New program aims to protect forests

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SALEM, Ohio – The world of agriculture has taken some big steps when it comes to land conservation, but what about woodlands?
For forest owners who want to see their trees permanently standing tall, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Legacy program could be the answer.
“It’s a direct mirror of the ag easement program,” said Mark Ervin, special project administrator at the department.
Woodland owners in 31 eastern Ohio counties are eligible to apply for the program, which provides a one-time payment to those who voluntarily agree to keep their property as a working forest. Applications for the program are due Feb. 9.
The Forest Legacy program is coordinated nationally by the USDA Forest Service and administered in Ohio by the ODNR Division of Forestry.
Goals. At the national level, the main goal of the Forest Legacy program is to prevent forest land from becoming nonforest land. The state program shares a similar, but more specific objective.
“In Ohio, we have targeted maintaining working forest land,” Ervin said.
Working forest land is land that’s being actively managed for timber and other forest benefits.
Although the program has been around nationally since 1990, this is only the second time Ohioans have had the opportunity to submit applications.
For landowners considering application, Ervin said it’s important to think about the long-term results.
“They have to be sure this is something they want to do because this conservation easement is perpetual in nature,” he said.
Once the agreement is made, it runs with the deed and future landowners are also bound to the contract.
The program includes a conservation agreement that says the property won’t be developed and that the forest will be managed according to a stewardship plan developed jointly by the landowner and ODNR.
The plan will guide landowners in timber management and help them meet their goals for the property.
Will you be first? Since the program is new to Ohio, the state is still waiting to enroll its first forest, according to Ervin. The ODNR can submit three properties for consideration at the federal level.
While bigger is usually better in terms of acres, there is no minimum acreage requirement to apply for the program. Ervin said any key, strategic property, regardless of size, will be considered.
Landowners enrolled the program do not have to grant public access to their land and they will retain all rights of use. The Division of Forestry will need access for annual monitoring, but landowners will have prior notification.
The amount of money a landowner receives is determined by a land appraisal. The land is appraised before and after there are conservation restrictions in place and the difference in those appraisals is the amount of money the landowner is eligible to receive.
More owners. More than one-third of Ohio is covered by forests and while that number has remained steady in recent years, the number of landowners has gone from 320,000 to almost 400,000. That means landowners are buying smaller wood lots and the Forest Legacy program can help protect from the impacts of fragmentation.
At the same time, the Forest Legacy program also provides financial return to woodland owners without requiring a lot of changes.
“It can be a very good way to get some monetary return for the property and continue to use it as they always have,” Ervin said.
(Reporter Janelle Skrinjar welcomes feedback by phone at 800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at jskrinjar@farmanddairy.com.)

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