This fall, BHP Billiton announced that it had joined forces with The Nature Conservancy to establish the joint Sustainable Rivers and Forests Initiative. The conservation initiative has led to the protection of nearly 3,700 acres of critical riverfront property and forestland in Texas and Arkansas.
The program was funded by a $14 million donation from BHP Billiton and has helped The Nature Conservancy renew conservation efforts near Houston, the fastest growing metropolitan area in the United States. It will also enable nearly a dozen restoration and water-quality improvement projects to benefit drinking water, fish habitats and rare species in Arkansas. “BHP Billiton is excited to partner with The Nature Conservancy on this critical conservation initiative. We look beyond our operations to identify opportunities that enhance the resilience of our natural environment because we recognize that watershed protection through critical habitat conservation has a far-reaching impact,” says Steve Pastor, President of Petroleum Operations at BHP Billiton.
The idea for the initiative came about in 2013, when the company approached The Nature Conservancy to discuss how it could make a lasting commitment to conservation in the two states. The selected sites, Texas’ Columbia Bottomlands and Arkansas’ Greers Ferry Lake watershed, were natural choices. Both areas are considered national conservation priorities and are sites where conservation work will benefit both people and nature.
“For decades, The Nature Conservancy has recognized that the private sector has an important role to play in advancing conservation,” says Laura Huffman, Texas State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “We applaud BHP Billiton’s leadership for pursuing conservation as a business strategy and for a level of investment that will make a lasting difference in both states. We have a shared commitment to improving our communities and protecting the natural systems that we all depend on.”
In Texas alone, The Nature Conservancy has purchased close to 1,900 acres of forestland on the Brazos and San Bernard rivers, in a region southwest of Houston known as the Columbia Bottomlands. The Columbia Bottomlands are one of the largest and most important migratory bird stopovers in North America, supporting more than 200 species of birds.
In Arkansas, BHP Billiton’s investment enabled the Conservancy to purchase 1,840 acres along the upper Little Red River. Located in the scenic Ozark Mountains, Arkansas’ upper Little Red River is home to more than 80 native fish and aquatic species. The river also supports Arkansas’ robust tourism industry and is a tributary of Greers Ferry Lake, a source of drinking water for more than 150,000 people and a recreational area for millions.
“The health of Arkansas’ rivers, lakes and streams [is] dependent on good water quality,” says Scott Simon, Arkansas State Director for The Nature Conservancy. “BHP Billiton’s investment will play a critical role in shaping the future of Greers Ferry Lake and the rivers that feed it, not only through the initial land purchases, but through the planned water-quality improvement projects in the watershed.”
The initiative will fund almost a dozen water-quality improvement projects ranging from reforestation and stream restoration to unpaved road improvement, which will ultimately serve as demonstration sites. The properties will also offer people from neighboring cities and communities, researchers, partner organizations and schools opportunities to spend time in nature and learn about conservation in important landscapes.
“These investments in Arkansas and Texas provide benefits that will outlast our operations for generations to come,” says Pastor.
To learn more about community and sustainability efforts at BHP Billiton, visit www.bhpbilliton.com/society/communitynews.
Photo Source: Adobestock