Colorado Water, Forestry, Recreation, and Conservation Leaders Call for Bennet-Backed Forestry Investments in the Build Back Better Budget

Since Introducing His Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, Bennet Has Led Efforts in the Senate Agriculture Committee to Invest Tens of Billions in Our Forests and Watersheds

Washington, D.C. – Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources, has led the effort to secure several broadly supported and comprehensive investments in our nation’s forests in the Build Back Better Budget. Hundreds of water and forestry stakeholders, local leaders, and conservation advocates from Colorado and across the country say that the budget must contain historic investments in the ability of public and private forestland to reduce wildfire risk, provide cleaner air and water, sequester carbon, recover from wildfire, and support the communities that depend on them. 

In letters submitted to Congressional leadership, stakeholders like the Colorado Water Congress, Western Governors, including Colorado Governor Jared Polis, and Colorado Springs Utilities point to the importance of  forestry funding to reduce wildfire risk and address the climate crisis. 

“This historic investment will create good-paying jobs across the Mountain West, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and safeguard our communities and our water supplies,” said Bennet. 

“On behalf of our members, the Colorado Water Congress is writing to express our appreciation for your work on the Reconciliation Bill and to express our strongest support for the funding levels allocated to investments in forestry programs,” wrote the Colorado Water Congress. “The $40 billion investment in forestry programs – of which $10 billion would go toward Hazardous Fuels Treatments (Within the Wildland Urban Interface) and $1 billion would go toward CFLRP – will help combat forest fires and contribute to healthy, resilient forests.”

“As western governors, we have seen firsthand the devastation that comes with climate change, and these impacts have captured national headlines throughout the unprecedented and now never-ending wildfire seasons, through intense droughts, flash floods, mudslides and myriad of other impacts endured by our communities and citizens,” wrote a coalition of Western U.S. governors, including Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “The investments contained in the proposed reconciliation packages aimed at our western states, communities and especially landscapes and ecosystems will have direct benefits in alleviating those attention grabbing disasters. As leaders of states where every dollar matters, we understand the pressures associated with trimming public expenditures and detailed fiscal responsibility. Yet these disasters and the impacts of climate change will only increase as our climate warms, and for the sake of our states, communities, lands and budgets; in this case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

“Upgrading our natural infrastructure is an opportunity to build climate resilience and create and sustain millions of good paying jobs,” wrote Colorado Springs Utilities. “The Reconciliation Bill provides important and needed federal dollars to support 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 current, disastrous drought coupled with damage from severe wildfires like California’s Dixie Fire and Oregon’s Bootleg Fire underscore the importance of accelerating restoration actions that reduce hazardous fuels on the landscape and improve overall forest and watershed health. These investments also directly benefit watersheds our communities and environment depend upon,” wrote the Western Water Infrastructure Coalition, comprising western resource conservation and agriculture advocates, including Environmental Defense Fund, California Farm Bureau, and Western Growers.

“In various capacities, we have called on Congress to provide tens of billions of additional dollars over the next decade to restore our forests and make them more resilient to wildfire and mitigate the impact of climate change from rural and urban communities,” wrote a coalition of forest and environmental advocates, including American Forests, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, The Nature Conservancy and the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Your package makes these investments and will allow the Forest Service and its non-Federal partners to accelerate the watershed and habitat restoration, research and development, and climate mitigation work that is long overdue.”

“Protecting our state and private forests is key to expanding outdoor recreation access across the country and we applaud the House and Senate Agriculture Committees for their work to invest in our nation’s forests in the reconciliation bill. Increased funding for the Forest Legacy Program is an investment in our outdoor recreation infrastructure for hikers, bikers, hunters, boaters, snowmobilers and all those who enjoy the outdoors,” said Jess Turner, executive director of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable. “The forestry provisions in the reconciliation bill provide support for communities eager to increase recreation access and boost the growing $788 billion outdoor recreation economy that sustains local jobs in every corner of the nation.” 

“We appreciate the work of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees to address forest and watershed health. Efforts to improve the conditions of our forested lands are incredibly important,” wrote the National Water Resources Association’s Ian Lyle. “Healthy, working forests maximize the ability to sequester and store carbon, maintain watershed health and sustain critical ecosystems all while benefiting the economy. In order to protect water supply and improve forest health we ask you to ensure that vital USDA forest health funding is not reduced.”

“We appreciate that the Senate Agriculture Committee recognizes that working forests maximize the ability to sequester and store carbon, improve forest health and resilience, sustain important ecosystem benefits, and ultimately provide markets for renewable and sustainable building materials that store carbon in the built environment,” wrote the American Wood Council. “The funding provided in this Section will make important strides in advancing the necessary research for carbon accounting in the built environment and accelerating the broader adoption of innovative mass timber public/private projects across the country.

