Congress Creates New Federal Community Forest Program (VT)

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a non-profit land conservation organization, today applauded U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy for his efforts to create and include the new Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program in the 2008 Farm Bill. The Senate passed the bill today as part of the farm bill package by a vote of 81-15. The House passed it yesterday by a 318-106 vote.

The new program will provide federal matching grants to local governments and qualified non-profit organizations across the country to acquire forests and open spaces for local ownership and management. In Vermont, the grant program would be open to the growing ranks of Vermont communities seeking to purchase land for a community-owned forest, supported with technical assistance in forest management from the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation.

“Senator Leahy has once again demonstrated his leadership for community-led conservation by shepherding this exciting new program through the difficult congressional process,” said Rodger Krussman, Vermont and New Hampshire State Director for The Trust for Public Land. “Through our recent work with the towns of Hinesburg and West Fairlee to create new town forests, we know that Vermont communities are ready to take a lead role in conserving our forests and keeping Vermonters connected to the land.”

“Sixty percent of the nation’s forests are privately owned, with some 262 million acres held by families and individuals. These forests support local economies, they provide wildlife habitat and sport access, and their benefits even include the clean water and air and open spaces that millions need and use every day,” said Senator Leahy. “Today private forestlands are facing enormous development pressures in communities across America. In Vermont and other states, this new program will help communities conserve and carefully manage those forests that are most economically, culturally and environmentally important to their future and offer much-needed public access for recreational activities like hunting, fishing, boating and hiking. The new Community Forest Program will give local communities new tools to help them keep a good thing going, for generations to come.”

Recent statistics and projections make clear that forests in Vermont and across the nation will face increased development pressure in the coming decades. According to the U.S. Forest Service, another 44 million acres of private forests are expected to see significant increases in housing development by 2030, including 500,000 acres of private forestland considered at extreme risk for development in and around Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest. In response, communities in Vermont have become national leaders in acquiring forest and open space lands, with Vermont communities now owning more than 120,000 acres of town forest across 121 different towns. In just the last few months, the towns of Hinesburg and Marshfield have purchased land and created town forests – the leading edge of a growing wave of new town forest acquisitions under consideration in other communities that includes current efforts in West Fairlee to create a new 1,200-acre Community Forest. The new Farm Bill community forest grant program will help feed this growing interest in town forests, which is being energized by the Vermont Town Forest Project that TPL has helped to lead with the Northern Forest Alliance and more than 30 public and private partners.

“For the town of West Fairlee, our work to create a new Brushwood Community Forest this coming fall has been about much more than just the land—it has been a catalyst to bring our community closer together,” said Patricia Ayres Crawford of the West Fairlee Select Board. “Thanks to Senator Leahy’s new program, many other communities in Vermont and across the country will be able to experience how a community forest can become a rallying point for citizens to connect to the land and each other.”

“Sen. Leahy’s championship of this program will enable families in Vermont towns to protect open forest spaces for hunting, fishing and other recreational uses,” said Michael Francis, a Vermont resident and director of the national forest program for The Wilderness Society. “The program will compliment Vermonters already deep affection for our mountains, streams and valleys.”

The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program will give communities grants to help purchase key forest lands that provide “right out the back door” public access and other community benefits. These community forests will be true public assets that provide endless dividends, ranging from clean water supplies and timber harvest revenues that feed local budgets to community activities like hunting and fishing and recreation and education programs aimed at reducing the nature deficit in today’s younger generation.

The Trust for Public Land, established in 1972, specializes in conservation real estate, applying its expertise in negotiations, public finance, and law to protect land for people to enjoy as parks, greenways, community gardens, urban playgrounds, and wilderness. Since its inception in 1972, TPL has completed 3,500 land conservation projects in 46 states, protecting more than 2.3 million acres across the country, including more than 330,000 acres throughout New England. TPL depends on the support of individuals, foundations, and corporations. For more information, visit TPL on the web at