How The Nature Conservancy Works

A North Carolina Project

Protecting the Roanoke River floodplain is a major project of the N.C. Conservancy chapter.
Protecting the Roanoke River floodplain is a major project of the N.C. Conservancy chapter.
Photo courtesy of N.C. Chapter, The Nature Conservancy

Nature Conservancy projects are areas that the Conservancy acquired and later transferred to state or federal agencies, such as the State of North Carolina, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service. According to Lynch, most Conservancy projects in North Carolina are managed as parks, game lands and refuges.

An important project of the Conservancy in North Carolina is the protection of natural areas along a 137-mile corridor (Bertie, Halifax, Martin, Northampton and Washington counties) of the Roanoke River. According to inventory data, the lower Roanoke River floodplain is one of the five major brownwater ecosystems in the Southeast and contains the largest complete bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem in the mid-Atlantic region. In the floodplain are:

  • Natural levees
  • Swamp sloughs (river "meander" depressions)
  • Low and high ridges separated by swales
  • Ancient river channels

According to Lynch, the floodplain supports a wide range of bottomland forest types: The middle section of the river is characterized by alluvial forests and large back swamps, while the river's lower section contains large tracts of bald cypress and water tupelo swamp forests.

Roanoke swamp forests and bottomlands have large numbers of black bear, river otter, white-tailed deer and bobcat. The floodplain has 214 bird species, including a large wood duck population, the (federally listed) threatened bald eagle and 44 species of neotropical migratory birds (birds that winter in the tropics and breed in North America), such as the scarlet tanager.

The project has benefited from the involvement of several private and public groups. Union Camp Corp. donated 176 acres to The Nature Conservancy, establishing the Camassia Slopes Preserve in 1981. In 1989, the Conservancy bought 10,626 acres in Bertie and Martin counties from Georgia-Pacific Corp. to create the Roanoke River National Wildlife Refuge and add land to the state-owned Roanoke River Wetlands.

The Timber Co. and the Conservancy agreed in 1994 to jointly manage and protect 21,000 acres on the Roanoke. Working with partners such as the Bertie and Martin County Commissioners, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the N.C. Wildlife Federation, the Conservancy has played key roles in protecting 51,000 acres in the river floodplain, according to Lynch.

Today, this area along the river is a popular recreational region for fishing, bird watching, canoeing and kayaking. The Conservancy and several area universities and private and public conservation groups have collaborated on creating a canoeing and camping trail. (To inquire about an upcoming field trip here, contact Roanoke River Partners, 252-794-2793.)