What is Forest Legacy?
What if all the trees were removed and the ground paved? Where would you go to hike, fish, and see wildlife? Where would the wood for you home, furniture, and newspapers come from? Where would you go to breathe clean, fresh air, teach your children about nature, or enjoy a quiet shady place?
Nearly 10 billion acres of forest cover almost one-third of the earth, but nearly 42 million of these acres (about the size of Minnesota) disappear each year. Experts expect this trend to increase into the next century.
In North Carolina almost 60% of the land is still forested and most of it is privately-owned. Increasingly, these private forests which are valued for so many things are being developed with houses and shopping malls, second homes, or divided into smaller pieces.
Economic pressure on forest owners, such as escalating land values and property taxes, means more rural areas are becoming suburbs and more suburban area are becoming cities. With nearly one-half of the nation's growing population located in this area, the conversion to non-forest uses and subdivision of forests continues. How can some of these forests be conserved?
The Forest Legacy Program was created by Congress in the 1990 Farm Bill. Its purpose is to help landowners, state and local governments, and private land trusts identify and protect environmentally important forest lands that are threatened by present and future conversion to non-forest uses. The Forest Legacy Program is designed to assure that both traditional uses of private lands and the public values of America's forest resources are protected for future generations.
While state and local governments are taking action through planning, tax policies and incentives, and private groups such as land trusts are purchasing and conserving some of these forests as well, they can't do it alone. The Forest Legacy Program can help.
What are "environmentally important" forest lands? They include:
- Forest buffers that stabilize soil and provide a natural filter for potential pollutants that might get into streams and rivers.
- Recreational resources such as places to swim, hike and camp.
- Fish and wildlife habitat such as clear, cold brooks for trout and dense forest cover to help deer survive cold, snowy winters.
- Cultural value like unique geology, historic settlements, artifacts, or even dinosaur bones!
- Beautiful scenery to enjoy from trails or roads.
- Areas that grow timber and wood fiber rapidly.
- Other ecological values such as clean air and water.
The most important part of Forest Legacy is the private landowner who wants to conserve the special values of her/his land for future generations. Owners can do this in trust with the State government and receive a fair price for the commitment. Willing owners who are accepted into the program can sell the right to develop the land, to the state government. The government will pay for these rights at full fair market value. The owner keeps any remaining property rights and usually continues to live on and work /manage the property. Property taxes are paid by the owner on any retained rights as determined by local assessors.
Owners may sell their retained rights to other buyers at any time. If only development rights are sold, the State government would hold a "conservation easement" on the property ...forever...and landowners would be committed to managing their property according to the easement that they have voluntarily sold.
We re-emphasize that the Legacy program is based exclusively on the "willing seller - willing buyer" concept. There is no condemnation of the property or eminent domain taking. In essence, when a woodland owner voluntarily decides to sell certain property rights using a conservation easement, she/he retains the ownership of the land which remains on the public tax roll.
Some other facets of the Forest Legacy Program include:
- A Federal-State partnership where each State can develop its own assessment guidelines to meet local needs within the Federal requirements
- Seventy-five percent limit on the Federal share of Forest Legacy Program costs.
- Delegation of management and monitoring (when easements are acquired) to State or local governments.
Interested? If you want more information about Forest Legacy, contact:
Forest Stewardship Coordinator Jonathan Murray
N.C. Forest Service
1616 Mail Service Center RALEIGH, NC 27699-1600