August 5, 2008

Norfolk Southern Protects Thousands of Acres of Land

By Scott Harper, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

Aug. 5--NORFOLK -- Norfolk Southern Corp. has given up its development rights on 12,488 acres of ecologically important forest and wilderness in South Carolina, a donation described as the largest of its kind in that state's history.

The property, located about 35 miles northwest of Charleston and called Brosnan Forest, includes more than 6,000 acres of increasingly rare longleaf pine trees and is prime habitat for the red-cockaded woodpecker, an endangered species.

Gov. Mark Sanford described the gift, known as a conservation easement, as "incredibly significant." Lowcountry Open Land Trust, the environmental group that will hold the property rights, said the move will preserve the rural character of the area for generations and protect key waterways and swamps that criss cross the tract.

In granting the easement, Norfolk Southern retains ownership of the property but agrees to keep it pristine forever.

In addition to helping protect the forest in perpetuity and boosting its corporate image, the Norfolk-based railroad also will receive "some pretty good tax credits," said Robin Chapman, a company spokesman.

Railroads have owned the land for more than 160 years, Chapman said. Timber from the forest was used to fuel early wood-burning locomotives. More recently, Norfolk Southern has selectively harvested some trees for profit and continues to maintain a lodge and cabins for corporate outings, Chapman said.

Those recreational assets, as well as about 1,900 acres of adjacent forest, are being kept by the railroad but will be managed with sustainable forestry practices.

Throughout Brosnan Forest, Norfolk Southern has participated since 1999 in a government "safe harbor" program to protect the red-cockaded woodpecker, one of the rarest birds on the East Coast. Those efforts, too, will continue, Chapman said.

The tract contains 79 active nests, one of the largest colonies found on private property and one of the most studied by field biologists.

Scott Harper, (757) 446-2340, [email protected]


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