By AMY WOLD
Advocate staff writer
September 26, 2012
Landowners interested in selling property to help Louisiana and federal coastal forest conservation efforts have until Friday to apply for part of the $7.4 million available in the second round of applications, state officials said.
The Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative’s goal is to protect coastal forest areas not only for the habitat they provide but also for their ability to hamper storm surge from tropical storms, said Bren Haase, deputy chief of planning with the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority .
The state accepted the first round of applications for the program in late 2010 and received 26 applications representing about 75,000 acres across the coast, said Chris Allen, coastal resources scientist supervisor with CPRA.
The Coastal Forest Conservation Initiative, with $20.2 million in funding from the federal Coastal Impact Assistance Program, allows landowners to voluntarily either sell their land or sell a permanent conservation easement for coastal forest properties in Louisiana.
After the applications are vetted to make sure they meet requirements including proof of ownership, minimum acreage size and percentage of forest coverage, an evaluation team made up of state and federal agency representatives visits each site.
The applications and properties are then divided into tiers of priorities and state staff starts from the top working with the landowners, Allen said.
Four properties totaling about 36,000 acres from the first round of applications are being worked on now, Allen said. The forests include upland and bottomland hardwood forests as well as cypress forests, he said.
The conservation easements option for landowners means they retain mineral rights but give up their ability to build on the land, harvest trees or do other work. However, the easements do allow hunting and the leasing of hunting rights to other people and the land does not become open to the public.
Public access to land that is sold outright will depend on which agency ultimately manages the property.
“Landowners get involved because it’s an opportunity to make money off their property that might not otherwise generate income,” Allen said. In addition, some landowners want to conserve the property for their children and their families, he said.
The state has received three applications so far for this round with two more likely to be submitted, Allen said. However, much like the application period in 2010, Allen said it’s likely people will send their applications in near the end of the time.
The state also works with environmental nonprofit groups, including The Nature Conservancy, to try to encourage landowners to apply for consideration under the program.
“The public benefits from the many ecosystem services these forests provide and coastal communities benefit from the storm surge and wind speed reduction associated with health coastal forests,” said Richard Martin, director of forest conservation with The Nature Conservancy.
Part of $7.4 million available for this round of applications is also available for small restoration projects, such as a breach in a spoil bank that could be filled in to help with hydrology in an area, Allen said. These are projects that would not take much money but could have a large impact, he said.
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