LINCOLN — The Nebraska Forest Service is searching for municipalities and private landowners that are interested in partnering to expand public access to forests near their communities.

Through a grant from U.S. Department of Agriculture, communities and qualifying nonprofits can apply for funding to establish “community forests” through the acquisition of private forestlands.

The grant program aims to protect forestland from conversion while providing access for recreation, education, wildlife protection and sustainable forest management.

Grants are available as a 50% cost share match with a maximum award of $400,000.

Matches can include cash, in-kind services or donations.

“This is an exciting opportunity for our state,” said Nebraska’s State Forester, John Erixson. “We have seen dozens of communities across the country leverage these programs to draw in tourism dollars, attract new residents and increase the amount of public land available to citizens.”

To qualify properties must have private forestland that is at least five acres in size, suitable to sustain natural vegetation, and at least 75 percent forested is considered eligible lands for grants funded under this program.

The lands must also be threatened by conversion to non-forest use, must be offered for sale by a willing seller, and if acquired by an eligible entity, must provide defined community benefits under Community Forest Program and allow public access.

For more information on the program or to begin an application, please visit nfs.unl.edu/tree-landscape-and-green-infrastructure.

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