WASHINGTON, D.C. - The USDA Forest Service recently reached a milestone of protecting more than 2 million acres of private forests threatened by development. The Forest Service's Northeastern Area helped the agency reach the milestone when the state of Ohio purchased a 15,494-acre property as the new Vinton Furnace State Experimental Forest approximately 90 miles south of Columbus.
"With more than half of the country's forests in private ownership, it is vital that we work with landowners to conserve our forests for the benefit of the environment and rural jobs," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "Through the success of the Forest Legacy Program, the Forest Service has demonstrated that through partnerships with states, conservation groups, landowners and forest industry, we can protect our forests for future generations."
The milestone was achieved through public-private partnership using federal and leveraged funds of approximately $1.1 billion through the Forest Legacy program. The Legacy program has leveraged the federal investment of more than 50 percent of project costs. To date, more than $630 million has been contributed to these efforts through non-federal matching funds.
The Forest Legacy program works with private landowners, states and conservation groups to promote sustainable, working forests. In fiscal year 2010, the program was funded at more than $79 million to assist landowners across the country to conserve and manage their land while protecting environmentally important landscapes.
Roughly 57 percent of the nation's forests are privately owned yet the country has lost 15 million acres of private working forests in the last 10 years with an additional 22 million acres projected to be at risk in the next decade.
"The Forest Legacy program has protected millions of acres of privately owned forests that could have easily been turned into strip malls and housing developments," said Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service. "This program operates on a 'willing buyer, willing seller' principle for private landowners to promote environmental, social and economic benefits for all."
Work with hundreds of landowners during the past 20 years has created many forest legacy success stories, some of which include:
• The Moose Mountain Reservation in New Hampshire, whose wood, water, wildlife, scenic and recreational values will be sustained and managed over the long term thanks to the Forest Legacy Program, the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development, the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and many others. Moose Mountain has been protected since 2006.
• The Blonquist family, third generation ranchers, entered into a conservation easement with the Forest Legacy Program that both protects their ranch and allows them to be part of a bigger conservation effort east of Park City. Six Feathers Ranch has been protected since 2005.
• Wao Kele O'Puna is a 26,000 acre tract that is the last largest remaining expanse of low-land lava rainforest on the Big Island of Hawaii. This property was for many years the focus of struggle for native Hawaiians who sought to protect Wao Kele O'Puna from development so that they might retain access to the site to collect plants for native rituals and to visit burial sites. Wao Kele O'Puna was protected in 2007 and is now managed by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the Nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The Agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to State and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.