Environment

The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust has purchased nearly 400 acres of forest habitat along Pine Mountain in Harlan County.

Pine Mountain is a 125-mile long forested ridgeline that runs through Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. It’s an important wildlife corridor that protects biodiversity, improves climate resiliency and provides habitat for thousands of species including nearly 100 types of rare plants and animals.

Kentucky Natural Lands Trust announced Friday it has acquired 376 acres on the north face of Pine Mountain for more than $300,000.

“The overall focus of what KNLT is doing on Pine Mountain is to connect existing protected areas,” said Don Dott, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust board member. “So you have a protected migratory corridor. Black bears came back into the state that way.”

The northern face of the mountain is steeper, captures more moisture and is more biologically diverse, Dott said. The tract also protects the views from the Laden Trail, a scenic driving route through the mountain.

The purchase helps connect existing protected areas that establishes habitat for animals including black bears, migratory neo-tropical birds and endangered Indiana and northern long-eared bats.

Kentucky Natural Lands Trust

The protected lands are particularly important for southeast Kentucky where many natural areas have been affected by surface mining, Dott said.

“Pine Mountain didn’t have any commercially developable coal deposits on it because of the geology and the way the mountain was thrust up,” he said. “It’s in effect a long fold going from the northeast to the southwest.”

The acquisition builds on more than 13,000 acres the Kentucky Natural Lands Trust has already purchased in the area, and more than 30,000 acres they’ve facilitated the purchase of for conservation, Dott said.

Earlier this year, The Nature Conservancy purchased 100,000 acres of forest along the Cumberland-Pine Mountain corridor. The nonprofit plans to restore forest health, lease it for sustainable forestry and provide tourism opportunities.

The Kentucky Natural Lands Trust purchased the lands with funding from the Imperiled Bat Conservation Fund, the Forecastle Foundation, Louisville Audubon Society, Beckham Bird Club, and donors.

This story has been updated.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.