Applications are open for organizations interested in creating community forests.

The Community Forest and Open Space Conservation Program, passed under the 2008 Farm Bill, provides assistance grants for acquisition of private forestlands threatened with conversion to nonforest use.

The only existing community forest in Oregon to receive funding through the program is the Thurston Hills Natural Area in Springfield.

Lands eligible for grants must be private forest at least 5 acres in size, at least 75 percent forested, suitable to sustain natural forest cover and not include conservation easements. The lands must not be held in trust by the U.S. on behalf of any tribe, although community forests can be owned by local governments, tribes and qualified nonprofits. The lands must be threatened by conversion to nonforest uses, allow public access and be offered for sale by a willing seller.

The program authorizes the U.S. Forest Service to pay up to 50 percent of the acquisition costs, to a maximum of $400,000 and with at least a 50 percent nonfederal match.

Community benefits can include sustainable forestry, recreation, experiential educational opportunities, wildlife habitat and environmental benefits such as clean air and water.

All projects must complete a Community Forest Plan within 120 days after land acquisition, and a draft of the plan is due at the time of application. Qualified nonprofits and local governments apply through the Oregon Department of Forestry. Indian Tribes apply with the U.S. Forest Service.

Applications are due by Jan. 15. They can be delivered electronically to or in hard copy to: Jim Cathcart, Oregon Department of Forestry, 2600 State Street, Salem, OR97310. Call Cathcart at 503-945-7493 for more information.

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