Bennet Introduces Legislation to Invest in Forest, Watershed Restoration Across the West

Bipartisan, Bicameral Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act Will Reduce Wildfire Risk, Improve Wildlife Habitat, and Create Millions of Good Paying Jobs

Watch and Download a Recording of the Virtual Press Conference HERE

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act to create or sustain over two million jobs in the outdoors by investing in forest and watershed restoration. This legislation will provide direct support to local, collaborative efforts to restore habitat, expand outdoor access, and mitigate wildfire. It will also spur federal investment in areas at high-risk of wildfire, with high priority wildlife habitat, or in the wildland-urban interface – where homes and businesses meet wildland vegetation -- to build climate resilience in the West.

Bennet, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, first introduced this proposal in December. President Joe Biden included a commitment to invest in restoration and resilience in his American Jobs Plan, highlighting Bennet’s legislation as a model. U.S. Representatives Jason Crow (D-Colo.) and Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) will introduce companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives. U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) is also co-sponsor of the bill.

“Forests, rangeland, and watersheds are essential infrastructure that sustain our economy in Colorado. For too long, Congress has failed to meaningfully invest in our western lands, undermining our economy and way of life,” said Bennet. “The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act changes that -- investing in the West by creating good-paying jobs to improve forest health, restore watersheds, enhance wildlife habitat, and expand access to the outdoors. I’m pleased President Biden recognized the importance of restoring  America’s forests by including this proposal in his American Jobs Plan. This legislation was written with - and inspired by - Coloradans, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to make it a reality.”

“As we confront climate change, we have an unprecedented chance to create good-paying jobs and generate economic growth while taking meaningful climate action. President Biden understands this imperative and I’m grateful that our plan to do just that was included in the President’s American Jobs Plan,” said Crow. “The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would make critical investments in our forests and watersheds to prevent wildfires and other natural disasters. As we continue to recover from the economic crisis caused by COVID-19, this bipartisan legislation would create two million jobs and support the outdoor industry that plays a massive role in our economy. It also recognizes the importance of strong partnerships between the federal government and our state, local, and tribal partners in outdoor restoration efforts.”

“This bipartisan and bicameral legislation is a unique opportunity to invest in our nation’s greatest resources, our public lands and water. In Idaho, we know the value of public land, we also know the price of maintaining them, this bill provides local communities in rural Idaho the tools necessary to manage them, including increasing mitigation efforts to help minimize catastrophic wildfires,” said Simpson. 

"The climate crisis is not some distant threat. It’s here, and families out West feel its impacts year after year as catastrophic wildfires and extreme weather events devastate their communities,” said Wyden. “Climate action and climate resilience efforts go hand in hand. The West desperately needs a federal investment to restore our public lands and mitigate wildfire risks—investments that will make our communities safer, protect our special places for generations to come, and create good paying jobs, especially in hard hit rural America.”

The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would:

  • Establish an Outdoor Restoration Fund to increase support for local collaborative efforts to restore forests and watersheds, reduce wildfire risk, clean up public lands, enhance wildlife habitat, remove invasive species, and expand outdoor access. The bill establishes an advisory council of local, industry, conservation, and national experts to advise on funding priorities, coordinate with existing regional efforts, and provide oversight.
  • Empower local leaders by making $20 billion directly available to state and local governments, tribes, special districts, and non-profits to support restoration, resilience, and mitigation projects across public, private, and tribal lands. Empowering local leaders that have an ability to bring diverse voices to the table is the path for progress in the West.
  • Partner with states and tribes to invest $40 billion in targeted projects to restore wildlife habitat and reduce wildfire risk across the country. This investment allows federal agencies to partner with local stakeholders to improve forest and watershed health and build climate and community resilience. Tackling the backlog of restoration and resilience projects across public, private, and tribal land will sustain our economy and way of life.
  • Create or sustain over two million good-paying jobs, primarily in rural areas, to support existing industries like agriculture and outdoor recreation, while providing an opportunity for communities to address long-standing restoration needs and draw in new business.
  • Save landowners and local governments money by investing in wildfire prevention and natural hazard mitigation, which is three to six times more cost effective than recovering from natural disasters like wildfires or post-fire floods. 
  • Generate over $156 billion in economic output, with a return of up to $15 for every dollar spent on restoration, while upgrading our natural infrastructure for the millions of Americans whose livelihood, health, and wellbeing rely on them.

