Increased funding for Forest Legacy program hits home

Cupsuptic Lake Forest Legacy Tract, Maine, Courtesy USFS.

As the hot muggy days of summer descend upon our great nation’s capital, I find my mind wandering back to a little cabin in the woods of Maine. The place was nothing fancy; it was a real sweep-the-leaves-off-out-from-the corners kind of deal. But I’d be hard pressed to find better summertime memories than running wild under the cool pine trees and the way the chilly lake took my breath away every time I went crashing into its waters.

It is memories like these that remind me how lucky I am to have spent summers with the wilderness as my playground. Even in the carefree life of a little tyke, time spent in the woods, away from technology offers a necessary refuge for the body and soul.

I was heartened when I heard that President Obama has proposed a $42 million increase for the Forest Legacy program. This money, a 54 percent improvement over the previous year’s budget, will be paired with state and private funds to preserve forested land – just like the lake-dotted forest that surrounded my childhood cabin.

What’s spectacular about the Forest Legacy program is its ability to conserve pristine forests while keeping the interests of the landowners and locals in mind. The program often buys land from private owners to ensure that they remain undeveloped. The owners enter into the sale yet maintain the freedom to use the land to make profits (engaging in enterprises such as sustainable timber harvesting).

A great example of how this money goes to good use can been seen on Moose Mountain, a wild area in New Hampshire that has been used for recreation and logging for years. The Forest Legacy program bought the land and worked with residents to establish a management plan. Today, Moose Mountain offers recreation opportunities for families and sustainable timber harvesting jobs for residents. All this is done in ways that ensure gentle use of the forest to extend its longevity.

The Forest Legacy program will use some of the $91 million to search for and acquire land. As an added bonus for local ecosystems, the program will continue efforts to buy land adjacent to existing national parks. This extends the de facto acreage of the park. Research shows that continuous, healthy old-growth forests capture carbon and reduce the impact of climate change. This is part of the reason why we work so hard to preserve our wild lands here at The Wilderness Society.

As a child growing up in the metro D.C. area, I didn’t have access to many large forests. The Forest Legacy program also seeks to preserve forested areas within close proximity to urban and suburban settings. City residents, too, deserve more fresh air and chances to experience the outdoors.

I still go back to that cabin near Augusta, Maine, and wonder how I got so lucky to spend entire weeks there in the summer. I love the fact that the Obama administration is the newest advocate for the Forest Legacy program which means so much to me and other city folks.

photo: Cupsuptic Lake Forest Legacy Tract, Maine, Courtesy USFS.