Since introducing the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act earlier this year to invest in forest and watershed restoration across the West, Bennet has visited with leaders across Colorado urging a historic investment in America’s forests and watersheds through the Build Back Better budget. 

The letters of support for the forest investments in the Build Back Better budget are available HERE and more excerpts are available below.

“The current package of infrastructure and budget reconciliation legislation has shown that we can invest in climate solutions at a vast scale the same way we invest in other priorities — from the United States Treasury,” said American Forests President Jad Daley. “A climate crisis this dire deserves urgent investment just like a pandemic or a war or a crumbling bridge. And what a forest-climate investment plan Congress has laid out, perfectly aligned with the direction set by the Biden-Harris administration!”

“Wildfire is essential to many forest ecosystems in the United States, but the increasing frequency, size, and severity require significant action to sustain forests, protect the public, and prevent the conversion of forests from carbon sinks to sources of carbon emissions,” wrote a coalition of wildlife conservation groups including the National Wildlife Federation, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, The Nature Conservancy and Trout Unlimited. “Over the next decade we need to ramp up the pace and scale of fuel reduction and watershed health projects to treat an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System lands, and 30 million acres of other federal, state, tribal, and private lands. The reconciliation package makes that fiscal commitment.”

“The reconciliation package has the potential to protect and grow our forests in ways that will enhance their climate action contributions, building from the nearly 15 percent of our nation’s carbon dioxide emissions currently captured in our forests and forest products each year, as reported in the U.S. EPA Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Investing in forests for climate action will also enhance their capacity to address other environmental and natural infrastructure needs, such as cleaning our air and water, lowering surface temperatures and energy use, and serving as a home to wildlife,” wrote the 78 members of the Forest Climate Working Group. “The budget reconciliation package stands as the most significant legislative action yet to leverage forests and forest products as a powerful nature-based solution to help combat climate change. The bill’s $40 billion dollars in forest-focused investments will dramatically bolster our sector’s ability to increase resilient carbon storage in America’s forests and forest products and better protect human and natural communities from climate impacts.”

“The FY22 budget reconciliation process and the Build Back Better Act are an urgent and fleeting opportunity to mobilize a government-wide and nationwide effort to address the climate crisis,” wrote the Outdoor Alliance. “This crisis gravely affects our public lands and waters, while, at the same time, investments in our public lands and waters will make a meaningful contribution towards climate resilience while supporting equitable and sustainable access to the outdoors and the outdoor recreation Economy.”

“Bold action is needed to sustain forests, protect public safety, and prevent the conversion of forests from carbon sinks to carbon emission sources. The scale of wildfires and their community impacts far outpace current efforts to prevent them and mitigate the damage they cause,” wrote a coalition of forestry advocates, including the American Forests Foundation, National Association of State Foresters and Society of American Foresters. “The U.S. Forest Service researchers have identified the need to treat an additional 20 million acres of National Forest System lands, and an additional 30 million acres of other federal, state, tribal, and private lands to make significant progress in reducing extreme wildfire risk and building forest resilience.”

“From combating climate change and creating more equitable communities to improving infrastructure and expanding green jobs, our nation’s current and expanding 138 million acres of urban and community forests and trees are an essential piece of the equation,” wrote a broad coalition of regional and national urban and community forest advocates, including members of the Sustainable Urban Forestry Coalition. “Furthermore, with climate impacts from extreme heat and air pollution rising, cities and towns are urgently setting new goals for expansion of tree cover to protect our most vulnerable populations. The bold investments proposed in the reconciliation bills—particularly from the House Agriculture Committee—represent unprecedented recognition and support for the multitude of scientifically proven social, economic, and environmental benefits provided by forests and trees across communities of all sizes.”

“Not only will these investments expand access and support local economies, but proper infrastructure investments will also rebuild recreation assets devastated by droughts and wildfires while making these assets and the public lands that house them more resilient to the ongoing effects of climate change. They will also help restore ecological integrity and conditions for at-risk species,” wrote the members of the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

“Nature plays a critical role in combating climate change, which is why Salesforce is committed to conserving, restoring and growing 100 million trees by 2030 in partnership with,” wrote Salesforce. “And is why the company also continues to advocate for investments in conservation, drought, and forestry programs that would sequester carbon emissions, enhance forestry management, and improve wildfire resilience and recovery.”

