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Stewarding private land in the public interest.

The Northern Forest Lands Council, created by Congress in 1990, has released its final report, entitled Finding Common Ground: Conserving the Northern Forest. The Governors of Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont each appointed four members, who served on the council with a representative of the United States Forest Service. The gubernatorial appointees represent four constituencies: forest landowners, environmental interests, state conservation agencies, and local governments.

The sale by Diamond International Corporation of approximately one million acres of forest land in 1988 raised concern about possible historic shifts in land ownership and use. This concern led to the Northern Forest Lands Study, which recommended creation of the council.

The report offers recommendations relative to fostering stewardship of private land, protecting exceptional resources, strengthening the economies of rural communities, and promoting more informed land-use decisions. Specifically, the Council recommended:

* Congress should fund the Forest Legacy adequately to enable the Forest Service to purchase conservation easements.

* States should continue to fund conservation-easement programs.

* States should strengthen current use of property tax programs to encourage private land owners to retain their forest lands.

* Congress and state legislatures should change estate tax policies to reduce the pressure on heirs to sell, convert or otherwise change the character of family-held forest lands.

* Congress and state legislatures should change income tax policies to allow adjustments for inflation on the basis (original cost) of timber owned by forest land holders.

* States should expand programs to inform loggers, foresters, land owners, and the general public about sound forest-management practices and the principles of sustainability.

* States should assess forest practices and regulations to evaluate their adequacy in achieving the principles of sustainability.

* Congress should levy a national excise tax on outdoor specialty equipment (e.g., climbing gear, hiking boots) to support wildlife and recreation management on public lands, as well as recreational opportunities on private lands through assistance and compensation to land owners.

* Congress and the state legislatures should increase funding for acquisition of lands of exceptional value.

* States should develop a process to conserve and enhance biodiversity across the landscape.

* State and federal forestry and economic development agencies should encourage and support primary and secondary wood-product firms by fostering establishment of marketing cooperatives or networks.

* The state universities and the Forest Service should support formal cooperative efforts among forestry schools in the four northern forest states.

* States should develop information-management systems to track and analyze real estate conversion trends.

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Author:Zimmerman, Joseph F.
Publication:National Civic Review
Date:Mar 22, 1995
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