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An investment group of Swedish retail giant Ikea has acquired forestland in southeast Georgia to protect the land and its diverse ecosystems from development.
The Ingka Group, which owns and operates most Ikea stores, purchased 10,840 acres of land near the Altamaha River Basin, the company announced on January 14.
“We truly believe responsible forest management is possible and we see that a large part of our responsibility towards the land we own – and by extension the planet – is to restore forests and plant more than we harvest,” Ingka Investments managing director Krister Mattsson told CNN.
“In all our properties nature conservation is important. In this particular US investment in Georgia, first it is important that the land cannot be broken up into small units and it remains forever forestland.”
The land, acquired from non-profit conservation organization The Conservation Fund, is home to more than 350 plant and wildlife species – including the endangered longleaf pine and gopher tortoise – which are now protected.
Before the European migration to North America, the longleaf pine forest covered more than 90 million acres from southern Virginia to Florida, and as far west as Texas. In Georgia, the tree dominated the southern half of the state.
But less than 4% of that forest is left, due to land clearing for development and agriculture, fire suppression, and the conversion of tree farms to faster growing pine trees like loblolly and slash, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Local timber-based economies will continue to be supported, Mattsson said, and the public will have access to much of the land for recreational purposes.
“We are honored to work with Ingka Group and applaud its dedication to preserve and enhance forest quality in the U.S. and Europe,” The Conservation Fund president Larry Selzer said in a statement. “Well-managed forests provide essential benefits, including clean water and important wildlife habitat, as well as mitigating climate change.”
Through its Working Forests Fund, the Conservation Fund focuses on purchasing working forests and then protecting them with easements that prevent the land from being broken up in future sales. Once the easement is secured, it then resells the land and uses the profits to acquire more forests for protection.
Since 2014, Ingka Investments has bought around 612,821 acres of forestland in the US, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Romania. Along with Georgia, the group owns forest properties in Alabama, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas.
While the Ingka Group is dedicated to investing in and conserving forests, the company has also planted close to 7 million seedlings in countries all over the world.
“For all the forests we own, our commitment is to manage them responsibly, to preserve and increase the quality of the forests over time,” Mattsson said.
“Our vision on forest management is to consider all the functions of a forest and plan for dozens of years ahead. We look at it as a commitment to balance the economic, environmental and social aspects related to the forest.”
The investment in forests is part of Ikea’s commitment to being climate positive. The company has stated its objective to reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire Ikea value chain emits by 2030 while continuing to grow its worldwide business. The Ingka Group currently operates 378 of the 445 Ikea stores worldwide.