The National Deer Association (NDA) applauds the recent bipartisan introduction of the Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) Act of 2023. This innovative legislation will fill a critical gap and help keep private forestland intact and sustainably managed for timber, allowing the lands to continue providing numerous benefits to rural and urban communities. The legislation was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Annie Kuster (D-NH) and Trent Kelly (R-MS).
According to the U.S. Endowment for Forestry and Communities, approximately 500,000 acres of U.S. forestland are converted to other land uses every year, highlighting the urgency of conserving and maintaining privately owned forested areas. While this forestland loss has been offset by reforestation of other lands, the quality of forests replacing those that have been lost are not equal. Moreover, forests are facing greater threats than ever before, including wildfire, habitat loss, pests, diseases and invasive species.
“It’s astonishing that we’re losing more than a half million acres of quality forestland in the United States annually, which is a direct negative impact on healthy and sustainable wildlife habitats. That’s unacceptable, and we have to do better,” said Nick Pinizzotto, President and CEO of NDA. “A Forest Conservation Easement Program would be an important tool for private forestland owners to keep their lands working while still providing critical conservation benefits.”
FCEP will prevent the conversion of forests into non-forest areas by offering reliable funding to purchase development rights from willing private landowners, which will be codified as voluntary conservation easements. FCEP is an expansion of and successor to the current Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
At its core, FCEP introduces two components, both of which seek to expand conservation program options on private and tribal forestland while supporting sustainable forest management and production:
- Through forest land easements, NRCS will allow eligible entities, such as land trusts, to purchase working forest conservation easements, filling a void among federal programs. Currently, no existing forest easement program allows land trusts to hold easements.
- Through forest reserve easements, NRCS will purchase forest conservation easements directly from forest landowners while additionally providing financial assistance for the management and restoration of the lands to benefit at-risk species. This aspect of FCEP serves as the successor to the HFRP.
The NDA, along with a broad coalition of conservation, sportsmen, and working forest organizations and companies, is working to include FCEP legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill’s conservation title with mandatory funding.