The Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF), a working forest conservation organization based in Spartansburg, has been selected by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service to receive Pennsylvania’s first Community Forest Program grant.

Per the USDA, the Community Forest Program (CFP) is a competitive grant program that provides financial assistance to eligible entities to acquire and establish community forests that provide community benefits. Community benefits include economic benefits through active forest management, clean water, wildlife habitat, educational opportunities, and public access for recreation.

The project is located in the French Creek drainage, where the health of the watershed’s forests is an important contributor to the health of the creek and the diverse species it hosts. In a region where many jobs are dependent upon the working forest economy, this grant supports forestry in tandem with conservation; it is a pathway to a long-term, sustainable balance between the needs of both people and the land.

“Established in 2008, this program has primarily awarded funding nationally in New England and the Pacific Northwest regions,” says FSF Executive Director, Annie Maloney. “Pennsylvania’s forest legacy is strong, and the Foundation for Sustainable Forests (FSF) is excited to bring this funding to the Commonwealth to explore the community forest concept here in Penn’s Woods.”

The grant award will be used to establish a community forest in Cambridge Twp, just south of Cambridge Springs, via the purchase of 98 acres of woodland from Northwestern Rural Electric Cooperative Association. Under FSF’s ownership, the property will remain on the local tax rolls and be a carefully managed working forest that the public can access for non-motorized recreational uses, such as hiking, bird-watching, and hunting.

“We at Northwestern REC are excited to be a part of this opportunity. The co-op takes pride in being a locally owned and operated electric distribution company. The communities we serve are the same communities we raise our families in,” says co-op Director of Communications, Amy Wellington. “Several locals and many of our employees have enjoyed walking and hunting on the property for over 20 years. It will be wonderful to see this forest flourish with a carefully choreographed maintenance plan drawing even more visitors to the land.”

Under the stewardship of FSF, the property, to be known as Northwestern REC Community Forest, will be an ecological, economic, and recreational asset for the local community. According to FSF Director and Land Manager, Guy Dunkle, “This land has a variety of forest and habitat types and therefore the potential to be truly multi-use. We are excited to partner with the Cooperative as we pivot the forest towards a focus on education, recreation and support for the local forest products industry.”

A Visioning Committee will be formed later this year with representation from local and regional stakeholders. Their input will not only inform a Community Forest Management Plan, a requirement of the grant, but will ensure that the project serves the needs and hopes of the surrounding community.

For additional media coverage of this award, see this article in the Meadville Tribune: Crawford County Foundation First in State to Receive Grant Through USDA Program.

The Foundation for Sustainable Forests is a 501(c)(3) charitable land trust operating in western Pennsylvania, western New York and northeastern Ohio. The mission of FSF is to conserve forested lands, promote healthy ecosystems, support rural communities through working forests, and highlight sustainable forestry practices for the benefit of the land.



This post adapted from a release by the Foundation for Sustainable Forests. Photos provided by FSF.