A leader on forestry and conservation issues for over a decade in the U.S. Senate, Bennet has worked to end fire borrowing and provide the U.S Forest Service with the necessary tools to improve forest and watershed health. In the 2014 Farm Bill, Bennet ensured Congress improved the conservation and forestry title for Colorado’s farmers, ranchers, and conservation community, expanded Good Neighbor Authority nationwide, following a successful pilot program in Colorado, and expedited treatment of forests affected by insects or disease. In September 2017, Bennet introduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), which provided the framework for the fire funding fix that Bennet secured in the 2018 Omnibus. In the 2018 Farm Bill, Bennet led the effort to maintain full conservation funding, place a greater emphasis on climate and drought, and secure new resources for our national forests. 

Bennet’s work on forestry and conservation is informed and inspired by Coloradans’ experiences and ideas.  After Colorado suffered the three worst wildfires in state history last year, Bennet convened the Western Climate Resilience Roundtable to develop a collaborative, consensus-driven set of priorities for western climate resilience. One of the groups three priorities was “Supporting healthy soils, forests, rangeland, rivers, and watersheds will make our communities more resilient and help maximize the climate mitigation potential of western landscapes.”

Similarly, in 2014, Bennet convened a Fire and Forestry Summit in Colorado to bring together experts to provide recommendations on how the federal government can better support Colorado's wildfire mitigation and post-fire recovery efforts. From those conversations, Bennet drafted the PREPARE Act, a portion of which became the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act, to push for policy changes. Much of the PREPARE Act, including the entire Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act, was signed into law in 2018.

The bill text is available HERE. A one-pager on the bill and a list of supporting organizations is available HERE. A section-by-section summary of the bill is available HERE.

The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is supported by National Wildlife Federation, National Association of State Foresters, The Nature Conservancy, National Wild Turkey Federation, American Forests, National Audubon Society, Family Farm Alliance, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Western Landowners Alliance, Western Resource Advocates, Trout Unlimited, and Conservation Legacy.

"The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is a trailblazing investment in Colorado’s natural resources and Colorado is proud to support its introduction in the US Senate. In a time where we are experiencing major drought and the three largest wildfires in state history, there’s no better time to invest in Colorado’s forests, watersheds, and landscapes that drive economic activity across the west, employ thousands of Americans, and provide environmental and ecological benefits to our communities and wildlife," said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director at the Colorado State Department of Natural Resources.

“The Colorado River District’s highest priority is to protect the water security of Western Colorado. Water security starts with our forests. Our largest source of water is the snowpack that develops in our forests above 9,000 feet in elevation, mostly on federal lands. Sen. Michael Bennet’s $60 billion Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act proposal is a direct water security initiative through the funding of proactive watershed protection actions. These actions would help prevent catastrophic fires and start restoration work where warming temperatures and fires have already done harm. It’s noteworthy that $20 billion will be available to fund projects generated at the state and local levels. We applaud Senator Bennet for advocating for important western priorities in the Senate,” said Andy Mueller, General Manager, Colorado River District.

“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act represents an opportunity for the type of proactive coordination at the local, state and federal levels that will be needed to combat the increasingly destructive effects of climate change on forests and watersheds. As the environmental impacts of climate change accelerate, new and innovative approaches will be necessary to meet the challenge. This legislation recognizes the vital role that leaders at the local and state level have to play in responding to that challenge. It empowers these on-the-ground experts to work collaboratively across boundaries to rehabilitate and enhance our natural infrastructure, while also providing funding to ensure those efforts are successful. A problem as complex as climate change requires similarly multifaceted and forward-thinking solutions, and this is the approach embraced by this legislation. Denver Water supports this legislation as it provides critical, strategic investments in forests and watersheds that will ensure the viability and quality of our drinking water supply for years to come,” said James S. Lochead, CEO and Manager, Denver Water.

