Forest Service, Congress to conserve open space |

Forest Service, Congress to conserve open space

Bob Berwyn
summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Besieged by budget cuts, beetle-kills and wildfire woes, the U.S. Forest Service nevertheless has launched an aggressive conservation initiative on the open-space front.

The agency wants to partner with local governments and nonprofits to protect land near national forests that are threatened by development. A recent Forest Service report described the challenges posed by increased density on private lands.

Forest Service researchers who authored the report found that “21.7 million acres (about 8 percent) of rural lands located within 10 miles of national forests and grasslands across the conterminous United States are projected to undergo increases in housing development by 2030.”

The development and landscape fragmentation can affect public access and the ability to managed the larger landscapes in a sound ecological context, the rangers reported.

The agency’s national open space conservation initiative outlines the envisioned partnership, and Congress today backed the plan by passing the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program as part of a disputed budget.

The program funds local governments and qualified nonprofits to acquire forests and open spaces for local ownership and management. The bill is headed for the White House.

The Senate passed the bill last week as part of the farm bill package by a vote of 81-15. The House passed it yesterday by a 318-106 vote. Sen. Patrick Leahy wrote the bill and saw it through to fruition with a range of congressional leaders including the chairmen of the Senate and House agricultural committees ” Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn..

The Wilderness Society backed the bill together with other conservation groups.

“It gives people the ability to protect land and water that’s important to them in their communities,” said Michael Francis, director of the groups national forest program.

Francis said more than 40 million acres could be converted from forestlands to developments by 2030.

“Critical forest lands that are important to the fabric of our communities’ culture, economy, environment and overall way of life are in need of protection. We applaud Congress for recognizing the need for a program that will provide another tool to help communities meet their local recreation, economic and conservation needs,” said Alan Front, senior vice president for The Trust for Public Land.

Forest Service open space plan:

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