“Trees and green spaces are essential to maintaining healthy communities and ecosystems. Federal programs that support urban forestry and green space preservation are key to making these vulnerable communities more resilient to the climate crisis and building up the critical green infrastructure we need to take on climate change,” wrote the Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club urges Senators to maintain funding for these critical programs as they consider a final version of the package.”

“The scale and severity of wildfires – and their impact on communities – far outpace current efforts to prevent human-caused wildfires and mitigate wildfire damages,” wrote National Association of State Foresters President and and Connecticut State Forester Christopher Martin. “Without an unprecedented and sustained investment in coordinated wildland fire and forest management, wildfires will continue to plague the nation’s forests, destroy our cherished communities, and irrevocably alter American landscapes.”

“This Reconciliation bill presents an historic opportunity to focus federal investments on climate mitigation and forest restoration and resilience objectives, especially those that help leverage private sector resources and markets,” wrote the American Forest Foundation and the Sustainable Forestry and African American Land Retention Network. “Putting resources toward proven programs that can reduce wildfire and sequester carbon, and that do not require extensive new rulemaking, will yield the fastest results."

“The substantial investment in the Forest Legacy Program is a win-win for communities by bolstering rural economies with jobs in the woods and at local mills, protecting drinking water supplies, and increasing access to the outdoors,” said Lesley Kane Szynal, Chair of the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition. “In addition, funding forest conservation represents further progress toward meeting the moment of crisis we now find ourselves in, where opportunities to keep forests as forests, connect landscapes, and make communities more healthy and more resilient cannot be left on the table. We applaud both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for their work on this important issue, and we look forward to working with Congress to ensure this critical investment remains in the final legislation.” 

“As Congress negotiates the reconciliation legislation we urge them to ensure robust funding for forest conservation, including for the Forest Legacy Program. This critical investment in natural climate solutions not only improves climate resilience and carbon sequestration but also the U.S. economy and the local communities that depend on our forests for jobs and outdoor recreation,” said Tom Cors, Director of Government Relations for Lands, at The Nature Conservancy. “The Forest Legacy Program has led to the protection of over 2.8 million acres of sustainable working forest lands, bringing together federal, state, and private partners to achieve the common goals of protecting and maintaining forest jobs, recreational access, wildlife habitat, and clean drinking water. We are committed to working with Congress to include this significant investment in forests and natural climate solutions in the final reconciliation bill.”

“We cannot miss this opportunity to secure additional investment for forest and agriculture conservation programs, as they are vital to our nation’s ecosystems and economies,” said Kelly Reed, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at The Conservation Fund. “We thank the Senate and House Agriculture Committees for their strong support of the Forest Legacy Program in the reconciliation bill, and we urge Congress to maintain these historic investments in the final legislation.”

“Across the country, The Trust for Public Land is working with communities, private landowners, and land managers to protect and preserve forestlands. Working forests play a critical role in absorbing carbon emissions to help mitigate the impacts of climate change. But, these forest conservation and recreation projects depend on funding from the Forest Legacy Program,” said Myke Bybee, Legislative Director at The Trust for Public Land. “We commend the House and Senate Agriculture Committees for their strong support of forestry and the Forest Legacy Program in the budget reconciliation bill. The American people are depending on these important programs to preserve, protect, and enjoy our forests now and for generations to come. The Forest Legacy Program enables innovative conservation solutions that bring communities together and deliver innumerable benefits: clean water, wildlife habitat, parks and trails, climate resilience, public health, and outdoor recreation for all Americans. We urge the Congress to include robust funding for these important forestry programs in the final reconciliation bill.”

“Right now we have a unique opportunity to invest in critical forest conservation that protects drinking water, preserves biodiversity, builds climate resilience, and supports local economies that rely on our state and private forestland. We are grateful for the work of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees on the forestry provisions in the reconciliation bill, including an important investment in the Forest Legacy Program,” said Kim Elliman, president and CEO of the Open Space Institute. “Protecting working forests that sequester carbon and bolster resilient ecosystems is key to combat the climate crisis and the ever-growing pressure of development. The Open Space Institute has protected forests from Maine to Florida, and we look forward to growing these efforts by ensuring investment in forest conservation remains in the final reconciliation legislation.”

“The Forest Legacy Program delivers benefits to communities across the country as a catalyst for job creation in rural areas, a means of increasing access to the outdoors, and as a tool for protecting our forestland,” said Mark Falzone, president of Scenic America. “The program aligns closely with Scenic America’s work to protect scenic beauty to encourage economic development. Investments in our nation’s scenic and natural treasures are critical for the health and welfare of all Americans. Scenic America applauds the Senate and House Agricultural Committees for their significant support of these forestry provisions in the reconciliation bill and we urge Congress to retain this funding in the final legislation.”