Forest Conservation Easement Program Legislation Introduced in the Senate

Forest Conservation Easement Program Legislation Introduced in the Senate

On July 27, the Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) Act of 2023 was introduced in the U.S. Senate by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY and Roger Wicker, R-Miss. The legislation mirrors a bill introduced in the House in May (H.R. 3424 sponsored by Representatives Trent Kelly, R-Miss., and Annie Kuster, D-NH). The goal of both bills is to include the program in the 2023 Farm Bill with mandatory funding.

“Forestry is one of the largest agricultural industries in Mississippi, creating jobs and providing valuable habitats to wildlife,” Senator Wicker said in a release. “I am glad to work alongside our nation’s forest owners to protect more of our land and preserve this vital industry for future generations.”

The proposed new Forest Conservation Easement Program within the Farm Bill would focus on purchasing development rights from willing private landowners through voluntary conservation easements. Existing forest easement programs under the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program (FLP) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) target state or federal conservation priorities. The FCEP program would be an expansion of and successor to the current HFRP but fills an existing need by providing funding for two different easement options: forest land easements and forest reserve easements. The FCEP forest land easements could be acquired by non-federal and non-state entities, like the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), which fills a current funding gap for forestland.

A coalition of conservation organizations are working together to include FCEP in the 2023 Farm Bill and have developed resources explaining the proposed program.

August 15, 2023