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Forest Conservation Easement Program Legislation Introduced in the Senate


On August 3, a coalition of conservation, sportsmen and forest management organizations and companies, including the Boone and Crockett Club applauded the introduction of the Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) Act of 2023 in the U.S. Senate. The legislation was introduced in the U.S. Senate by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., with the goal of including the legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill with mandatory funding.

The legislation would prevent the conversion of forests into non-forest areas by authorizing funding to purchase development rights from willing private landowners. This would be achieved by placing a voluntary conservation easement on the privately owned land. FCEP is an expansion of and successor to the current Healthy Forests Reserve Program (HFRP) under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). As a successor program, FCEP has the potential to offer new resources to meet various needs, which is especially critical at this time. One significant feature of this expansion is that it would provide funding for conservation easements to be acquired by non-federal and non-state entities, similar to a longstanding program for farmland and ranchland. This fills a vital funding gap for forestland.

“Forest conservation has been a priority of the Boone and Crockett Club since Theodore Roosevelt helped establish the Timberland Reserve Bill in 1891, which began creating forests to be held in the public trust,” said James L. Cummins, president of the Boone and Crockett Club. “We have great, voluntary, easement-based conservation programs for almost every habitat type except forests. With the many pressures we have today on our nation’s forests and the many opportunities we have to utilize them to solve many of society’s problems, the Forest Conservation Easement Program is the logical next tool we need to advance forest conservation for the next generation.”

At its core, FCEP introduces two components, both of which seek to expand conservation easement options on private and tribal forestland while supporting sustainable forest management and production.

  • Through forest land easements, NRCS will provide funding for eligible entities, such as land trusts, to purchase working forest conservation easements, filling a void among federal programs. Currently, no existing forest easement program provides funding for land trusts to acquire easements.
  • Through forest reserve easements, NRCS will purchase forest conservation easements directly from forest landowners while additionally providing financial assistance for the management and restoration of the lands to benefit at-risk species. This aspect of FCEP serves as the successor to the HFRP.

The existing NRCS Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) is crucial for preserving working farmland and ranchland, but most forestland is ineligible. Additionally, the existing forest easement programs target state or federal conservation priorities, through the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program (FLP) or HFRP, respectively. These are highly successful and important programs, but FCEP is needed to fill a gap by providing funding for the two different easement options: forest land easements and forest reserve easements, with this funding being in addition to funding for ACEP and FLP.

“Voluntary conservation agreements are proven tools for conserving forests,” said Jeff Crane, president & CEO of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation. “We applaud Senators Gillibrand and Wicker for championing the Forest Conservation Easement Program Act of 2023 to provide additional incentives for landowners to conserve working forests and thereby support habitat for fish and wildlife and our outdoor sporting traditions that depend on healthy habitats to provide quality experiences for sportsmen and women.”

House companion legislation, the FCEP Act of 2023 (H.R. 3424), was introduced on May 17 by U.S. Representative Trent Kelly, R-Miss., and U.S. Representative Annie Kuster, D-N.H.

To learn more about the importance of conserving private working forests, visit