Protecting Privately Owned Forests
The goal of the Forest Legacy Program is to prevent the fragmentation or loss of environmentally significant forests — an urgent issue. Every year, the United States loses approximately half a million acres of privately owned forest land to development. We need to protect our forests in order to maintain clean water supplies, preserve wildlife habitat, provide recreational opportunities, preserve scenic landscapes, and produce timber. In particular, we need programs to protect private forest land, since 57% of the nation’s forest land is in private ownership.
The Forest Legacy Program, administered by the U.S. Forest Service, protects privately owned forest land through the purchase of conservation easements or land in fee. Landowners’ participation in the program is entirely voluntary. By 2012, this program helped to protect over 2.25 million acres of forests in 46 states and territories.
Land Trusts’ Role in Forest Legacy Projects
Land or easements acquired through the Forest Legacy Program must be held by the U.S. Forest Service or by a state or local government agency. However, land trusts play a major role in many Forest Legacy projects.
For starters, land trusts can help states complete the conservation planning necessary to enroll in the Forest Legacy Program. Is your state enrolled? In addition, land trusts often serve on their state’s Forest Stewardship Coordinating Committee, which helps to set priorities and review project applications.
Land trusts also move individual Forest Legacy projects forward, using their local connections and their expertise in land transactions. Land trusts can identify potential projects and bring landowners to the table. They can help negotiate the purchase of land or easements. In some cases, land trusts make the initial acquisition, then go on to transfer the land or easement to a government agency. Land trusts can also monitor (but not enforce) Forest Legacy easements. All of these activities are potentially reimbursable through Forest Legacy funding.
Land trusts can also help to provide the cost match for Forest Legacy projects. While the Forest Legacy Program may pay up to 75%, in practice, federal funds are usually more leveraged by state, local, or private sources. One way to make the matching contribution is by conserving adjoining land, through easements or fee acquisition, the value of which can count toward the match.
Advocacy by Land Trust Alliance and the land trust community has helped to shape the Forest Legacy Program since it was created in 1990 Farm Bill. However, one of our top legislative goals is to expand the eligibility of land trusts to hold easements acquired with Forest Legacy funds.
Forest Legacy Program is routinely funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). We consistently push for adequate funding for Forest Legacy and other federal conservation programs. See a chart of year-by-year funding levels.
Could the Forest Legacy Program be the key to protecting endangered forests in your region? See the program website to learn more.