Forest Legacy Program
Congress created the Forest Legacy Program in 1990 as part of the Farm Bill. Its purpose is to help landowners, state and local governments, and land trusts identify and protect environmentally important forest lands that are threatened by present or future conversion to non-forest uses. Fragmentation of forest ownership, further subdivision, and development are the greatest threats to forest values and the rural cultures that depend upon them. The Forest Legacy Program will help assure that both traditional uses of private lands and the public values of New Mexico’s forest resources are protected for future generations.
The most important part of Forest Legacy is private land owners who want to conserve the special values of their land for future generations. Willing landowners that want to be accepted into the program may sell the development rights to all or part of their properties to the state of New Mexico. These ‘conservation easements’ are held in perpetuity by the state and effectively retire the rights to subdivide and develop the properties for non-forest uses. Participating landowners retain all other rights to their properties including occupancy, use for enjoyment or profit, and transfer to heirs or sale to new owners. In other words, the landowner continues to live and work on the land. Property taxes are paid on the retained rights, as determined by the County Assessor. These private forests continue to produce wood products, provide wildlife habitats and open space, contribute to watershed integrity, and are protected from urban sprawl.
The Forest Legacy Program is made available to the State of New Mexico by a grant from the USDA – Forest Service. The initial step by the state is an Assessment of Need, which is a study of the current status of New Mexico’s private forests and the threats to convert them to non-forest uses. The draft Assessment of Need is presently available for review at the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department – Forestry Division. When this planning document is finalized, owners of environmentally important forests will be invited to participate in the Forest Legacy Program. Those who choose to sell conservation easements to the state will be encouraged to form partnerships with land trust organizations that can help them with their property appraisals, and tax or estate planning. Up to 75% of the easement purchase price is provided through a federal grant and the state or other non-federal sources provide the remainder.
Private forest owners and local government managers who wish to learn more about the Forest Legacy Program can contact the New Mexico Forestry Division at 505/476-3272.