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USDA Forest Service,
Lands and Realty Staff

1400 Independence Ave., SW
Mailstop 1124
Washington, DC 20250-1124
Phone: (202) 205-1248

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LWCF Purchases–FAQs


The Land and Water Conservation Fund
Frequently Asked Questions

1. Can the Forest Service purchase land?

2. Why does the Forest Service purchase land?

3. Where does the money come from to buy land?

4. What happens to taxes paid to States/Counties?

5. How much does the Forest Service pay for lands?

6. Which properties are selected for purchase?

7. Who decides which properties will be purchased?

8. What is the land purchase process?

9. What does the Forest Service do with the lands it buys?


1. Can the Forest Service purchase land?
The Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 (P.L. 88-578) was enacted to: "
...assist in preserving, developing, and assuring accessibility to all citizens of the United States of America of present and future generations and visitors who are lawfully present within the boundaries of the United States of America such quality and quantity of outdoor recreation resources as may be available and are necessary and desirable for individual active participation in such recreation and to strengthen the health and vitality of the citizens of the United States by....providing funds for the federal acquisition and development of certain lands..." This Act authorizes the purchase of lands, waters or interests in land or waters within the National Forest System.

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2. Why does the Forest Service purchase land?
Some of the reasons for purchasing land to add to the National Forest system include:

  • meeting objectives described in the Forest Land Management Plan.
  • acquiring inholdings to better manage an ecosystem, Wilderness, Wild & Scenic River or other specially designated areas.
  • assuring or improving access to public lands.
  • providing opportunities for public hiking, camping, mountain biking, fishing, skiing, rafting, swimming, etc...
  • protecting habitat for wildlife.
  • protecting historic or prehistoric sites.

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3. Where does the money come from to buy land?
The Land & Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 created a separate fund to be used for land purchases and other authorized uses. The fund receives money from fees paid by companies drilling offshore for oil and gas.

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4. What happens to taxes paid to States or Counties when the Forest Service buys land?
Once land is purchased by the US Forest Service, taxes are no longer paid by a private owner, but are replaced by the following funds:

  • Each year the Forest Service makes payments to counties, townships, boroughs or cities as provided for by the Act of September 13, 1982 (97-258) These payments are often called "payments in lieu of taxes".
  • In addition, through a revenue sharing authorization, many local jurisdictions receive 25% of revenues generated on National Forest System lands.

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5. How much does the Forest Service pay for land it buys?
The Forest Service pays fair market value as determined by an appraisal. The appraisal must conform to the Uniform Appraisal Standards for Federal Land Acquisitions. These standards are available for a fee from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Superintendent of Documents, Mail Stop: SSOP, Washing DC 20402-9328. The identification number is ISBN 0-16-038050. In some cases the property owner will hire an appraiser and the appraisal will be reviewed by a Forest Service appraiser to ensure the document meets these appraisal standards.

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6. Which properties are selected for purchase?
Each year, purchase proposals are identified by individual National Forests and submitted to regional offices and forwarded the national office. The national office identifies the purchases which will be included in the President's Land & Water Conservation Fund list which is presented to Congress. Projects are selected based on the available funding and the following criteria:


Properties With a Landowner Committed to the Sale

  • Have a signed option for the property to be purchased
  • Owner wants the land to be in public ownership
  • Owner's expectation of value is the appraised value Properties that Help meet National Forest Objectives
  • The purchase meets Forest Plan objectives
  • The purchase is within a Congressionally Designated area (wilderness, wild & scenic area, national recreation area, etc...), Special Area or unique ecosystem
  • Purchase is part of a long-term acquisition project
  • The purchase meets a public need
  • There is a threat of incompatible commercial or private development if the parcel isn't purchased
  • The purchase will improve National Forest Management

Purchases with Partnerships

  • Third Parties (land sale facilitators), local organizations, agencies, or interest groups are involved
  • Partners contribute funds towards the purchase
  • Purchase is part of an ecosystem with multiple jurisdictions (federal, state, or county)

Purchases with Public Support*

  • Partners and the local community actively supports the purchase
  • Congressional delegation supports the purchase
  • Local and national conservation groups express support for the purchase
  • Local elected officials express support for the purchase
  • Local media conveys public support

*Support is demonstrated by partnerships, resolutions passed by elected officials, letters, articles in publications, congressional contacts, etc...

Purchases with Agency Support and Commitment

  • District, Forest and Regional levels are committed to the purchase
  • Department and national office are supportive (for large purchases)

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7. Who decides which properties will be purchased?
Each year Congress allocates the amount of money which will be available from the Land & Water Conservation Fund for land purchase. The President provides Congress with a list of proposed purchases and the amount needed to buy the parcels. Congress responds with their concurrence or any changes to the proposed list.

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8. What is the acquisition process?

There are several steps in the purchase process which are outlined below:

  1. A landowner wants to sell his or her parcel of land at fair market value and discusses it with the US Forest Service.
  2. Forest Service determines that the purchase is in the public interest and it is consistent with the Forest Plan.
  3. Forest Service obtains a title commitment which demonstrates landowner's clear title to the property.
  4. If title defects are identified, they are removed before the purchase can proceed.
  5. Property is inspected for hazardous materials and a report is prepared.
  6. The property is appraised.
  7. The appraisal is reviewed by a Forest Service review appraisor to ensure that it meets the uniform appraisal standards for federal land acquisitions.
  8. Offer, based on approved appraisal, is made to the landowner.
  9. A purchase option is signed.
  10. Funds are identified for purchase in President's Land & Water Conservation Fund proposal to Congress.
  11. Congress authorizes appropriation of funds for the purchase.
  12. Option is accepted by the Forest Service.
  13. Title package is reviewed by Forest Service Attorneys and a Deed is prepared.
  14. Deed is signed by owner and provided to Forest Service.
  15. Payment is made to the landowner.
  16. Deed is recorded and Final title policy is obtained for the parcel.

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9. What does the Forest Service do with the land it buys?
Once the Forest Service buys land, management is guided by any existing direction. In most cases this is the Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. These plans are developed through public involvement and participation. Some purchases will have specific management plans developed after they are in public ownership.

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USDA Forest Service
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Last modified: Monday, 25-Jun-2007 19:00:00 CDT
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