Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund

Map of the Southern Cumberland Region For Grants


February 2016

Capitalized with grants from the Lyndhurst and Benwood Foundations and Merck Family Fund, OSI’s Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund (Fund) protects wildlife habitat and biodiversity in landscapes that are critical to facilitating adaptation to climate change. The Fund is focused on protecting ecologically critical lands in Alabama, Tennessee and Georgia that have been identified as high priority in OSI’s research project, Protecting Southern Appalachian Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change, as well as other wildlife habitat and landscape conservation plans such as State Wildlife Action Plans and Cumberland Voices.  

The Fund, capitalized at $7.75 million, has approved ten capital grants since 2012 totaling $3.1 million, including the following three completed projects:

  • $565,000 for an 11,364-acre, $9.5 million project at Jacobs Mountain in Jackson County, Alabama, to The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Chapter;
  • $53,050 for a 343-acre, $530,000 project at Pigeon Mountain in Walker County, Georgia, to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Wildlife Resources Division; And
  • $150,000 for an 860-acre, $778,250 project in the Paint Rock watershed in Jackson County, Alabama, to The Nature Conservancy, Alabama Chapter.

Bridge loans are also available through the Fund to support the purchase of priority land and conservation easements. OSI makes grants to qualified organizations through a competitive process that is guided by an advisory board, comprised of experts within the region who are knowledgeable about natural resources, conservation planning, philanthropy, land transactions and policy. Barring exceptional circumstances, grant awards must be matched by other private and/or public funds at a ratio of at least 3:1.

Geographic Focus

The Southern Cumberland Plateau contains globally significant biological diversity presenting great conservation need and opportunity. This region supports rich animal and plant diversity in its large forest blocks, extensive underground cave systems, and multiple patch habitats, all of which are threatened with high rates of loss to development, fragmentation, conversion, and increasingly, climate change.

The Fund focuses on large forest blocks within the portion of the Southern Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia shown in the map below. Within this region, the Fund gives preference to projects based on a set of criteria described below.

Map of focus area (pdf) 

Map Package


Application, Deadline and Award Process

All applications must be submitted through our online service  here

For your information, you may download a PDF copy of the online application here

Download the financial summary for the application here.

Prior to applying, prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Jennifer Melville, OSI’s Vice President for Conservation Grants and Loans, to clarify any questions and to confirm that the project meets initial eligibility requirements, including the threshold criterion of contributing to the conservation of identified large forest blocks.

The deadline for applications is 5:00 pm (Eastern) on April 11, 2016.

To be notified about future grant rounds please sign up here.


Grant Criteria

To be eligible for funding, a project must meet all of the following threshold criteria:

  • Includes or directly impacts land located within the Grant Fund Region boundary.
  • Contributes to the conservation of large blocks of forest identified in mapping from OSI’s Protecting Southern Appalachian Wildlife in an Era of Climate Change  analysis, or identified as core forest on page 31 of the 2011 report “Cumberland Voices: A Conservation Vision for the South Cumberland Region.” Forest data from these two projects can be downloaded HERE.
  • Permanently protects land through acquisition of fee interest or conservation easement.
  • Meets or exceeds OSI conservation easement standards (see standards below for conservation easement projects).
  • Is spearheaded by organizations with the capacity and financial ability to execute the transaction and ensure long-term stewardship of the protected property.
  • Will be completed within 18 months of receiving notification of OSI’s grant award (anticipated to be September 2015).

Projects that meet these threshold criteria will be evaluated under the following additional criteria. OSI gives preference to projects demonstrating relevance to multiple criteria.

