WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Forest Conservation Easement Program Act, which would expand and enhance the ability of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to conserve working forests.
“Forestry is one of the largest agricultural industries in Mississippi, creating jobs and providing valuable habitats to wildlife,” Wicker said. “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.”
“Forestry plays a vital role in supporting New York’s economy, creating numerous jobs across the state,” Gillibrand said. “I am proud to be leading this effort with Senator Wicker to ensure that we preserve our working forests and the habitats they provide so foresters can continue to operate responsibly.”
This program would build to mirror the framework from the established Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, which is familiar to farmers and landowners. Eligible entities would purchase development rights from willing private and tribal landowners to prevent conversions to non-forest uses while maintaining working forests. This would help landowners restore, enhance, and protect habitat for at-risk species.
Preserving forest land helps provide clean air and water, wildlife habitats, and jobs all while producing a steady supply of wood and fiber for forest products.
The legislation is supported by Wildlife Mississippi and the National Alliance of Forest Owners.
“We greatly appreciate the support of Senator Wicker in helping advance this legislation. He is a friend to hunters and anglers, and he has championed the conservation and sportsmen’s agenda since he was elected to Congress,” said James L. Cummins, Executive Director of Wildlife Mississippi and President of the Boone and Crockett Club, the nation’s oldest conservation organization. “Forests provide so many benefits for so many Mississippians, from a place to hunt and enjoy nature to buffering our military bases and employing thousands of our citizens through our many forest products industries. He is always looking out for our state’s need; we are fortunate to have him as our Senator.”
“Conservation easement programs are an important tool that should be available to all private forest owners,” said Dave Tenny, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Forest Owners. “Combined with healthy markets for forest products, conservation easement programs help privately owned forests provide a full range of benefits to rural communities. These include both economic prosperity and maintaining healthy populations of common and at-risk species and the habitats they need. Smart legislation, like the Forest Conservation Easement Program Act of 2023, helps America’s private working forests continue to provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and good paying jobs in rural communities.”
“From filtering drinking water, providing habitat for wildlife, buffering flood waters and sequestering carbon, to providing much-needed forest products and jobs, forests are an essential part of the fabric of America,” says Camille Green, conservation policy coordinator for Wildlife Mississippi. “The Forest Conservation Easement Program will help preserve forests for future generations to enjoy.”
“Many privately owned forests conserve critically important landscapes, protect vital watersheds many communities depend on for drinking water, sequester millions of tons of carbon, and provide habitats for wildlife species. They are also the economic lifeline for many rural communities. Yet, many of these lands are being converted from forests to other uses. The Forest Conservation Easement Program is essential to keeping many of these forests as forests in perpetuity” says Jimmy Bullock, Senior Vice President of Forest Sustainability, Resource Management Service, LLC.
"Wecommend Senator Wicker's support of timberland owners and the forest industry. As co-sponsor of the Forest Conservation Easement Protection Act, Senator Wicker is working to provide additional incentives for landowners to keep their forests as forests," says Casey Anderson, Executive Director of the Mississippi Forestry Association.
“We greatly appreciate the support of Senator Wicker in authoring this most important piece of legislation for our great state and nation. He is a fellow outdoorsman and has championed the conservation and sportsmen’s agenda since he was elected to Congress in,” said Sandy Williams, President of Wildlife Mississippi. “The FCEP will aid in producing more well-paying manufacturing jobs, supplying wood and fiber for forest products, and protecting wildlife habitat."
The full text of the legislation can be found here.