Congress created the FLP to protect environmentally important private forest lands that are threatened by present and future conversion to non-forest uses through fee purchases or conservation easements.
Mississippi has approximately 19.2 million acres of forestland, and nearly 77 percent of those acres are owned by private, non-industrial landowners.
“Healthy forest ecosystems provide many natural services such as wildlife habitat, clean water, erosion control, and wood products. They are an integral part of our economy and way of life in Mississippi,” said Russell Bozeman, MFC state forester. “However, changes to forest lands like subdivision, sprawl and fragmenting them with roads and infrastructure can degrade or destroy the natural services our native forests provide. The Forest Legacy Program identifies and protects some important forests that may otherwise be converted to development… and lost forever.”
The MFC completed its first FLP project in Jackson County in 2012 to protect over 550 acres on the Escatawpa River. In 2018-19, the MFC completed three other projects on and near the Pascagoula River to protect another 4,300 acres. To date, over 6,700 acres of Mississippi forestland has been protected through the FLP with the help of several public and private partners.
The FLP matches federal funds from the US Forest Service with local dollars to help private landowners, resource agencies and conservation organizations in Mississippi protect natural forests that are important for natural functions such as wildlife habitat, flood storage and water quality, community resilience, and for timber, outdoor recreation and beauty.
This competitive grant program supports the purchase of forest lands for public use or the acquisition of development rights through a conservation easement on private lands. Conservation easements are legal agreements between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that permanently limit land uses in order to protect conservation values. A 25 percent non-federal cost share or match is required.
“Forest Legacy proposals that we will consider must be important to the public because of their ecological value, threatened by conversion and located strategically near or next to larger blocks of already protected lands such as parks, wildlife management areas or national forests,” Bozeman said. “Projects must compete nationally, so they should be natural forest communities or working forests that are in urgent need of protection from conversion to another land use.”
To qualify for consideration, FLP projects must be located in one of three priority Forest Legacy Areas (FLAs) in Mississippi that are based on conservation values and population growth. The three areas are Northeast FLA (Clay, Itawamba, Lee, Lowndes, Monroe, and Tishomingo Counties), Central FLA (Copiah, Hinds, Madison, Rankin, and Simpson Counties), and Southeast FLA (Forrest, George, Greene, Hancock, Harrison, Jackson, Jones, Lamar, Marion, Pearl River, Perry, Stone, and Wayne Counties). Projects must also meet the eligibility criteria set forth in the Forest Legacy Program Assessment of Need found on the MFC website and must be offered by willing sellers for either a conservation easement or for fee simple purchase. Proposals must be submitted by August 15, 2020. “The Forest Legacy Program is an excellent way to protect working forests that have a variety of benefits for all Mississippians,” said Bozeman.