By Allison Barszcz
Before Congress left for spring recess, MNA and other conservancies across the state sent a joint letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts urging the strengthening of the Farm Bill by allowing federal funding for land acquisition or conservation easement projects where groups like MNA own the land or hold the easement, not a government agency.
The recommendations address a key federal program, the Forest Legacy Program, which aims to protect privately-owned forests from development and conversion to non-forest uses by purchasing land or securing conservation easements from landowners. The Forest Legacy Program has helped protect more than 425 square miles of Michigan’s privately owned forests, including lands that buffer more than 192 miles of Class A trout streams, protect more than 300 inland lakes and preserve 52,000 acres of forested wetlands.
However, the program has the potential to do much more. In its current form, the Forest Legacy Program does not allow for a direct partnership with nonprofit conservation organizations. Current law allows only government entities to own the land or hold the conservation easements, which can create a significant long-term financial strain on state agencies and prevent important conservation projects from moving forward.
If enhancements are made to the Forest Legacy Program to allow government agencies to partner with qualified nonprofit conservation organizations, organizations like MNA could more easily preserve forested areas buffering nature sanctuaries, protecting habitats at a much greater scale. Studies have shown that conserving land at a larger scale helps protect sensitive habitat from the potential effects of invasive species, altered hydrology, climate change and other threats.
The last Farm Bill passed in 2008 and will expire this year unless Congress acts. Changing the Farm Bill’s Forest Legacy Program to allow groups like MNA to hold the easements it funds would reduce costs for government agencies, allow for additional investment from private funding sources, and significantly expand the success of the Forest Legacy Program.
You can read the latest about the Farm Bill in this posting by the National Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture.