As part of the 1990 Farm Bill, Congress created the Forest Legacy Program 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 forest-lands, the Forest Legacy Program promotes the use of conservation easements and fee simple purchase of threatened private lands. These easements and purchases 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.
More than 70 percent of the productive forestland in the U.S. today, approximately 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. 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 two million acres of open space nationwide are converted to other uses, amounting to almost 6,000 acres a day.
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. Through the Forest Legacy Program, the federal government is responding in a way that strengthens and compliments these state, local and private efforts. Forest Legacy conservation easements will help protect South Dakota’s valuable forests.
How does the Forest Legacy Program work?
SDDA is responsible for administering the program offered by the USDA Forest Service. The program allows the state of South Dakota to purchase forest land and conservation easements from willing sellers with Forest Legacy funds to keep the land in its forested state.
USDA Forest Service funds 75% of the total program cost and the landowner provides 25%. The landowner’s share may come from non-federal sources such as a donation of part of the land value from the landowner or a non-profit organization interested in the project. Landowners may continue to own their land and retain all other rights to the property including the right to sell the property.
In order for states to be eligible for Forest Legacy funds they must develop an Assessment of Need (AON) which identifies recommended Forest Legacy Areas within the state, develops criteria for identifying recommended Forest Legacy Areas, establishes goals for the State’s Forest Legacy Program and outlines the public involvement process. South Dakota’s AON was approved on November 2, 2009.