Forest Legacy Program

The purpose of the Forest Legacy Program (FLP) is to protect environmentally important forestland 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 FLP promotes the use of permanent conservation easements. These easements provide a new approach, 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.

The program is entirely voluntary. Landowners who wish to participate may sell or transfer particular rights, such as the right to develop the property or to allow public access, while retaining ownership of the property and the right to use it in any way consistent with the terms of the easement. The agency or organization holding the easement is responsible for managing the rights it acquires and for monitoring compliance by the landowner. Forest management activities, including timber harvesting, hunting, fishing and hiking are encouraged provided they are consistent with the program's purpose.

The "Legacy" program as administered by CAL FIRE is comprised of two separate but complimentary programs: the Federal Forest Legacy Program and the California Forest Legacy Program. Below is a brief overview of the programs.

The federal Forest Legacy (16 U.S.C. Sec. 2103c) program was part of the 1990 Federal Farm Bill. It recognized that private forestland owners were facing increased pressure due to greater population densities and users demands, to convert their forestlands to other uses, such as housing subdivisions, rural lots and vineyards. Furthermore, forestland provides a wide variety of products and services including fish and wildlife habitat, aesthetic qualities, timber and recreation opportunities. Good stewardship of privately held forest lands requires a long-term commitment that can be fostered through a partnership of local, state and Federal government efforts.

The objective of the Federal Forest Legacy Program is to identify and protect environmentally important forestlands that are threatened by present or future conversion to non-forest uses. Priority is to be given to lands that can be effectively protected and managed and that have important scenic, recreational, timber, riparian, fish and wildlife, threatened and endangered species, and other cultural and environmental values.

The Federal Forest Legacy Program is not solely a protection program. Eligible properties may be "working forests," where forestland is managed for the production of forest products and traditional forest uses are maintained. These forest uses will include both commodity outputs and non-commodity values. The purpose of these easements is to maintain these forests intact to provide such traditional forest benefits as timber production, wildlife habitat, watershed protection and/or open space. These forests remain in private ownership, except for the restrictions on development or other uses conveyed by the conservation easement to the agency selected by the landowner.

In both programs the involvement by private landowners is voluntary. Federal funds are limited to 75% of the value of the conservation easement with the remaining portion contributed by non-federal matching funds. Landowner contributions may be part of the match.

Project costs covered by the Federal Legacy grants include interests in lands (including actual purchase price), appraisals, land surveys, closing costs, establishing baseline information, title work, purchase of title insurance, conservation easement drafting and other real estate transaction expenses. Also included are funds expended to facilitate donations of land or interests in lands to a qualified and willing donee for Program purposes. For outright donations of a conservation easement or land, Federal funds may not be used to pay for an appraisal since the Forest Service does not need a determination of fair market value.

In 2000, the Governor signed into law SB1832, the California Forest Legacy Act. This law allows the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to acquire conservation easements, and permit Federal, State agencies, local governments and nonprofit land trust organizations to hold conservation easements acquired pursuant to the California Forest Legacy Program. Money to fund the Program shall be obtained from gifts, donations, federal grants and loans, other appropriate funding sources, and from the sale of bonds pursuant to the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000.

The agency or organization holding the easement is responsible for monitoring compliance by the landowner. CAL FIRE and the easement holders are responsible for working cooperatively with participating landowners to design their easements. It is expected that landowners will retain all responsibility for managing their forest resources consistent with the terms they establish in their conservation easements. Landowners participating in the programs will be required to prepare a multi-resource management plan that is the equivalent, or more extensive than, a Forest Stewardship Plan (as per US Forest Service guidelines). This plan must be acceptable to the state and approved prior to signing the acquisition of the easement.

Neither the Federal Forest Legacy Program nor the California Forestry Legacy Program Act of 2000 allows project funds to be used to cover monitoring costs. Endowments are generally provided for by the landowner at the close of escrow sufficient to cover the costs over time.

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