Bennet, Hoeven, Neguse, Armstrong Introduce Bill to Restore Landscapes, Protect Water Supplies, and Reduce Wildfire Risk

Joint Chiefs Reauthorization Act Would Reauthorize Funding for USDA’s Popular Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, and John Hoeven (R-N.D.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, alongside U.S. Representatives Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), and Andrea Salinas (D-Ore.) introduced the Joint Chiefs Reauthorization Act of 2023. This bipartisan legislation would reauthorize the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative (Joint Chiefs), initially codified in 2021 as an amendment to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and expand the program to better support forest and grassland restoration projects across public and private land. This legislation is cosponsored by U.S. Representative Kim Schrier (D-Wash.).

“Our Western forests, grasslands, and watersheds are as important to our economy as the Lincoln Tunnel is to New York — but they are under threat from a changing climate and consistent federal underinvestment,” said Bennet. “The Joint Chiefs program has been a model of voluntary, collaborative efforts to improve the resilience of our landscapes across both public and private lands. This legislation builds on years of engagement and broad bipartisan support to ensure the Joint Chiefs Partnership can continue to protect watersheds, mitigate wildfire risk, and restore landscapes for years to come.”

“The Joint Chiefs program recognizes that our ag producers know their land and water the best, promoting voluntary partnerships with private landowners as well as collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and NRCS to improve and restore forests and grasslands,” said Hoeven. “By reauthorizing this program, our bill will give certainty to important projects in North Dakota and across the country to reduce the threat of wildfires while improving water and soil health.”

“I am proud to once again partner with Senator Bennet to continue our work on the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Program,” said Neguse. “We know how essential this program is for reducing wildfire risk, protecting watersheds, and recovering from disasters in Colorado. We must ensure this vital program remains fully funded.” 

“North Dakotans understand that responsible management of our natural resources is critical to the health of our farming and ranching communities, wildlife, and economy,” said Armstrong. “Our bill will improve coordination to help reduce wildfire risk, secure a reliable water supply, and support wildlife habitat.”

In 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the Joint Chiefs to support forest and grassland restoration projects across public and private land. Over the last seven years, the initiative has supported 93 projects in 40 states and Puerto Rico to treat 300,000 acres of hazardous fuels, restore 29,000 acres in priority watersheds, and enhance 200,000 acres of wildlife habitat. In 2021, Bennet, Hoeven, Neguse and Armstrong introduced the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 to formally authorize the Initiative, which Bennet and Hoeven secured as an amendment to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

The Joint Chiefs Reauthorization Act of 2023 would extend appropriations for the program, expand activities to address wildfire recovery and natural resource concerns across boundaries, and improve agency coordination and outreach.

Specifically, the Joint Chiefs Reauthorization Act would:

  • Reauthorize the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership between the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resilience of forest landscapes and grasslands across federal and non-federal land;
  •  Support voluntary activities and projects across public and private land that reduce wildfire risk, protect water supplies, recover from wildfires, enhance soil and water resources, or improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species;
  • Prioritize projects that reduce wildfire risk in municipal watersheds or the wildland-urban interface, are developed through a collaborative process, or increase forest business and workforce opportunities;
  • Require the USDA to perform outreach, provide public notice, and make information on the program available to landowners, tribes, states, and local governments;
  • Improve accountability by requiring a review of program delivery, data, and outcomes, and establishing annual reporting requirements to Congress; and
  • Authorize $90 million annually for the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, to be split between the USFS (at least 40%) and the NRCS (at least 40%). The remaining funds may also be used for technical assistance, project development, or local capacity.

“Colorado’s forests face myriad challenges that require an all-hands approach. The Joint Chiefs' Landscape Restoration Partnership program is a critical tool that brings together federal agencies, states, tribes and communities as equal partners in conserving one of Colorado’s most important resources, our forests. I applaud Senator Bennet for bringing this bill forward to improve and reauthorize the Joint Chief’s program and for his continued leadership in promoting a collaborative approach to facing down the wildfire crisis here in Colorado and across the west,” said Matt McCombs, Colorado State Forester.

“Senator Bennet's exceptional leadership and advocacy for this important program is greatly appreciated,” said Scott Miller, Southwest Senior Regional Director, The Wilderness Society. “The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership helps keep communities safe from wildfire threats while restoring the overall health of our forests. In order to address the negative impacts of a rapidly warming planet, we must take swift action guided by the best available science. By prioritizing the well-being of our forests in these partnerships, forest managers can work to restore the natural balance of fire to the landscape.”

"Joint Chiefs programming supports collaboration across public-private boundaries so work that improves the resilience of forested landscapes can be implemented when and where it is needed most. Eligible activity additions in this reauthorization will empower land managers to recover from wildfire disturbances and actively pre-plan for post fire impacts by increasing the programmatic flexibility of Joint Chiefs to meet the needs of ecosystems and communities,” said Dana Guinn, Southwest Partnership Manager, Forest Stewards Guild.

“Wildfires can leave Colorado Springs Utilities and other water providers with devastating impacts to critical supply, infrastructure and water quality. Wildfire impacts the environment for years, which ultimately affects the residents who rely on clean, safe water for survival. The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Program, along with other federal programs, helps protect forested landscapes and the vital infrastructure within and around them. Colorado Springs Utilities appreciates Senator Bennet support of the reauthorization of the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Program. With other programs, it can continue to make a positive impact on forest management and forest restoration. Through these efforts, our collective landscapes will be better prepared for wildfire impacts while ensuring more healthy ecosystems and resources for public health, recreation, and clean, reliable water for our state,” said Travas Deal, Chief Executive Officer, Colorado Springs Utilities.

This legislation is also supported by the National Association of State Foresters.

The text of the bill is available HERE. A summary of the bill is available HERE.