Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On The Lee Amendment Concerning The Forest Legacy Program

Mr. President, I strongly oppose the Lee Amendment to repeal the Forest Legacy Program.  This program, which I helped to establish in the 1990 Farm Bill, is a true success story that has delivered tremendous benefits to the American people and their communities across the Nation.  It has led to the conservation of more than 2.2 million acres of working forest lands in 49 states, playing a key role in sustaining our rural economies and essential ecosystems.  The benefits of the Forest Legacy Program, which protects private forest land from conversion to non-forest use, are difficult to overstate.  Nor are there many effective alternatives in conserving our forest legacy lands.  Working forests provide soil and watershed protection, improved water quality, wildlife habitat for many diverse species, and they create opportunities for recreation and other public benefits. 

In addition to the numerous environmental benefits, the Forest Legacy Program also supports our Nation’s forest-based economy – particularly in rural areas.  These working forests are economic drivers in rural America, which is especially important during these tough economic times.  According to the National Association of Forest Owners, U.S. forests support more than 2.9 million jobs and contribute $115 billion toward the gross domestic product. 

These private forests create jobs and are the lifeblood of many rural communities.  The conservation of these lands protects a vital resource that countless Americans depend upon for their jobs, livelihoods, and wellbeing.  Repealing the Forest Legacy Program would harm American workers at a time when they can least afford it.  Many Americans are still out of work right now; Congress should be doing what it can to reverse this trend, not deepen it.  I hope others will agree and vote against this amendment.

The effectiveness of the Forest Legacy stems from its emphasis on Federal-state and public-private partnerships to achieve its goals.  This is a voluntary conservation program whose success is due to the locally driven, collaborative efforts of rural communities and private landowners.  Since the program began more than two decades ago, more than $700 million in private funds have been used to protect private forestlands.  Nearly 50 percent of all project costs under the program have been leveraged from non-Federal sources. 

Better still, the Forest Legacy Program does not use taxpayer dollars for Federal funds, but instead relies on a very small percentage of oil drilling receipts.  The benefits of this program far outweigh any cost to the taxpayer, a claim that cannot be made by many other Federal programs. 

More than 40 states have already benefited from this program, including Vermont, which has protected more than 77,000 acres of forestland with this tool.  Utah, the home state of the author of this amendment, used the Forest Legacy Program in 2012 to preserve 5,690 acres of working forestland known as the Green Canyon project.  Thanks to the Forest Legacy Program, the family landowner in Utah will be able to continue to use the property for timber harvests, ranching and recreation.  At the same time, the forest will protect a critical winter range for mule deer and elk.  Important as well for the people of these communities is the fact that protecting this forest will help protect the drinking water for two towns in Northern Utah which are adjacent to the Green Canyon project. 

Although too numerous to list, I would like to take a moment to highlight a few of the other standouts of the Forest Legacy Program.  In 2005, the State of Tennessee used the program to protect the Walls of Jericho, also known as the Grand Canyon of the South.  The project was supported by numerous individuals and organizations and as a result of this public–private partnership with the state and the Forest legacy Program, this land is now protected for the production of forest products, hunting, and other recreational activities.

Other notable projects over the years have included the Northern Great Lakes Forest Project in Michigan, protecting 149,000 acres of forest land, 516 miles of streams, and 300 inland lakes; the St. Joe Basin project in Idaho, providing a 50,000 acre easement in what has been described as the best cutthroat trout fishery on the west slope of the Rocky Mountains; and the Pine Mountain project in Georgia, protecting 4,500 acres of forest renowned for its biodiversity and mix of species.  States such as New Hampshire and Maine have also benefited, preserving more than 200,000 and 600,000 acres, respectively, over the course of the program.  I think we can all agree that these are true success stories and it is deeply gratifying to me that they have been repeated over and over again across this nation since the Forest Legacy Program was created.

This program represents a powerful tool to permanently conserve treasured working forest lands.  Repealing this program would be a tragic mistake, especially at a time when the Nation’s forests are under attack from real estate development and urban sprawl, among other encroachments.  The United States is projected to lose up to 75 million acres of our forest over the next half century.  As forest areas are fragmented and disappear, so too do the benefits they provide.  This program is essential to protect these benefits and ensure that we have a healthy environment and strong rural economies in the future. 

America’s forests are part of the legacy of every American.  This program is a modest but effective tool in service of this American legacy.  I strongly oppose this amendment and urge all Senators to do the same. 

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