National Forest Legacy Legislation
The Forest Legacy Program – enacted with the 1990 Farm Bill – provides federal funding for conservation easements on forested lands that are deemed to be of national importance. An ideal example of public private partnership, it is responsible for the conservation of more than two million acres. However, a provision within the program requires state agencies to hold the conservation easements, and this has limited both the pool of partners who are willing to participate and the ease with which the program is administered.
According to co-sponsor Chris Gibson (R-NY), "The forest legacy program enjoys broad support in Congress and among the land trust and conservation community. This common-sense reform will allow accredited land trusts and conservation groups to hold and manage forest legacy projects, bringing this critical program into line with other conservation programs. This is a competitive program and demand outpaces funding. This reform will allow States, if they choose, to leverage private funding sources."
Please encourage your federal legislators to support H.R. 4551, the Forest Legacy Management Flexibility Act. The bill aims to allow individual states to decide whether qualified land trusts may hold the easements that are acquired with the help of the Forest Legacy Program. It does not force any action on the agencies currently operating Forest Legacy, but rather provides the flexibility to those agencies to allow land trusts – whose very purpose it is to manage and audit conservation easements - the ability to take a greater role in the Forest Legacy Program.
There’s a move underway to open the Forest Legacy program up to private land trusts. In the past, state government has been the sole holder of protected forest lands. Easements are an essential conservation tool, responsible for many millions of protected acres in all regions of the United States.
As you probably know, conservation easements make it possible for citizens to retain ownership of their lands while simultaneously ensuring that lands are permanently protected for future generations. Easements provide the certainty of enduring land management – frequently in the form of working forests or agricultural lands – allowing for enjoyment and use by owners.