Deanne Buckman, Policy Intern

There’s an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child. On April 29, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT); Robert Bonnie, Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and Tom Tidwell, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service gathered at a reception sponsored by American Forests, the Sustainable Urban Forest Coalition and many other forest advocacy groups to celebrate 25 years of cooperative forestry programs. Standing amongst all of those involved, I realized that it takes a village to raise a forest as well. As an intern, it was inspiring to see that people who may have slightly different missions can come together for a larger common goal.

While the Forest Service is dedicated to managing our nation’s public lands, two-thirds of the nation’s forest are non-federal. The agency looks to private and state landholders to aid in sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands. Through the Forest Stewardship Program, the Forest Legacy Program, and the Urban and Community Forestry Program, the Forest Service has engaged and partnered with state forestry agencies and private landowners to manage the forests of our nation. Yesterday’s reception was evidence that these programs have been working.

Congress revisits our nation’s agricultural programs and policies every five years through what is known as the Farm Bill. For the first time, the Farm Bill of 1990 (the 1990 Food, Agriculture, Conservation, and Trade Act), included a Forestry Title. All three of the programs celebrated at last night’s reception were established by this forestry title and were designed to address issues surrounding private forests. The anniversary of these programs is especially important to American Forests because we were instrumental in the creation of the programs and have been supporting them ever since.

Both the Senate and the House included Forestry Titles in their drafts of the 1990 bill and throughout the process congressional staff members consulted with representatives from American Forests, which formed a working group of representatives from forestry and conservation organizations to develop initial ideas. These meetings produced what would eventually be key provisions of the Forest Stewardship Act and the Forest Legacy Program that were included in the Senate’s proposal. When controversy arose over the Senate’s proposals, American Forests drafted letters to Congress to show members that there was broad support within the conservation community for the proposals.

The Forest Legacy Program is a voluntary program that aims to protect privately owned forest lands through conservation easements. These legally binding agreements transfer certain property rights from one party to another without actually transferring the ownership of the land. This way, private landowners can receive funding and aid to care their forest land without having to give ownership of their land to the federal government. To participate in the program, private forest landowners must develop a resource management plan. The program is the principal way for the Forest Service to combat loss of forest land, by conversion to non-forest uses, and is funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The Forest Service’s Urban and Community Forestry program is a vehicle for long-term investment in activities that restore and maintain healthy forests and develop stewardship between ecosystems and communities. The program works to show communities the benefit of installing and maintaining trees and forests in urban areas. Participating state governments must develop a five-year plan for fostering urban and community forestry, appoint a program coordinator and establish an advisory council.

It was an honor to spend an evening celebrating with the village of people who support forestry, and here’s to 25 more years of cooperation!