Forest Service Partners With Colorado and South Dakota in the Rocky Mountain Region to Keep Forests Working

Recently, the Forest Service announced that 7,503 acres in the states of Colorado and South Dakota will be conserved thanks to $6,040,000 in Forest Legacy Program funding. These investments ensure the most critical forestlands will continue to provide benefits to people and communities, like recreation opportunities, vibrant local economies, and thriving ecosystems.

The Forest Legacy Program identifies important forestlands threatened by conversion to non-forest use and works with state agencies and private landowners to conserve them as forests in perpetuity. The program is implemented through grants to states, which work with landowners to strategically conserve working forests through conservation easements or fee simple acquisitions.

The projects in the Rocky Mountain Region will help preserve critical wildlife habitat, conserve watershed health, and improve public access. The funding marks a significant step in maintaining working forests for future generations in the Rocky Mountain Region. It boosts local economies and improves public access to natural spaces while safeguarding critical wildlife habitat and water quality.

“This increase in funding provides an opportunity for us to address some of the most critical conservation issues facing the region,” said Regional Forester Frank Beum. “It also benefits the working forests that are vital to our local economies and the communities that rely on them,” he added.

This is part of a larger announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to provide $188 million in funding through the Forest Legacy Program to conserve more than 245,000 acres of some of the most ecologically significant forestlands across the nation, maintaining intact working forests while supporting local economies.

The conservation of these forests is made possible by the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as the Inflation Reduction Act, which is investing $700 million in the Forest Legacy Program over the next ten years to conserve forest resources that are critical to the social, physical, and economic wellbeing of people and communities.

In addition, the Forest Service is announcing $250 million in available funding for 2024 through the Inflation Reduction Act. States can apply for this funding to conserve additional forestlands deemed critical to local communities.

In all, three Forest Legacy Program projects in the Rocky Mountain Region were funded through today’s announcement.

2023 Forest Legacy Projects funded in the Rocky Mountain Region:   

Project: Colorado Higher Ground Headwaters Project

Federal Investment: $3,000,000

Non-Federal Cost Share: $5,050,000

Acres Protected: 3,327

Summary: The 3,327-acre Higher Ground Headwaters conservation easement is the first piece of a nearly 47,000-acre project to protect privately held forestland surrounded by over 3.7M acres of protected federal land within the Gunnison River Basin. 70% of the basin is in federal ownership, and adjacent and nearby federal lands include Gunnison National Forest, the Gunnison Gorge Wilderness, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and Wilderness, and the Curecanti National Recreation Area. The 80% forested project area will prevent development in critical wildlife habitat, conserve the health of a critical watershed, support active timber management and establish public access.

Project: Colorado Silver Mountain Habitat Connections

Federal Investment: $1,550,000

Non-Federal Cost Share: $950,000

Acres Protected: 3,961

Summary: The Silver Mountain Habitat Connections will protect 3,961 acres through a conservation easement as part of a larger conservation effort totaling over 11,000 acres. The property faces exurban residential development pressure from Colorado Front Range cities and pandemic migration into rural areas, which would fragment and degrade the large, intact landscape. The area provides notable wildlife habitat, including elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, and pronghorn, and potentially the threatened Canada lynx. Directly adjacent to over 7,800 acres of public lands and close to private conservation lands, this project is part of a landscape-scale vision to build regional and statewide connectivity and resilience along the Sangre de Cristo range from the plains to the foothills.

Project: South Dakota Big Sioux River Forest

Federal Investment: $1,490,000

Non-Federal Cost Share: $510,000

Acres Protected: 215

Summary: The Big Sioux River Forest project is a fee acquisition of the largest forested parcel in Lincoln County. The 215-acre parcel is located at the crossroads of three states, two major interstate highways, and within 30 miles of the fastest growing and largest city in South Dakota. This former Boy Scout camp and its oak-dominated upland forest is part of a green ribbon of biologically rich, scenic, and climate resilient forest hugging the meandering Big Sioux River. The project will connect to adjacent state-managed lands, forming a 1,970-acre continuous block of conserved lands.

For the complete list of funded projects and to see how the Forest Service works with states to conserve forestlands through this program, visit the Forest Legacy webpage For information on how states can apply for fiscal year 2024 funding, visit the Forest Legacy program webpage or contact your local Forest Service office.

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