has a history of successful collaboration that has built trust with conservation partners, landowners and nearby communities.
Since forming in 1995, KNLT has protected over 14,000 acres of wildlands, assisted in the protection of over 31,000 additional acres through partnerships and established itself as a key conservation organization in the state and region. Through innovative and strategic collaborations with federal, state, private and nonprofit organizations, this small land trust has made significant contributions within Kentucky and the Central Appalachian region. KNLT’s initial efforts to protect the state’s largest remaining tract of old-growth forest demonstrated an early commitment to science-driven conservation. The staff and board’s vision to take on a large landscape conservation project decades ago, and to remain focused, has proven impactful. KNLT has protected one-fifth of the overall 65,000 acres of conservation land along Pine Mountain, the second largest contribution after the U.S. Forest Service.
KNLT’s strong and well-informed land conservation planning and implementation, its commitment to managing the landscapes that it protects to ensure that they can be both resilient and adaptable, and its patience and perseverance, have yielded impressive results. Lessons learned include: