The Forest Service last week announced its plans to spend $54 million on 35 "working forests" across the country.
Its Forest Legacy Program is the only federal grant program aimed at protecting private forests. Well over half the forests in the United States are privately owned, and as the land passes from one generation to the next, its chances of being carved up, sold off and developed increase.
"Private forest landowners account for almost 60 percent of Americas forests, and many of them are now selling their lands to developers," Associate Forest Service Chief Sally Collins said in a speech in June 2007. "If current trends continue, we will lose about 23 million acres from 1997 to 2050, an area the size of Maine."
Communities, often, only recognize the value of preserving open space after it comes under threat of development. By that time, the value of the land has skyrocketed, given that any value in an acre of timber has been outweighed by the value of a home or four, on that acre.
Case in point: The Forest Service will spend $3.46 million to preserve the 3,500-acre Paulding County Land area about an hour out of sprawling Atlanta, Ga. Move up the Appalachian Trail to its other terminus, in Maine, and the Forest Service is spending almost as much $3.27 to preserve the 42,241-acre Lower Penobscot Forest.
Spend 5.5% less to get 12 times more.
That's a bargain, and one communities outside of the fast-growing megalopolises of the United States should consider.
Given the recent collapse of the real estate market, it's also something those fast-growing communities may be able to take advantage of. As the value of land drops, builders may be more willing to sell the land either to investors or preservationists who can stomach the idea of a longer return on the investment. There's no longer, or greater, return than conservation.
Click here for a list of a list of all the recent Forest Legacy grants.
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