Murray and Dunn Introduce Community Forestry Bill

May 03 2001

Bill Reduces suburban sprawl, promotes livable growth, benefits timber companies

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Hailed by environmentalists and private landowners as a common sense solution, Senator Patty Murray and Representative Jennifer Dunn today introduced a bill to protect private forestland from development. The bill would allow communities to issue bonds on behalf of private non-profit organizations. These organizations could then work with private landowners to purchase tracts of forest and farmland. This would prevent development, while protecting private property rights, and the jobs and businesses that are tied to the land.

Under the bill, communities would set up a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation with a diverse board of directors and develop a binding management plan to provide for the responsible continued harvest of the land.

"Around the nation, communities are struggling to reduce sprawl and protect natural resources. This bill gives communities a new tool to protect vulnerable land from development without jeopardizing businesses, jobs, and the rights of landowners," Murray said.

"Today we have an opportunity to provide local cooperation and community-based environmental solutions to protect the natural beauty of the Puget Sound region," Dunn said. "Our plan capitalizes on the success of cooperative relationships to guard against uncontrolled growth."

As many landowners are land rich and capital poor, this bill would allow them to capitalize some or all of their assets through the sale of a tract of land, while maintaining the farms, businesses, and jobs that could have been lost through the land's outright sale to the government.

The cost of the bill was pegged at $78 million over 5 years in 1999 by the Joint Committee on Taxation.

"Right now there is no middle ground between complete exploitation and total preservation. This bill allows for a sustainable level of timber harvesting while protecting the environment from development," said Bill Pope of the Nature Conservancy.

"Having smaller, non-profit organizations involved in the community forestry process gives us one more arrow in the quiver available for managing forestry in the next century," said Charlie Bingahm former Executive Vice President of the Weyerhaeuser Corporation. "The country needs to have a view of community forestry that extends beyond economic and political cycles. This bill does just that. It is very far-sighted."

The bill is supported by:

Environmental groups: American Sportfishing Association, Land Trust Alliance, The Nature Conservancy, Pacific Forest, Trust for Public Land, and The World Wildlife Fund.

Forest Industry: The Campbell Group, Collins Pine Companies, The Harwood Group, Mendocino Redwood Company, Plum Creek Timber, Port Blakely Tree Farms, Weyerhaeuser.

Professional & Government: King County, WA, Mendocino County, CA, Society of American Foresters, Political Economy Research Center

Senator Murray's remarks introducing the bill follow:


Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, I rise today to reintroduce the "Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act of 2001."

Communities across the United States are losing private forest and farmland to development. Many citizens are demanding that we protect green space, control sprawl, and protect natural resources, fish and wildlife.

Unfortunately, there are few options available to local communities to protect these working green spaces. Federal, state or local governments can purchase the land outright. But this is expensive, and simply unworkable for larger tracts of forest and agricultural land. Outright purchase also raises concerns about harming local economies, reducing the tax base, and hurting private property rights.

Meanwhile, landowners are often land-rich and cash-poor. My bill would allow landowners to capitalize some or all of their assets.

We have a responsibility to find solutions that protect private forests and farm land, enhance economic prosperity, and bring communities together in the process. The Community Forestry and Agriculture Conservation Act would accomplish these goals.

The bill modifies the tax code to make it easier for communities to issue tax-exempt revenue bonds on behalf of a private non-profit corporation to purchase tracts of land. This protects the land from development, while allowing jobs that depend on harvesting the land to continue. The bonds would be serviced by harvesting the resources on the land in a responsible, sustainable way.

I want to give an example of the concept behind this bill, and then mention some of the benefits.

A group of community leaders would form a non-profit organization with a diverse board of directors. The non-profit organization would work with a landowner to reach a voluntary sale agreement at fair market value. The non-profit organization would then develop a binding management plan, which would allow for continued harvesting, but in a manner that exceeds federal and state conservation standards.

A local government could then issue tax-exempt revenue bonds on behalf of the non-profit organization to fund the acquisition of the land. The bonds would be serviced by the non-profit organization with revenue raised by the continued harvest of trees or crops in accordance with the management plan. The non-profit would hold title to the land, but an independent third party would monitor the permanent conservation easement.

There are three benefits to this bill.

First, it gives communities a new tool to protect green spaces from development. Second, communities are able to keep resource-based jobs and their tax base. Third, this legislation will bring communities together. It will move us away from the conflicts of the past and will encourage environmentalists, timber companies, farmers, and local governments to work together to maintain these green spaces.

This legislation is supported by a number of conservation organizations, private companies, local governments, and private associations, including: World Wildlife Fund; The Nature Conservancy; Trust for Public Land; Land Trust Alliance; Pacific Forest Trust; American Sportfishing Association; Plum Creek Timber Company; Collins Pine Companies; Mendocino Redwood Company; The Harwood Group; Port Blakely Tree Farms; Weyerhaeuser; The Campbell Group; King County, Washington; Mendocino County, California; Society of American Foresters; and the Political Economy Research Center.

In addition, the Senate agreed to a modified version of this legislation as an amendment to the Senate version of H.R. 2488 in 1999. The amendment was removed during conference.

As I did two years ago, I want to emphasize that this is an approach that every Senator can support. It is bipartisan. It is inexpensive. It is voluntary. It respects private property rights. It limits government involvement but establishes proper enforcement to prevent abuse. It protects the environment. It provides local control.

I would like to thank Senators G. SMITH, CRAIG, LEAHY, and DASCHLE for cosponsoring this legislation, and I urge my other colleagues to support it as well.