State seeking proposals for forestry conservation program

By STAFF REPORTS,

Marion County is one of 24 Mississippi counties eligible for a federal program that helps buy privately owned forest lands to preserve their natural habitat.

The Mississippi Forestry Commission said this week it is seeking proposals for the Forest Legacy Program, and the deadline is Aug. 15. 

The competitive grant program pays 75% of the cost of purchase of forest lands for public use or the acquisition of development rights through a conservation easement. Such easements are legal agreements between a landowner and a government agency or land trust that permanently limit land uses to protect conservation values. A 25% non-federal cost share or match is required.

Mississippi has about 19.2 million acres of forest land, and nearly 77% 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,” State Forester Russell Bozeman said in a news release. “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 helps identify and protect some really important forests that may otherwise be converted to development and lost forever.”

The state Forestry Commission completed its first project through the program in Jackson County in 2012 to protect 550 acres on the Escatawpa River. In 2018-19, the Forest Commission completed three other projects on and near the Pascagoula River to protect another 4,300 acres.

The program matches federal funds from the U.S. 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.

“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.” 

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