Ohio counties waiting to be approved for woodland easement program

SALEM, Ohio – Landowners in 31 of Ohio’s northeastern and southeastern counties may be eligible for special protection of their forest land under the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program.

According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the program is a partnership between participating states and the USDA Forest Service. The goal is to identify and help protect environmentally important forests from conversion to nonforest uses.

Easement protection. The main tool used for protecting these forests is conservation easements.

The federal government may fund up to 75 percent of program costs, with at least 25 percent coming from private state or local sources.

Mark Ervin of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources said the program assists states in acquiring permanent conservation easements from willing sellers.

“Willing sellers is the key point,” Ervin said.

Forest Legacy conservation easements are legal agreements made with property owners to forever restrict development on their land.

What happens. The state or federal government pays for and holds the title to the conservation easement.

The landowner is paid the market value of the easement based on an appraisal that is conducted of all properties.

The landowner retains ownership of the land and can continue the activities that occurred on the land in the past as long as they do not conflict with the terms of the easement.

The conservation easement remains in place even if the land is sold. The new owner is still bound to the terms and may not convert the land to nonforest uses.

Landowners also benefit from reduced taxes associated with limits placed on land use.

Targeted areas. The focus will be on woodlands where timber production is a primary land-management objective.

“We’re just getting approved at the federal level,” Ervin said. “We want people to take a look at the program and document their comments before the final submission.”

Pa. program. In Pennsylvania, the Forest Legacy Program started in 1998 but not one project has been completed.

“It took a long time to get involved because of funding,” said Gene Odato of the state Bureau of Forestry. “It wasn’t too enticing, but it’s getting better.”

Odato said the state has developed a different strategy now and there are lots of owners interested in maintaining forest land and forest practices.

The sad thing is, he said, “there’s not enough money to satisfy all.”

He said they have between 50 and 60 applicants, but only one project can be done a year, due to funding.

Watershed emphasis. In Pennsylvania, the current concentration is on the watersheds.

Odato said that they look for donations of easements that are in areas critical for drinking water and land that is ideal for timber harvest.

Under the program, timber harvesters must follow sustainable forest practices.

This also provides owners with an income for their land that would normally be maintained forest land but without having to resort to subdividing and selling the land to developers.

No funding. Odato said that it’s hard to get started because there are not enough funds to finish projects.

He said that Pennsylvania is looking at a bond issue but funds may become available from the Growing Greener II organization.

To be included in the Forest Legacy Program, a property must lie partially or entirely within a designated Forest Legacy Area.

To have your property considered for the program, first contact your state forester, who will work with the state lead agency.

Ohioans can get more information at www.ohioforestlegacy.com or by calling Mark Ervin at 614-265-6667.

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