US Forest Service’s Forest Legacy Program helps secure 7,500 acres for people and wildlife in Southern Oregon

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Rising dramatically above Upper Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon, Spence Mountain is home to oak and ponderosa pine woodlands, some of the rarest habitats in the state, and more than 47 miles of biking trails. 

As of this month, it’s protected forever. That’s thanks to the Trust for Public Land, Klamath County, the Oregon Department of Forestry, and $4.6 million in federal funding from the U.S Forest Service Forest Legacy Program, administered through ODF.

“The Forest Legacy Program helps Oregon protect working forests, drinking water sources and habitat for fish and wildlife.” said Kelley Beamer, executive director of the Coalition of Oregon Land Trusts. “Spence Mountain adds a gem to our network of protected lands, creating expanded public access through hiking and biking trails. This project is a win for communities, the local economy, and conservation.”

Spence Mountain is now publicly owned by Klamath County. Its protection will have major economic and ecological benefits for the community. The 7,500-acre community forest will provide outdoor access for community members and recreationists. It will also preserve habitat for important species and supporting sustainable timber harvest. 

The project received unanimous support from the Klamath County commissioners and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley for its appropriations from the Forest Legacy Program.

“Oregon’s public lands and forests are iconic and vital in supporting the state’s economy, as well as addressing climate chaos,” said Merkley. “I am pleased to see the economic and environmental benefits this project will bring to the communities in Klamath County by supporting sustainable timber harvesting, providing public recreation such as mountain biking, and preserving habitats for endangered species.”

Spence Mountain is just one example of the impact of the Forest Legacy Program, a federal program funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Program is a partnership between the state of Oregon through the Oregon Department of Forestry, and the U.S. Forest Service. Their aim is to protect forestlands for drinking water, habitat for fish and wildlife, recreational opportunities, and management strategies that support local economies through sustainable timber harvest. 

In Oregon, the program has helped preserve iconic landscapes like the East Moraine Community Forest in Wallowa County, Arch Cape Community Forest in Clatsop County and Gilchrist State Forest in northern Klamath County. 

“This project couldn’t have achieved the success it did without the expertise and help from state and local partners,” said Glenn Casamassa, regional forester for the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region. “With those from the Trust for Public Land, Klamath County, Oregon Department of Forestry and many others, we achieved a common goal of supporting and protecting Oregon’s public lands and the communities that depend on them.”

More federal funds coming for forest preservation 

The Forest Legacy Program will get an additional $700 million in funding as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022. With this increased investment, Oregon is poised to be a leader in forest protection in the country. 

“We are at a crucial moment in time to invest in our forests, and the US Forest Legacy program is an important critical tool for increasing the scale and pace of forest protection and conservation in Oregon” said Cal Mukumoto, Oregon’s State Forester. “I’m thrilled to see more money coming to this state to help us keep working forestlands intact.” 

Demand for this program has grown over time as land trusts build partnerships with local communities and state agencies to support the retention of healthy working forestland and by expanding the impact of working forest conservation easements. 

State Forester Mukumoto said The Trust for Public Land, Deschutes Land Trust, McKenzie River Trust, Pacific Forest Trust, and Columbia Land Trust all have potential projects that this program can support. “Some of these opportunities can be described as once-in-a-generation chances to protect private forestland from fragmentation and conversion,” he noted.

Funds to buy Spence Mountain also came from Oregon Parks and Recreation Department and National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.

Some 7,500 acres of land rising above Upper Klamath Lake in south-central Oregon has been brought into public ownership thanks to funds from the federal Forest Legacy program, a partnership between partnership between the state of Oregon through the Oregon Department of Forestry and the US Forest Service.