Sign-up for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program (EFCRP) resumes Aug. 6. The program helps landowners and operators restore and enhance the approximate 5.6 million acres of forestland damaged by the hurricanes of 2005.

“Almost two years after the devastating 2005 hurricane season, some forests are still in need of restoration,” said Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns. “By extending the sign-up period for the Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program, USDA will help landowners re-establish stands of trees to prevent further degradation of the land as well as improve wildlife habitat, water and air quality.”

This is the second time USDA has conducted sign-up for the partnership repairing forest damage. USDA first held sign-up last year following the enactment of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror and Hurricane Recovery 2006, Public Law (P.L.) 109-234.

Congress originally authorized the EFCRP, under P.L. 109-148, as a pilot program to be operated during calendar year 2006.

The U.S. Troop Readiness, Veterans’ Care, Katrina Recovery, and Iraq Accountability Appropriations Act, 2007, P.L. 110-28, signed by President Bush in May, removed the calendar year restriction paving the way for this latest sign up.

Trees planted under the partnership help reduce flood effects, protect water sources, decrease soil erosion and improve wildlife habitat. To be eligible, in general, a producer must have experienced at least a 35 percent loss to merchantable timber on private non-industrial forestland. The loss must relate directly to one of the calendar year 2005 hurricanes.

Tree loss must have occurred in one of 261 counties receiving presidential or secretarial primary disaster designations attributed to 2005 hurricanes Dennis, Katrina, Ophelia, Rita or Wilma. Loss assistance is unavailable in contiguous counties that have not themselves been designated as disaster counties.

A list of eligible counties, located in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas, is available in the “Counties Eligible for 2005 Crop and Livestock Hurricane Assistance Programs” fact sheet found online at: http://www.fsa.usda.gov/Internet/FSA_File/hurrcounties06.pdf.

Local Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices will accept offers for enrollment in Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program from producers starting Aug. 6 and ending Dec. 31, 2007. FSA will rank offers based on the potential to prevent soil erosion, improve water quality, restore wildlife habitat and mitigate economic loss caused by hurricanes, and other factors. Those rankings will be based on evaluations performed by foresters.

The ranking of offers are scheduled to occur quarterly. Eligible offers not selected during a ranking period will rollover to subsequent ranking period(s).

After offer evaluation and acceptance, a forester will work with the landowner to develop a conservation plan. Enrolled land will remain under contract with USDA’s Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) for 10 years. Participants will receive 50 percent cost-share assistance and may select either a lump sum rental payment or 10 annual rental payments. However, they may not harvest standing timber from enrolled land during the term of the contract period, except when CCC permits it as part of normal forestland maintenance.

Acreage enrolled in Emergency Forestry Conservation Reserve Program does not count toward the per-county number of acres eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) or CRP’s maximum acreage enrollment authority.

A fact sheet with additional program information is available by visiting a local FSA Service Center or online at http://www.fsa.usda.gov. Click on Disaster Assistance.