Updates & Blog

Federal Legislative Watch

Tim Foley
Policy Director
Southern Group of State Foresters
Fireman prescribed burning the forest.

Policy Roundup of Congressional Support for Southern Forestry and Wildfire Priorities

When I first started working in forest policy, I was taken under the wing of a wise mentor named Asaph. He had worked in the field for almost 40 years and had seen the ebb and flow of both forests and politics. Asaph had one saying that always stuck with me – “forests are the answer – what’s your question?” This axiom has never been truer than it is today, where we see legislators and policy makers struggling with environmental, economic and social questions that will define our generation.

Those of us who work in forestry are well aware of the long list of benefits trees provide in both rural and urban environments – clean air and water, wildlife habitat, job creation and economic stimulus, recreation and relaxation – the list goes on and on. The current political climate represents an unparalleled opportunity to for us to connect lawmakers and decision makers with forests and forestry as the solution (or “answer”) to some of the nation’s biggest challenges.

Two landmark legislative packages are currently being constructed by Congress, both of which would do well to recognize forests and trees as critical pieces of the puzzle.

The Infrastructure and Investment Act of 2021

The Infrastructure and Investment Act of 2021 (aka – Infrastructure Package), passed by the Senate and awaiting action in the House of Representatives, would make an investment in wildfire risk resilience and ecosystem restoration to the tune of over $8 billion. Through the hard work of many stakeholders, the bill illustrates that forests are critical natural infrastructure, and that keeping forests in a strong, healthy and fire-resilient condition is essential to the function of our nation, both in rural and urban areas. Some highlights from the Infrastructure Package include:

We encourage the House of Representatives to pass this legislation and support forests as natural infrastructure.

Budget Reconciliation Package

The Democratic majority is also working on a parallel track to create a budget reconciliation package which, in its current form, amounts to a $3.5 trillion investment in Biden Administration priorities, including addressing climate change. There is no better natural climate solution than maintaining and expanding forest cover. Forests in the U.S. absorb 14% of our nation’s carbon emissions which we can perpetuate by continuing to employ climate-smart forestry actions such as:

  • Actively managing forests to stay healthy and sustainable.
  • Harvesting timber for use in long-lived wood products (like mass timber) in place of more carbon-intensive materials.
  • Funding both reforestation and afforestation to put more trees in the ground.

As part of the budget reconciliation package, we encourage Congress to invest in State and Private Forestry programs that support these climate-smart forestry solutions. In particular, the Forest Stewardship Program, which provides private non-industrial landowners with technical assistance to actively manage their forests, achieves identified management objectives while enhancing carbon and climate benefits.

For many of the other challenges Congress is grappling with, they are looking to forests and trees as an answer. As they ask how to put unemployed and underemployed Americans to work and emerge from a post-COVID recession, creating a 21st Century Conservation Corps to manage our public forests and plant community trees is an answer. As they take steps to address centuries of systemic discrimination for historically underserved communities, both expanding urban tree cover for shade, recreation and livability, and financially supporting minority forest landowners by addressing heirs property issues are a part of the solution. As Congress returns from their summer recess next week, whatever question they are asking, we should be giving them Asaph’s answer – trees and forests!