“This is a great first step in recognizing and acknowledging the problem that was created over 30 years ago. The lack of proactive management and the ‘hands-off’ approach is now clearly having devastating effects on our communities, forest heath and sustainable watersheds. This bill addresses this problem, provides much needed funding, and hopefully is the beginning of a new era in resource management,” said Merrit Linke, Grand County Commissioner and Club 20 Chair.

“Rangelands and watersheds are the backbone of our western communities, supporting our wildlife, culture, and economies.  And yet their health has been ignored far too long, as we’ve seen with the devastating drought, wildfires and dramatic spread of invasive annual grasses. This bill is exactly what our nation needs right now – creation of meaningful jobs that result in lasting benefits for both small towns and urban centers. Like the Civilian Conservation Corps, which employed millions of Americans during the Great Depression, this bill presents real solutions to today’s challenges by helping us restore the West,” said Alison Holloran, Executive Director and Vice President, Audubon Rockies.

"The 2020 wildfires in Colorado clearly demonstrated that our communities, forests, and watersheds need stronger investment to restore and sustain their health and resiliency,” said Jennifer Kovecses, Executive Director of the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed. “The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act offers an innovative decision-making framework that empowers local leaders and provides critical, durable funding solutions to the highest priority problems they face. This legislation is what our watersheds and forests need so they can continue to support healthy ecosystems and thriving communities."

“Last fall’s Calwood Fire, Boulder County’s largest ever, put a large, smoke plume exclamation mark on the need to pick up the pace and scale of forest health mitigation and restoration,” said Boulder County Commissioner Matt Jones. “The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is vitally important to meet this challenge which is being made even worse by climate change. This legislation will put the emphasis where it needs to be: on cost-effective wildfire prevention and creating a workforce to get that work done.”

“San Luis Valley Great Outdoors (SLV GO!) supports Senator Bennet's Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act,” said Mick Daniel, Executive Director of San Luis Valley Great Outdoors. “We believe that this would bring new jobs to the San Luis Valley  that would benefit our water and forest health and thus benefit the entire region.  SLV GO! works in conjunctions with federal and NGO partners through the San Luis Valley of Colorado to help provide outdoor recreation and stewardship opportunities for our residents.  Bennet’s bill could potentially provide  SLV GO! with opportunities to work more closely with our federal land managers and help restore our national forests from beetle and fire damage.”

“The National Association of State Foresters congratulates Senator Bennet for proposing this bold legislation. Without an increase in coordinated forest management, wildfires will continue to put our nation’s forests and communities at great risk. Constant and increased collaboration between federal and state agencies, non-government organizations, local communities, and private landowners – bolstered by a sustained and unprecedented federal investment – will make all the difference for our most treasured landscapes,” said Joe Fox, President of the National Association of State Foresters.

"Catastrophic fires, invasive species, and other factors have degraded our forests, rangelands, and watersheds.  The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act will empower local and Tribal leaders to advance restoration and resilience projects that will create jobs and strengthen local economies.  Restoring these landscapes and watersheds will help ensure vibrant wildlife habitat, clean air and water, and a thriving outdoor recreation economy for generations to come,” said David Willms, senior director of western wildlife and conservation at the National Wildlife Federation.

“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would provide critical funding to expand forest restoration projects in Colorado and across the West.  Through our leadership in the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative, the need for both increasing the scale of forest restoration and creating critical workforce capacity have become apparent, and this bill addresses both.  This bill will help the partner organizations of the Rocky Mountain Restoration Initiative address the four core values of: water, healthy wildlife and forests, robust recreation opportunities and resilient communities. Senator Bennet’s bill provides a path to addressing these important natural resource concerns while also creating jobs and bolstering rural economies.  The National Wild Turkey Federation is proud to support this timely piece of legislation, and we look forward to working alongside the Senator to see it enacted into law,” said Becky Humphries, CEO, National Wild Turkey Federation.

