US congressmen introduce bipartisan Forest Legacy Management Flexibility Act, which would authorize states to allow accredited land trusts, conservation groups and similar to acquire, hold, and manage conservation easements under Forest Legacy Program

WASHINGTON , May 6, 2014 (press release) – Today, Congressman John Garamendi (D-CA-03), a former Deputy Secretary of U.S. Department of Interior, and Congressman Chris Gibson (R-NY-19), announced the introduction of H.R. 4551, the Forest Legacy Management Flexibility Act. The bill would authorize states to allow qualified entities to acquire, hold, and manage conservation easements under the Forest Legacy Program. Click here to read the legislation. H.R. 4551 has been referred to the House Agriculture Committee, of which both Congressmen are Members.

"Protecting our great outdoors provides enormous benefits for our economy, education, and quality of life. When independent entities demonstrate a commitment and ability to manage conservation easements, states should be allowed to designate them as managers – and this bill authorizes that option. Qualified independent stewardship can save taxpayers money while often offering better management, particularly in lean budget years," said Congressman Garamendi, a former Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior.

"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," said Congressman Gibson.

"Other federal-state conservation programs already call on land trusts to help implement their programs over the long term through having them hold, monitor, and steward conservation easements, such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Agricultural Lands Easement Program and the North American Wetlands Conservation Act," said Laurie Wayburn, President of the Pacific Forest Trust, which helped bring the Forest Legacy program to California in 1995. "This approach encourages additional funding partnerships with the charitable sector as well, given that philanthropies often prefer to give to non-profits rather than undertake what they see as a government obligation. And, many private landowners prefer to work with qualified, non-profit land trusts rather than governmental entities. Enabling Forest Legacy to also leverage this kind of private partnership will make this program even better."

"This very simple legislation, if adopted, will establish flexibility in the administration of the Forest Legacy Program to allow greater efficiency and effectiveness, at no cost to the public. In fact, it will save public dollars. We are enormously grateful to Representatives Gibson and Garamendi for their leadership in introducing this bill," said Peter Paden, Executive Director of Columbia Land Conservancy, which is based in New York.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Legislation

What does the Forest Legacy legislation do?

  • The Forest Legacy legislation allows qualified non-profit land trusts to hold the interests in land (conservation easements) financed in part by Forest Legacy funds, if a state voluntarily chooses to elect this option for a particular easement or easements.

Why is this helpful/essential?

  • The legislation leverages more private, philanthropic funding/cost share for projects in the Forest Legacy Program, as Forest Legacy does not cover the entire cost of projects. Many charitable donors will donate to land conservation projects with non-profit land trusts that will simply not donate to government agencies.
  • The legislation increases the impact of the program at no cost to the federal government. With increased funding of Forest Legacy highly unlikely at the federal level, such increased charitable funding is essential to meet the match needs of the Program, as well as to expand the Program’s impact. As the stated priority of Forest Legacy and the USFS is to move Forest Legacy impact to the landscape scale, increased partner funding is essential to accomplish that goal.
  • The legislation saves money for state governments that choose to allow third parties to hold easements, as they would not be responsible for stewardship and monitoring costs.

What the Forest Legacy legislation does NOT do.

  • The legislation does NOT change the current Forest Legacy application or selection process. The states and the USFS maintain existing control over the process for selecting projects to fund with Forest Legacy.
  • The legislation does NOT allow third parties to apply to the USFS for Forest Legacy financing – all projects must still go through the state selection process and then the state pitches for proposals before the USFS.
  • States are NOT required to designate that a land trust hold easements if they don’t want to – under the legislation’s terms individual states decide whether third parties can hold easements.
  • The USFS will NOT face extra administrative burdens – they will continue to oversee state implementation of Forest Legacy, not the performance of third parties. Many states already exercise this approach for easements that they fund through their own state money.
  • The legislation does NOT favor one region of the country over another – the national process for selecting Forest Legacy projects remains the same and historically this process has sought regional balance in project selection.
  • The legislation does NOT create extra demand for Forest Legacy revenue – rather it allows scarce government money to be spread further around by leveraging greater private sector financing.

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