In November 2021, Congress passed and President Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL), representing a $1.2 trillion investment in our nation’s infrastructure and communities. In addition to funding to rebuild America’s roads, bridges and rails, expand access to clean drinking water and high-speed internet and more, this legislation makes a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s forests.
While the BIL makes a substantial investment in our nation’s federal forests, it also devotes $1.5 billion to supporting state and private forests, primarily through state forestry agencies. This is especially important in the South, where privately owned working forests make up the majority of forest ownership and serve as an economic engine of the region.
SGSF member agencies anticipate substantial benefits from the investments the bill makes in our forests to help address significant needs. These include:
- $40 million to state forestry agencies to implement the highest priorities identified within their State Forest Action Plans. Each state has a collaboratively-developed plan, which is updated every 10 years to outline the biggest threats to forest health and sustainability, among other top priorities and issues. This funding recognizes that each state has unique needs and challenges, and looks to our State Foresters as the experts on how to most effectively address ongoing and emerging forest issues.
- $1 billion for the creation of a new Community Wildfire Defense Grant Program (CWDG), empowering communities to take an active role in decreasing their wildfire risk and improving wildfire resilience. The program helps address an ongoing deficit in funding and resources for southern communities to implement the strategies outlined in our regional Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. These strategies can include planning and development of Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs), bolstering wildfire prevention through education and outreach, and reducing flammable hazardous fuels around communities.
- $200 million to support a national reforestation effort on both federal and non-federal lands. With the increasing focus on trees as a natural climate solution, and the opportunities for both economic and ecological benefits through reforestation, there is a clear need for a coordinated strategy in this area. A key part of this funding will support nurseries, seed orchards and tree improvement programs, which are the backbone of any reforestation effort. Our region’s nurseries, including state forestry agency-run operations, have been underfunded for decades. This new funding will help expand capacity across the South and make sure State Forester expertise is heeded to put the right trees in the right forests to achieve our nation’s reforestation goals.
- $50 million to support the development of rental, loaner or cost-share programs for water crossing bridges for use during timber harvest operations. Southern logging professionals, in partnership with their state forestry agencies, have long been leaders in prioritizing water quality and reducing impacts from timber harvest operations. To help maintain water quality in the South, the folks working in the woods need access to the tools and technology necessary to help prevent sediment from entering our waterways. This funding recognizes the sometimes cost-prohibitive nature of those tools and supports the development of collaborative financial solutions by state forestry agencies and our logging association partners.
These four funding opportunities, as well as many more from the BIL and the Inflation Reduction Act (more on that to come in a future blog), mean we in the forestry sector, especially our state forestry agencies, will be extra busy over the next five years! That said, all this funding doesn’t come without its challenges. State agencies, and the forestry sector in general, face constant workforce capacity issues. Will there be enough foresters, loggers, truck drivers and support staff to process and implement these investments? This is a real concern for all of us. The ability of our sector to make good on the intentions of this funding will depend on our ability to continuously attract and recruit enough talent into forestry professions. If the these recently passed bills are any indication, careers in forestry are a sure bet for employment and making a difference in our region’s forests and communities. We must prioritize professional recruitment and foster an interest in forestry to make the most of these financial opportunities.
Reach out to your local state forestry agency for more information about these and other funding opportunities, careers and other potential areas of collaboration. For more information about forest policy issues in the South, contact Tim Foley.