BENTONVILLE, AR. –– A grant from the Acres for America program will clear the way for the purchase of more land in southern West Virginia which will become elk habitat for the southern coalfields.  The Acres for America program is a conservation organization run by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and financially bolstered by Wal-Mart.

West Virginia will receive a grant of $250,000 to help purchase the Logan Timberlands property.  Negotiations for the purchase are in the final stages and are expected to be finalized by mid December.  The deal would eventually create a public hunting area out of 32,000 acres in Mingo, Logan, and Lincoln Counties.

“This is a very big deal,” said Division of Natural Resources Wildlife Chief Paul Johansen. “It’s going to acquire and secure 30,000 acres plus, in a key part of the elk restoration zone. It’s going to really help us move forward in that effort.  We can control and provide recreational access and manipulate habitat.  This is going to get us a long way down that road.”

The footprint of the property includes 10,000 acres which are already managed by the DNR through a long-term lease agreement, but are not owned outright.  Johansen would not identify the parcels of land since the negotiations for the sale of the land are yet to be finalized.   He added the purchase will eventually put the state in sole possession of the property and includes provisions for active management and access.

“A significant portion is forested land, and much of it will continue to be managed as a ‘working forest’ ,” said Johansen. “There will still be timber operations going on and that’s a good thing in terms of an elk management program. This land will also be generating jobs in the timber industry, all sorts of recreational opportunities.”

According to a press release from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation the grant will help draw down matching funds of $7.2 Million dollars to complete the purchase.  Johansen indicated the bulk of the money will come from hunting and fishing dollars and federal excise taxes leveled through the Pittman-Robertson Act.

While the arrangement will mean a boost for elk management, Johansen said it will also be a boost for all critters on the large acreage, not the least of which is white tail deer.

“”Everybody is excited about the potential for elk restoration, but it’s going to provide habitat for a wide range of species,” he said. “Much of that property is in our older age deer management zone and it’s going  to be immediately significant in the white tail deer zone.  It’s a huge deal for all critters, turkey, bear, everything.  This is a big deal.”

Negotiations for the Logan Timberlands purchase are being handled through The Conservation Fund.  The organization has worked on similar projects with the state in the past.  They will initially buy the land and then resell it to the DNR over a period of years.

Wal-Mart has made contributions toward conservation through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for the past 10 years.  Wal-Mart started the project in 2005 with an initial donation of $35 Million. Their plan was to conserve one acre of wildlife habitat for every acre of land developed by the company.  To date, the foundation and Wal-Mart have contributed to the conservation of more than a million acres nationwide.

This is the first time West Virginia has received one of the annual grants.  This year there were six grants awarded.  The others were in Montana, Colorado, Massachusetts, Arkansas, and Georgia.