Pennsylvania SFI Implementation Committee Fact Sheet on ACRE

Posted: April 15, 2019

Pennsylvania’s Municipal Planning Code (MPC) allows municipalities to regulate forestry and timber harvesting activities through code. However, timber harvesting operations sometimes run into issues with “unauthorized local ordinances.”

An unauthorized local ordinance is an ordinance enacted or enforced by a local government unit which does either of the following:

  • Prohibits or limits a normal agricultural operation (which includes forestry and timber harvesting) unless the local government unit has authority under state law to adopt the ordinance and it is not prohibited or preempted under state law.
  • Restricts or limits the ownership structure of a normal agricultural operation.

The MPC explicitly addresses the considerable limitations on municipal authority to regulate forestry activities, including timber harvesting, as follows:

  • [z]oning ordinances may not unreasonably restrict forestry activities. To encourage maintenance and management of forested or wooded open space and promote the conduct of forestry as a sound and economically viable use of forested land throughout this Commonwealth, forestry activities, including but not limited to, timber harvesting, shall be a permitted use of right in all zoning districts in every municipality. 53 P.S. § I0603(f).

On July 6, 2005, Act 39, also known as “ACRE” (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment), went into effect to ensure that ordinances adopted by local governments to regulate normal agricultural operations are not in violation of state law. Through ACRE, an owner or operator may request that the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General (OAG) review a local ordinance that the owner or operator believes to be unauthorized. If, after reviewing the local ordinance, the OAG believes that the ordinance violates ACRE, the OAG and the local government will work together to bring the ordinance into compliance with state law. If a resolution cannot be reached, the OAG has the option of filing a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court. If the OAG decides not to file a lawsuit, the owner or operator still can file a lawsuit in Commonwealth Court to challenge the ordinance.

The Pennsylvania SFI Implementation Committee has developed a fact sheet summarizing positions the OAG has taken on unauthorized ordinances related to timber harvesting. This fact sheet is available on our website.

For more information about the Pennsylvania Sustainable Forestry Initiative® Implementation Committee, please visit the website or call 888-734-9366.

Contact Information

Chuck Coup
  • Program Manager, PA SFI Implementation Committee