Forest Legacy Program
As part of the 1990 Farm Bill, Congress created the Forest Legacy Program under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to identify and protect environmentally important private forestlands threatened with conversion to non-forest uses (such as subdivision for residential or commercial development).
To help maintain the integrity and traditional uses of private forestlands, the Forest Legacy Program promotes the use of conservation easements. These easements provide a new tool with which the federal government--in cooperation with state and local agencies, private organizations and individuals--can preserve the rich heritage of private forests across the nation.
The need for forest legacy
More than 70 percent of the productive forestland in the U.S. today--347 million acres--is privately owned. Forest products companies own 20 percent of these lands, while farmers, individuals and other private organizations own the remainder.
Roles of private forests
These private forests play important roles throughout the nation. They provide clean air and water, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and wood products, all of which benefit people locally, regionally and nationally. However, each year about 2 million acres of open space nationwide are converted to other uses, amounting to almost 6,000 acres a day.
Threatening land use changes
Several economic forces threaten to change the uses of these lands. Due to rapid urban expansion and increasing affluence, growing numbers of people are seeking a piece of the rural forest landscape for themselves. Areas along lakeshores, rivers and in the mountains are most threatened. Investors and speculators--often with little interest in maintaining traditional land uses--see an opportunity for capturing higher values from these forestlands because they are found in attractive natural environments. If left unchecked, these development forces could have significant impacts on the landscape, people, communities and the environment in areas where private forests have long been a part of a natural resource-based heritage.
To maintain traditional uses such as forest management for outdoor recreation, wood products and wildlife habitat, state and local governments are taking action through local planning and land-use controls, tax policies, incentives and regulations. Private conservation organizations--such as land trusts--are acquiring and protecting private forestlands and landowners themselves are continuing to manage their lands as forests.
Through the Forest Legacy Program, the federal government is responding in a way that strengthens and complements these state, local and private efforts. Forest legacy conservation easements will help protect Wisconsin's valuable forests.
How forest legacy works
The Department of Natural Resources Division of Forestry is responsible for administering the program offered by the USDA Forest Service. The program allows the state of Wisconsin to purchase conservation easements on forestland from willing sellers to keep the land in its forested state. Landowners may continue to own their land and retain all other rights to the property, including the right to sell. The conservation easement is recorded with the property deed and transferred with the sale or transfer of the property.
USDA Forest Service funds cover 75 percent of the total program cost; the other 25 percent comes from nonfederal sources. These may include a donation of part of the easement value from the landowner, a non-profit organization interested in the project, or in some cases, state funds. In special situations, the state may consider purchasing the land with Forest Legacy Program funds.