"The United States has been blessed with abundant land and natural resources, but in our rise to prosperity and global leadership we have also spent heavily from this natural capital. The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 represents a long overdue re-investment in the critical natural infrastructure that sustains us," said Lesli Allison, Executive Director of Western Landowners Alliance.

"The future of the rural West will be defined by the inter-relationship between local communities, farmers, ranchers, foresters and constructive conservation groups working together to balance production and conservation.  Senator Bennet's bill tangibly moves us forward towards implementing this vision,” said Patrick O'Toole, President, Family Farm Alliance.

“Unplanned wildfire is not a problem that is going to just go away. Catastrophic wildfire costs are significant, to people’s lives, public health, forest carbon, water quality, wildlife habitat, outdoor recreation and tourism, forest products, agricultural lands, and jobs. Current efforts to reduce the risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfire are not commensurate with the scale and complexity of the problem,” said American Forests Senior Vice President for Policy Leslie Jones. “Senator Bennet’s bill is exactly the bold new investment and new approaches that are urgently needed. Progress made over the past two decades in wildfire policies, research, technology and funding has built a foundation that will allow us to now take significant steps forward to protect our natural infrastructure and strengthen our communities.”

“As the largest regional park system in the nation and established with the assistance of Civil Conservation Corps, the Outdoor Restoration Force Act would provide significant funding to address the continued wildfire threat in urban areas, restore wetlands, and nature-based infrastructure.  During the pandemic, parks and nature have been an essential outlet and now is the time to reinvest in local communities and create new jobs,” said Sabrina Landreth, General Manager, East Bay Regional Park District (California).


“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act is a necessary investment in the ecosystems so critically important in Southwest Colorado and the rest of the country. Federal assistance with local efforts to support forest health, restore watersheds, protect wildlife habitats, and enhance resiliency in the face of climate change will benefit communities for years to come. The Southwest Colorado Council of Governments applauds the efforts to wholly invest in our region and natural resources and wishes to thank you for your leadership on these critical issues,” said David Black, Chair, Southwest Colorado Council of Governments. 

 “As Western communities continue to fight dueling threats of the COVID-19 pandemic and the impacts of the climate crisis, now is the time to pursue initiatives that will help us rebuild better. The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act will provide badly needed resources to help Western states mitigate wildfires, restore forests, improve air and water quality, and advance equity, all while pumping billions of dollars into local economies and supporting millions of good-paying jobs; it’s a true win-win. We applaud Senator Bennet for his leadership and look forward to supporting this legislation to build a more resilient West,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, President of Western Resource Advocates.

“While the City of Glenwood Springs was fortunate enough to be saved from the flames of the Grizzly Creek Fire, Glenwood Canyon and our watersheds were deeply impacted. Even before the fire was significantly contained by the Incident Management Team, we knew our City would struggle with providing clean water to our residents for years to come.  Being able to access the assistance available in the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act to reduce fire risk and funding to increase restoration and resiliency would be lifesaving for my city and throughout the West,” said Jonathan Godes, Mayor of Glenwood Springs.

“One of the greatest threats to our Tribal lands are the devastating wildfires caused by the extreme drought conditions in the western United States. Sen. Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 will provide much needed investment in conservation, restoration and wildfire  mitigation. A key component of this legislation is Sen. Bennet’s recognition of the importance that Tribes have in land use and regulation, assuring that funds will be made available directly to Tribes for maintenance of our forests, watersheds and rangeland. Moreover, he assures that Tribes will have a seat at the table in determining the distribution of funds, ensuring that there will be a tribal representative working alongside our state and federal partners on the Restoration Fund Advisory Council. We thank Sen. Bennet for introduction of this important legislation and look forward to its swift passage in Congress,” said the Southern Ute Indian Tribe. 

