At the top of America’s Amazon, nearly 8,000 acres of Alabama’s most sensitive and ecologically important land is being preserved forever, thanks to a multi-million dollar collaboration involving The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, Patagonia, and an undisclosed donor.
The Nature Conservancy in Alabama says it has closed a $15 million+ deal to buy 7,990 acres in Clarke County at the head of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, often called America’s Amazon for its remarkable biodiversity and wildlife.
“This is one of the most important conservation victories that we’ve ever been a part of,” Mitch Reid, state director for The Nature Conservancy in Alabama, told AL.com. “It’s protected a vitally important complex of land, almost 8,000 acres, critically important to the health of the Mobile Delta and then, by extension, Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.”
The tract being purchased is called the Land Between the Rivers, the area surrounding where the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers flow side by side and then merge to join the rest of the Delta. The area consists of numerous streams, swamps, and ox-bow lakes that are host to a wide range of species of fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Reid said the number of species living in those wetlands make it one of the most biodiverse places on Earth.
“This is a landscape that’s on par with anything you’ll find worldwide from Mongolia, to Africa to the Amazon,” Reid said.
“There’s always been this sort of moniker that the Mobile Delta is North America’s Amazon. Well, if you look at the biodiversity of the Mobile Delta, it really should be the Amazon is South America’s Mobile.”
A Collective effort
The exact price of the land purchased has not been disclosed, but Reid said it was “well over $15 million.”
Reid said the purchase was possible thanks to a $5.2 million donation from the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit shareholder of outdoor gear-maker Patagonia.
Holdfast Collective, created in 2022, owns 98% of Patagonia stock and directs its full share of Patagonia’s profits into donations to “protect nature and biodiversity, support thriving communities and fight the environmental crisis” of climate change. The $5.2 million for the Land Between the Rivers purchase is the organization’s largest gift to date.
In addition to the Holdfast donation, TNC committed $3 million to the purchase, while the anonymous donor contributed $10 million into a revolving loan fund to facilitate the deal.
When those loans are repaid, the proceeds will be used for additional conservation purchases across the Southeast.
Holdfast Collective Executive Director Greg Curtis said that Alabama would be a priority for the group’s wildlife conservation efforts.
“Alabama is important,” Curtis said in a news release. “The Holdfast Collective sees Alabama, and the Land Between the Rivers, as a landscape that is as critical to protect as our other priority areas around the globe.
“This project is the first step in a long-term strategy with our partners in Alabama to protect America’s Amazon.”
The purchase is the second major conservation land purchase in Alabama over the past two years, with The Conservation Fund purchasing 23,000 acres in the Red Hills area aimed at preserving a unique ecosystem that is home to the endangered Red Hills salamander, among numerous other species. The cost of that purchase was not disclosed, but involved a $17 million loan.
E.O. Wilson and America’s Amazon
The Delta, a web of interconnected swamps, bayous, rivers and streams, contains an almost unparalleled number of species of fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds, plants and mammals.
The late biologist E.O. Wilson, who grew up in and around Mobile, for decades promoted the area as one of America’s richest biological tapestries. Wilson was a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning author and internationally renowned for his work in the field of biology, as a Harvard professor and author of numerous books.
Reid said Wilson’s advocacy for the Mobile Delta helped attract major donors like the Holdfast Collective to help preserve the area.
“It’s pretty easy to go from point A to point B,” Reid said. “It was E.O. Wilson and his being from here and sort of championing our natural systems that we have here in Alabama.”
Reid said the tract that was purchased will foster connectivity for the wildlife there, one of Wilson’s points of emphasis in his research and writings.
“It matters, this place matters for that system,” Reid said. “It matters to the people who like to fish it to hunt it to be up in it, the birds, but it matters to the system itself.”
The Land between the Rivers
The property purchased in January is known as the Mobile River Sawmill Division tract, along the southwest edge of Clarke County.
Reid said the previous owners decided to entertain offers to sell that would preserve the land instead of seeing it clear-cut for timber or parceled and sold in smaller chunks.
“If a piece of land like this were sold off and clear-cut, which we understand was an option, that would have been a travesty,” Reid said. ”Not only because it would have lost an enormous amount of stored carbon [from the trees], but then you would lose that wetland system that is so important to the the Delta.
“If you just clear cut that out, you end up with sedimentation, you could lose birds, turtles, fish, any host of species.”
Reid said the tract was an important piece of TNC’s larger vision to preserve a wildlife corridor stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Appalachian Mountains through the heart of Alabama.
“If you look at you look at the state of Alabama, once you have Clarke County and the land between the rivers protected, you can move up to the Red Hills,” Reid said. “It complements the work that we’re doing on the Alabama River to restore the highway of life up the Alabama. It matches the work that the state has done to protect the Talladega mountains and those pieces of the puzzle are starting to come together.
“It’s not going to be 10 years, it may not be 50 years, but eventually I think this strategy is going to play out.”
Reid said TNC has not finalized details on how the land included in this purchase would be used, but said that it would be kept open and accessible to the public as much as possible, and that a hunting club that has been established on the land would continue to operate as it has.
“It is our intention that, in some form or other, that this is going to be preserved for the people of Alabama and available for the people of Alabama,” he said. “Now we have to explore the opportunities for somehow making it public, bringing it to the to the people.”