Stream restoration work, fencing and other steps to improve water quality in streams on a 524.5-acre cattle farm in Antioch Township are planned under a conservation easement agreement filed at the Wilkes Register of Deeds office on Jan. 23.
The agreement is between Deep Gap-based Critcher Brothers Produce Inc., owner of the property, and Charlotte-based Wildlands Engineering Inc.
The work will be on the Middle Fork of Fishing Creek and its tributaries on the property, which is east of Shew Ridge Road, north of Robin Hill Road and west of Antioch Church Road. The project is unique for its magnitude and diversity of stream types, said Shawn Wilkerson, Wildlands president.
Wilkerson said that as part of the project, Wildlands will install fencing along streams to keep cattle out, build well-fed watering systems and establish vegetative buffers within the fencing.
Also as part of the project, he said, Wildlands will stabilize eroded streambanks; create meanders, pools and riffles; and do other stream restoration work on the property.
The conservation easement applies permanently to land within certain distances from the streams. It requires that cattle remain fenced out of streams and that vegetative buffers be maintained.
Wildlands is responsible for costs of the stream restoration work, fencing, watering systems, vegetative buffers and any related work. Wildlands purchased the conservation easement agreement, which was signed by Wilkerson and Roger Critcher, secretary of Critcher Brothers.
In return for placing the easement, and constructing the stream improvements, Wildlands will receive “mitigation credits” as allowed under state and federal law.
Wildlands can sell the credits to public or private entities to help them secure permits for projects with grading or construction activities that will damage streams elsewhere in the Yadkin River subwatershed. This consists of Wilkes, Surry, Yadkin, Forsyth, Davie and parts of Caldwell and Watauga counties.
The credits will be held in the Yadkin Valley Umbrella Mitigation Bank, one of numerous state-approved mitigation banks with mitigation credits available for sale.
Wilkerson said that for each year conditions of the conservation easement on the property are met, up to seven years, Wildlands will receive a certain number of credits per year.
Unique Places to Save, described on its website as an entrepreneurial nonprofit, was deeded the conservation easement and also is responsible for long-term stewardship of the conservation easement.
Wilkerson noted that a conservation easement must be held by a nonprofit third party, which often is a land trust or other private, nonprofit conservation organization.
He said Wildlands simultaneously is engaged in two projects in Surry County and one in Watauga County involving conservation easements that will add to its mitigation credits in the Yadkin Valley Umbrella Mitigation Bank. Unique Places to Save will also hold these conservation easements.
The Surry projects are on agricultural properties, where stream restoration and protection similar to the work on the Critcher Brothers Produce Farm in Wilkes is planned.
Wilkerson said Wildlands also purchased a conservation easement on over 700 acres in Wilkes and Watauga counties adjoining the Blue Ridge Mountain Club. The acreage includes Dugger Creek and several of its tributaries—totaling about 20 miles of streams, protecting valuable trout habitat and pristine mountain streams.
Wildlands, founded in 2007, is an ecologically focused engineering company specializing in water resources, stream and wetland restoration, and water quality management.