FCEP: Forest Conservation Easement Program

Private forests comprise 58 percent of all forestland in the U.S. and face significant conversion pressure from housing and urban development. The U.S. could lose a net of 37 million acres (15 million hectares) — the size of Illinois — of forest by 2060.

To address the growing suite of pressing environmental and societal challenges in front of us, we must provide opportunities for private forestland and forest landowners of all types and sizes to protect and conserve their land now and for future generations.

Why Conserve Private Forests?

They provide a multitude of benefits for both rural and urban communities. Private working forests, a subset of forests:

  • Are a powerful carbon sink, accounting for approximately 80 percent of annual carbon sequestration from all U.S. forests (per National Alliance of Forest Owners);
  • Filter nearly 30 percent of the nation’s drinking water;
  • Provide habitat for 60 percent of at-risk species;
  • Support 2.5 million jobs; and
  • Account for 90 percent of the nation’s harvests for forest products.

What we can do today: Create a Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP)

The purpose of FCEP is to keep forests as forests through the use of conservation easements that purchase development rights from willing private and tribal landowners to prevent conversion to non-forest uses. Private forests in a conservation easement can remain privately owned, working and on tax rolls.

FCEP is designed to:

  • Significantly improve and enhance the ability of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to effectively conserve working forests at
    scale through conservation easements;
  • Prioritize keeping forests as forests continuing to provide a multitude of environmental, economic, and societal benefits;
  • Help landowners restore, enhance and protect habitat for at-risk species while increasing carbon sequestration; and
  • Provide landowners with two proven options for placing voluntary conservation easements on their land, with one held by the federal government and one held by eligible entities and land trusts.


FCEP Act of 2023

The Forest Conservation Easement Program Act of 2023 (S. 2631/H.R. 3424) was introduced by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), U.S. Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS), U.S. Representative Trent Kelly (R-MS-1) and U.S. Representative Annie Kuster (D-NH-2), with the goal of including the legislation in the 2023 Farm Bill’s conservation title with mandatory funding.

The U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman’s draft Farm Bill text would create the Forest Conservation Easement Program with mandatory funding.

Support FCEP!

FCEP is supported by a broad coalition of conservation, sportsmen and working forest organizations and companies.

Sign on here to add your organization, agency, or company to the FCEP statement of support.

Credit: Jay Brittain

FCEP Overview

As a forest-focused complement to the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and an expansion of the existing Healthy Forests Reserve Program, FCEP has two components, both of which target private and tribal forestland and support sustainable forest management and production:

  • Through Forest Land Easements (FLE), NRCS will allow eligible entities (state, local and tribal agencies, and NGOs/land trusts) to purchase working forest conservation easements from willing private and tribal landowners, filling a critical void among federal programs. FLE — structured similarly to ACEP-Agricultural Land Easements — is based on a successful model for NRCS partnering with land trusts and other entities to keep working lands working
  • Through Forest Reserve Easements (FRE), NRCS will purchase forest conservation easements directly from willing private and tribal landowners and provide financial assistance for the management and restoration of the lands to restore, maintain, and enhance habitat for threatened and endangered and other at-risk species. FRE is the successor to and expansion of the existing Healthy Forests Reserve Program

Learn More