The Southern Region of the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program acquired 23,327 acres in 2020, utilizing nearly $23 million in the form of competitive grants for conservation easements and fee simple purchases. Through this program, Texas A&M Forest Service acquired Fox Hunters Hill, a $1.6 million conservation easement consisting of over 2,387 acres of sustainably managed forestland adjacent to the Sabine National Forest.
The Forest Legacy Program was created in 1990 to protect forested lands that may be at risk due to urban development and deforestation. Through the program, Texas A&M Forest Service works with landowners on a “willing buyer / willing seller” basis to help them keep their forests forested, enhance sustainable forest management, support strong markets for forest products, enhance soils and water values, protect biological diversity, recreation, wildlife habitat and more.
“We are proud to have built tangible partnerships with state and federal agencies, land trusts and other conservation organizations,” said Ken Arney, a Southern Regional Forester with the US Forest Service. “We are grateful for their continued support and commitment to keeping forests as forests so that future generations can enjoy the benefits of nature.”
The Forest Legacy Program focuses on protecting privately owned forests with significant environmental and economic importance – especially forests that are susceptible to becoming non-forested land. East Texas is particularly at risk as urban populations continue to increase, expanding from city centers into working forest lands. The likelihood of keeping those forests working – both economically and ecologically – is greatly reduced in the face of rapid urban expansion. Conservation easements change that.
“A conservation easement is an interest in land acquired to protect certain conservation values,” explained Gretchen Riley, the Forest Legacy Program Coordinator at Texas A&M Forest Service. “It is a good way to assure important, vulnerable landscapes – and the benefits they provide to Texans – are sustained for the future.”
Fox Hunters Hill is just 1 of 10 projects completed across the south in the past year through the Forest Legacy Program. It borders a 213,000-acre complex of protected lands off the Angelina and Sabine National Forests in East Texas, and it contains one of the last undeveloped coves of the Toledo Bend Reservoir. It also lies within the Longleaf Ridge Conservation Area along a rare geologic formation that runs between the two largest lakes in Texas.
The Toledo Bend Reservoir is a drinking water source for many communities in East Texas and Western Louisiana, and Fox Hunters Hill helps maintain water quality for that source. It’s also known for having some of the last remaining stands of historic longleaf pine ecosystems in Texas. Over the last 12 years, the landowner has restored much of the property to longleaf pine, increasing the number of flora and fauna species found in the area. The Forest Legacy Program will help protect and conserve that ecosystem.
“Fox Hunters Hill is located in a highly desirable area for recreation homes, with some of the highest elevations in the county,” said Riley. “This working forest conservation easement acquired by TFS through funds from the USFS Forest Legacy Program will protect the property from subdivision and development, maintaining its high conservation value and keeping the forest in forests.”
Fox Hunters Hill is the seventh conservation easement acquired within the state of Texas by the Forest Legacy Program, including the Burleson Wetlands, Turkey Creek and Longleaf Ridge. Altogether, these lands comprise a total of 33,000 acres throughout East Texas – and each one plays a separate, but significant, role in the conservation of cherished Texas forests.
For a full list of Forest Legacy Program projects, with details about the other nine from this past year, visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/managing-land/private-land/forest-legacy/program.
For more information about the Forest Legacy Program at Texas A&M Forest Service, or to find out if your property qualifies for a conservation easement project, visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/ForestLegacy/.