  • Extent to which the property contains habitat for terrestrial and aquatic species that are identified in State Wildlife Action Plans as species of greatest conservation need (particularly habitat that will contribute to enabling the adaptation of species vulnerable to climate change); contains other significant plants, animals, or ecologically significant habitat; or would contribute to the cooperative recovery of a threatened or endangered species.
  • Extent to which the property buffers, connects, or removes a threat to existing conserved land.
  • Extent, status and condition of plant and animal species and natural communities found on the property.
  • Role of the project, either alone or in conjunction with existing protected areas, to help ensure the long term viability of plant and animal species.
  • Threat to the property and/or particular conservation opportunity presented by the project.
  • Evidence of a stewardship plan for the long term conservation of the property that is consistent with the Fund’s objectives.
  • Prospects for 3:1 or greater financial leverage. OSI will only approve projects with less than 3:1 match in exceptional circumstances (see match requirements below).
  • Ability of the project to illustrate the importance of conservation for wildlife adaptation to climate change, and to catalyze other similar projects.
  • Evidence that the land trust receiving funding from and/or holding property funded through an OSI Resilient Landscapes Fund grant is accredited by the Land Trust Commission or has a reasonable plan and timeframe for attaining accreditation that has been adopted by the land trust’s board.

Capital grants are available on a competitive basis to qualified nonprofit organizations, and under exceptional circumstances the initiative will provide funds directly to state or local government agencies.

Grant funds may be used to acquire permanent conservation easements and fee interests in land, as well as to defray associated expenses, including out-of-pocket transaction-related costs. 

Stewardship funding will be granted only in exceptional circumstances in which a convincing case is made that the funding is necessary to enable the transaction, and is limited to no more than $20,000.  

The initiative may also provide short-term low-interest loans to bridge gaps of up to two years in permanent public or private funding.

Grants may not be used to pay interest on loans, staff time, mileage, travel expenses and general overhead.

Projects which close before the application deadline are not eligible for funding.


Grant Awards

OSI staff and the Fund’s Advisory Committee review applications against the Fund’s criteria and goals.  Once OSI has approved a grant, we will provide the grantee with a checklist of items required for OSI to prepare a grant agreement. When all required information and documents are received, OSI will forward a grant agreement to the grantee. If applicable, the grantee must provide documents pertaining to each project phase and match parcel. OSI will release funds at the time the transaction closes. Projects must close within 18 months of OSI’s grant approval.

Conservation Easement Standards

Stewardship of Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund grant projects must be consistent with the goals of the Fund: maintaining the ability of wildlife to adapt to climate change and conserving native biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Prior to submitting a grant proposal, applicants should review OSI’s standards for fee land stewardship and for conservation easement (CE) terms (download here).

Match Requirements

A fundamental goal of the Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund is to encourage leveraging of additional conservation funding sources. Every dollar granted from the fund must typically be matched by three (3) other dollars from other sources. A lower leverage ratio will be considered only in exceptional circumstances.

The following qualify as match for a Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund grant:

  • Public funds (federal, state and local) and private funds from individuals and foundations used for the acquisition of fee interest or a conservation easement on the subject property or on eligible match properties.
  • The value of a donated conservation easement or bargain sale on the subject property.
  • The value of a donated conservation easement or bargain sale on eligible match properties.
  • Transaction and other acquisition costs, including appraisals, surveys, environmental assessments, title exams and insurance, recording fees, transfer and real estate taxes, property carrying costs, and fees for outside counsel.

Match Property Eligibility

To be eligible as match, property must 1) be adjacent or proximate to the subject property, 2) meet the Fund’s criteria, 3) generally be part of the same project area as the subject property, preferably as defined by a larger conservation plan, and 4) close prior to the closing of the subject property, but not more than one year before date of application. In addition, to determine eligibility of match parcels, OSI will consider whether the match and the subject properties lie in the same watershed, matrix forest block, natural community, and/or State Wildlife Action Plan priority area.

The following do not qualify as matching funds:

  • Ecological or land restoration dollars
  • Stewardship endowments and land management expenses
  • Staff time, mileage, travel expenses and general overhead


Southern Cumberland Land Protection Fund Inquiries

Jennifer Melville
VP Conservation Grants and Loans

General Information & Application

Yasemin Unal-Rodriguez

212-290-8200 x 311

GIS Assistance

Neil Jordan


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