In fairy tales, a journey into the wilderness often represents a rite of passage. Our favorite character enters and metamorphosis occurs. The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program wants to help forests be catalysts for transformation in the real world as well. It enables communities to buy woodlands that are threatened with development in order to protect their traditional uses and create new opportunities for environmental education, economic development and ecological stewardship. In saving the forests, rural communities especially can reawaken with the very characteristics that defined them in the first place.
What is a Community Forest?
A community forest is more than just a patch of local woods. Nor does it have to be in a remote wilderness. While more common in rural areas, urban forests exist as well. According to the Community Forest Collaborative the ideal model has the following characteristics:
- Ownership and management are held by either municipalities or nonprofits for the benefit of the community.
- The community should participate in all phases of the decision making process from first acquiring the property to how it is used and maintained.
- The community has access to all the benefits the forest has to offer, including economic development opportunities.
- The forest is protected through appropriate conservation efforts.
The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program
The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation program, also known by its working name as the Community Forest Program helps either local governments, Native American tribes or nonprofits acquire land that has been identified as a priority for protection. The new buyer must maintain the forest and prevent it from conversion to other uses. Approprate projects that benefit both the forest and the community may include modeling effective forest stewardship including wildlife and resource conservation, recreational uses, educational programs and related economic development. Lands eligible for purchase must:
- Be at least five acres in size
- Be at least 75% forested
- Be threatened by conversion to non-forest use
- Not be held in trust by the US on behalf of a Native American tribe or be tribal allotment lands
- Provide community benefits such as those previously mentioned
Selected Past Recipients
- Hall Mountain, NC - The Eastern Band of Cherokee will highlight traditional use of natural resources on hiking trails on the 108 acre Hall Mountain tract near Franklin, NC. Educational learning centers for public schools and youth organizations will also be incorporated.
- Jefferson Memorial Forest, KY - A tribute to Veterans of World War II, these 64 acres will serve as an urban wildlife sanctuary, learning center, and expanded outdoor recreational area.
- Marquette County, MI - The Yellow Dog River Community Forest will emphasize the ways this forest supports economic acitivity such as ecotourism, recreation, hunting and fishing guide services, artists, woodworkers, wildlife photographers.
- Bend, OR - The Miller Tree Farm was rescued from being turned into a subdivision for the growing population. Among the recreational opportunities it provides are hiking, biking, equestrian and running trails.
Applying for the Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program
Eligible applicants are local governments, Native American tribes, and nonprofits qualified to acquire and manage land in perpetuity. Colleges and universities must partner with eligible applicants. The U.S Forest Service resource page has application scoring guidance, further requirements, FAQs and more. Apply by January 13, 2017.
Mending Madison, WV
Read about how the city of Madison, West Virginia near the Hatfield-McCoy Trail System is reinventing itself from a former coal town to a tourist destination.