Forest Legacy

The Forest Legacy program protects “working forests” that protect water quality, provide habitat, forest products, opportunities for recreation and other public benefits.

Development of forested areas poses an increasing threat to maintaining the integrity of our valuable forestlands. Intact forestlands supply clean air and water, wildlife habitat, soil and watershed protection, wood products, aesthetics, and recreational opportunities. However, as forests are fragmented and disappear, so do the benefits they provide.

The Forest Legacy Program (FLP), a federal program in partnership with states, supports state efforts to protect environmentally sensitive forestlands. Designed to encourage the protection of privately owned forestlands, FLP is an entirely voluntary program. It encourages and supports acquisition of conservation easements, legally binding agreements transferring a negotiated set of property rights from one party to another, without removing the property from private ownership. These easements protect conservation values while allowing forest landowners to maintain the economic and recreational uses of their forests. Most FLP conservation easements restrict development, require sustainable forestry practices, and protect other values.


Participation in Forest Legacy is limited to private forest landowners. To qualify, landowners are required to prepare a multiple resource management plan as part of the conservation easement acquisition. The federal government may fund up to 75% of project costs, with at least 25% coming from private, state or local sources. In addition to gains associated with the sale or donation of property rights, many landowners also benefit from reduced taxes associated with limits placed on land-use. State-specific "Assessment of Need" plans establish eligibility criteria, set guidelines, and identify priority Forest Legacy Areas (FLA) for protection. States identify areas that have multiple public benefits such as water quality protection, key wildlife habitat, and outstanding recreation opportunities or scenic views, while providing the opportunity to continue traditional forest uses such as timber harvesting and wildlife management. The Parcel Eligibility Criteria National Guidelines contain more information on eligible lands.

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According to the Federal legislation (Appendix II), Forest Legacy Areas “shall have significant environmental values or shall be threatened by present or future conversion to non-forest uses”. In accordance with the law “priority shall be given to lands that can be effectively protected and managed, and which have important scenic or recreational values; riparian areas; fish and wildlife values, including threatened and endangered species; or other ecological values.”

Further, the U.S. Forest Service’s FLP Implementation Guidelines and Project Scoring Guidance for regional and federal funding emphasize four core national criteria that will be used will be applied to score and rank FLP projects. Those criteria are:

  1. Importance - The environmental, social, and economic public benefits gained from the protection and management of the property. More points will be given to projects that demonstrate multiple public benefits at the national or multi-state scale. This criterion reflects the ecological assets and the economic and social values conserved by the project and the scale of people’s interest in its protection. It is meant to assess the attributes to be conserved and the size of the community receiving those benefits. Attributes that will be considered in evaluating projects nationally for importance:
    • Threatened or endangered species habitat – Site has known individuals and/or habitat for federally designated rare, threatened or endangered plants and animals or includes unique forest types or communities.
    • Water supply protection – Contiguous riparian area, sensitive watershed lands, lakefront, buffer to public drinking water supply or an aquifer recharge area.
    • Forestry – Landowner demonstrated sound forest management and/or is integral in supporting the local resource-based economy for a community or region and the tract is a foundation to maintain the economic viability of forestry for the community or region.
    • Public access – The property has full or limited access, and may include specific use restrictions.
    • Scenic – Located within a formally designated scenic viewshed.
    • Fish and wildlife habitat – Important fish or wildlife habitat exists as specified by a wildlife conservation plan or strategy.
    • Historic/Cultural – Formally designated cultural and historical features are located on site.
  2. Threatened - This criterion reflects an estimate of the likelihood of conversion. First, evaluators will determine if legal protections exist on the property that removes the threat of conversion. Then, they will consider (1) landowner’s circumstances (good land steward interested in conserving land, property held in an estate, aging landowner and future use of property by heirs is uncertain, property is up for sale or has a sale pending, landowner has received purchase offers) and (2) adjacent land-use changes (rate of development growth and conversion, rate of population growth, rate of change in ownership). Additional consideration will be given to projects that will prohibit any additional structures or subdivision of the property.
  3. Strategic – Does the project fit within a larger conservation plan, strategy, or initiative as designated by either a government or nongovernmental entity and is strategically linked to enhance previous conservation investments (either FLP or other investments)? This criterion reflects the project’s relevance or relationship to conservation efforts on a broader perspective.
  4. Project Readiness - The evaluators want to know that there is local support for the project, that it can be completed and the organization has the means and capacity to complete it. They will use a graduated scale indicating the level of commitment and likelihood a project will be completed in a predictable timeline. Project readiness attributes they will consider:
    • Completed appraisal review that meets federal appraisal standards.
    • Landowner and easement holder have agreed to easement or fee acquisition conditions.
    • Cost-share commitment from a specified source, either in writing or in hand.
    • Signed option or purchase and sales agreement held by the state or at the request of the state.
    • At the request of the state, conservation easement or fee title held by a third party.
    • Completed title search.
    • Completed Forest Stewardship Plan (or multi-resource management).

Project readiness is a criterion that reflects the degree of due diligence applied and the certainty of a successful FLP project. It is intended to be a guide to project selection decisions. The readiness level is determined by the cumulative progression of items completed. Tracts will be scored on importance, degree of threats and strategic location. Project readiness is not scored, but will be considered for each tract.


For landowners to participate in the program, it is not required that their tracts be completely forested. However, priority will generally be given to tracts that are currently forested or are identified to be forested in the landowner’s Forest Stewardship Plan or multi-resource management plan.

Non-forest uses are those uses that may be compatible with forest uses as part of an undeveloped landscape, including cultivated farmland, pasture, grassland, shrubland, open water and wetlands. Those non-forest uses should be less than 25 percent of the total area. Non-compatible uses are those inconsistent with maintaining forest cover, including, but not limited to, activities that result in extensive surface disturbance such as residential and commercial development and surface mining.

Reserved areas are designated areas where non-forest uses (houses, barns, recreational camps, etc.) are or will be allowed, but are inseparable from the land holding or do not have a detrimental effect on the conservation easement values. These areas shall be defined and described in the conservation easement and may be restricted in terms of their use, or provisions made through cost and time to cure and treat. Priority will be given to tracts with no buildings or reserved areas.

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