“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act respects the importance of empowering local citizens and leaders that have an ability to bring diverse voices to the table.  Planning and implementing projects from the ground up, while engaging the people with the most at stake, is how we make progress and build resilience in the West.  Our communities need a reliable partner for the urgent effort of recovering and restoring the health and stability of the place where we live and work. I am reassured and grateful for this critical step forward,” said Russell George, lifetime citizen of Western Colorado, former Speaker Colorado House of Representatives, former Director Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Department of Transportation.

“Colorado communities derive extraordinary economic and social benefits from the ongoing health and beauty of our natural environment. Respecting this heritage, the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act aims to strengthen our economy in diverse, collaborative, and sustainable ways that fit the particular context of our communities. We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership in supporting this legislation that supports the natural environment as well as the economy of local communities,” said Chris Romer, ACE, President & CEO, Vail Valley Partnership.

“The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would make investments in forests and watersheds that align with the mission of conservation corps to employ and create career pathways for young men and women with outdoor jobs protecting waterways, communities and our outdoor economies from wildfire, drought and other natural disasters,” said Rob Spath, CEO, Conservation Legacy.

"As a Colorado River headwaters-based organization working to protect local streams, Eagle River Watershed Council sees firsthand the impacts of climate change and drought on our streams and surrounding lands. These streams provide the water we drink, support the diverse wildlife we value and fuel the recreation we all love as well as the economy that is based upon them. The funds provided through the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, if passed, would broaden the capacity of local nonprofits and government, as well as their partners in federal agencies, to find real solutions to complex problems that are only getting bigger. The Act, which also creates new jobs at a time when unemployment is at an all-time high, could help to strengthen our local, natural resource-based economy,” said Holly Loff, Executive Director, Eagle River Watershed Council.

“As an organization working to expand the outdoor recreation industry and improve the quality of life in the Grand Valley, the Outdoor Recreation Coalition is deeply invested in conserving our public lands for economic and social benefits. The Outdoor Restoration Partnerships Act will not only create jobs in our community, but will also invest in the infrastructure and management of the lands necessary for our ever-growing outdoor recreations and tourism industries,” said Sarah Shrader, President, Outdoor Recreation Coalition of the Grand Valley.

“Rural communities across the West depend on natural spaces for our outdoor recreation economy and our way of life. With the impacts of climate change posing an extreme threat, bold, collaborative action needs to be taken to protect this heritage and allow these communities to build resiliency. The Outdoor Restoration Partnerships Act will strengthen rural economies by supporting millions of local jobs, restoring forests and watersheds, and improving infrastructure,” said Thaddeus Shrader, CEO, Bonsai Design.

“The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership commends Senator Bennet and his team for visiting local communities, talking with stakeholders, and getting boots on the ground while developing the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act. The bill highlights a cross-boundary, watershed approach to land management and includes local voices and collaborative efforts. It advances applications of science to land management planning and activities and strives to promote the social, ecological, and economic wellbeing of communities.” said Dana Hayward, Partnership Coordinator for San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership. 

“We applaud Senators Bennet and Wyden, Representatives Crow and Simpson for the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act,” said Cecilia Clavet, Senior Policy Advisor, The Nature Conservancy. “Now more than ever, we need a commitment to address the increasing impacts of wildfire and other threats by restoring our forests, watersheds, rangelands and infrastructure of the West in a way that creates jobs and stimulates rural economies. We welcome this approach that empowers local leaders to support projects across public, private and tribal lands that improve the condition and climate resilience of our treasured landscapes.”

“Colorado’s forests are a critical component of water supply security, important habitat for fish and wildlife, places for us to recreate and connect with nature, and the health of our communities. The San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District enthusiastically supports Senator Bennett’s forest health bill as it will provide much needed improvements to watershed house across the nation,” said Heather Dutton, Manager, San Luis Valley Water Conservancy District.