The Forest Legacy Program: Protecting private, working forests for public benefit

By Kiera Quigley

Working forests provide American communities with invaluable benefits such as clean air, plentiful drinking water, and ample wildlife habitat. Since 1990, the Forest Legacy Program has helped keep working forests working, and in turn, providing these and a multitude of other public benefits on over 2.6 million acres across 53 states and territories.

The Forest Legacy Program, which is administered by the USDA Forest Service in coordination with state forestry agencies, protects environmentally important forest areas that are threatened by conversion to non-forest uses. By helping to prevent the loss and fragmentation of working forests, the program encourages sustainable forest management and supports strong markets for forest products.

Landowners can participate in the Forest Legacy Program by selling their property outright or by retaining ownership and selling only a portion of the property’s development rights. In either of these cases, the land’s ownership reverts to a state forestry agency or another unit of government. Landowners can also enter into conservation easements, which allows the land to remain in private ownership while ensuring that its environmental values are retained.


The High Peaks-Orbeton Stream Conservation Easement protects 5,808 acres of working forestland in the High Peaks region of Western Maine. A number of third party organizations made possible the easement after identification of this highly developable land as a priority for conservation by the state Wildlife Action Plan. This Forest Legacy project was completed in 2014 and ensures a source of certified forest products while protecting vital wildlife habitat and public access to recreation areas.

In Jackson Hole, Wyoming, the Forest Service and the Wyoming State Forestry Division have worked hard to conserve the Munger Mountain Corridor, and in 2013 completed the job. This land now connects the Bridger-Teton National Forest to important elk wintering grounds. This project continues to contribute to the health of one of the largest elk herds in North America as well as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

Kiera Quigley​ is NASF’s 2018 Summer James Hubbard Intern for Policy and Communications. She can be reached by email at

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