Bennet, Coloradans Applaud House Passage of Historic Forestry Investment in Build Back Better Budget

Bennet Has Led Efforts in the Senate Agriculture Committee to Invest Tens of Billions in Colorado’s National Forests and Watersheds

Bennet Will Fight to Keep These Provisions in the Budget As It Makes Its Way Through the Senate

Denver – Today, 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, released the following statement after U.S. House passage of President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better Act. This package, now headed to the U.S. Senate for consideration, includes a historic $54 billion investment in forestry and conservation. 

“After Colorado saw the three largest wildfires in our state’s history last year, I have fought to make critical investments in our forests,” said Bennet. “The forestry provisions in the Build Back Better budget, which are largely based on my Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, will create good-paying jobs and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires while safeguarding our communities and water supplies. As climate change continues to fuel more extreme natural disasters like wildfires across the West, the Senate must swiftly pass this historic investment in our national forests.”

The Build Back Better Act invests over $27 billion in America’s public, private, urban, and community forests to help sequester carbon, protect water supplies, and reduce the risk of wildfires. Since introducing the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act earlier this year, Bennet has visited with local leaders across Colorado calling for a major investment in America’s forests through the Build Back Better budget. Consistent with the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, The Build Back Better Act includes tens of billions of dollars to support locally-led forest and watershed restoration, wildfire mitigation, hazardous fuels, and vegetation management projects, along with funding to enhance outdoor access and restore wildlife habitat.

“Colorado is faced with a skyrocketing population and growing number of homes in the wildland urban interface. These trends - paired with a continuing crisis-level drought – brought about last year’s devastating wildfire season. The cumulative impact of these risk factors is now being addressed at all levels of government. The $27 billion made available for forest restoration and fuels reduction through the Build Back Better Act comes at a time when both the state of Colorado and its local governments are heavily committed to fully recovering from and better preparing for catastrophic wildfires,” said Eric H. Bergman, Policy Director, Colorado Counties, Inc.

“Colorado Water Congress is grateful for Senator Bennet’s leadership on the Forestry Title in the Build Back Better Act.  The substantial investment in forestry programs will help combat forest fires and contribute to healthy, resilient forests. These investments will provide 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,” said Doug Kemper, Executive Director, Colorado Water Congress.

“This funding is a critical component of protecting watersheds by reducing the risk for catastrophic fires. Proactive forestry that restores forest health and promotes resilience before disaster strikes are required if we are to preserve our landscapes and our water supplies, particularly now, as climate change dramatically increases the stress on our natural environment. Denver Water, in its partnerships with federal agencies, has been taking this proactive approach for years, with concrete success in protecting communities and watersheds to show for it, and we are excited to see such significant financial resources as part of this federal legislation,” said Jim Lochhead, CEO and Manager, Denver Water.

“Since our county is situated on the cusp of a vast desert, we are particularly vulnerable to climate change. We see record low levels of water in our reservoirs and rivers, beetle kill in wide swaths of our forests, and we have had several catastrophic wildfires sweep through La Plata County over the last 20 years. These fires have scorched private and public lands -- devastating properties, rivers, aquatic life, and our local economies. La Plata County, with support from local partners, is working hard to restore landscapes by doing mitigation on the pace and scale necessary to actually make a difference. We cannot do it alone though and that is why this federal investment in our forests and watersheds that Senator Bennet pushed for is so critically important,” said Marsha Porter-Norton, La Plata County Commissioner.   

"Restoring forest health across public and private lands is among the highest priorities for landowners and communities across the West. The need for this investment is urgent in the face of record-setting wildfires, drought, and water shortages.  We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership to secure this much needed funding support," said Lesli Allison, Executive Director, Western Landowners Alliance.

“The Budget Reconciliation Bill will 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 through restoring waterways and forests, improving wildlife habitat, and protecting communities and our outdoor economies from wildfire, drought and other natural disasters.  Conservation Legacy appreciates Senator Bennet’s local and national leadership on this legislation,” said Amy Sovocool, Acting CEO, Conservation Legacy.

"The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act provisions included in the Build Back Better budget offer an important set of resources to land managers, stakeholders, and communities urgently seeking to increase the pace and scale of forest and watershed management. These provisions led by Senator Bennet emphasize local voices, incorporate the best available science into project planning, and stress the importance of collaborative efforts for successful cross-boundary, watershed, and forest management approaches. Grant opportunities outlined in these provisions will directly benefit knowledgeable partners committed to working effectively with agencies to improve the social, ecological, and economic wellbeing of our communities and landscapes," said Dana Guinn, Coordinator, San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership.

"We were pleased to see the critically important funding for investment in USDA forestry programs included in the budget reconciliation bill. We thank Senator Bennet for his leadership and his ORPA legislation, which set the stage for securing this historic forestry investment. Neglecting these important watershed health provisions in any reconciliation package or another legislative vehicle would be a missed opportunity and, in a year where the impacts of drought and Western wildfires are being so acutely felt, a glaring omission. This funding will help ensure our public and private forest lands have the tools they need to help combat cyclic, destructive fire seasons, contribute to healthy, resilient forests and improve watershed health,” said Patrick O'Toole, President, Family Farm Alliance.

"As a Colorado River headwaters-based organization working to protect local streams, Eagle River Watershed Council sees firsthand the impacts of climate change and wildfire on our watersheds. These watersheds provide the water we drink, support the diverse wildlife we value and the recreation we all love, as well as the economy that is based upon them. Senator Bennet’s leadership in securing these funds is appreciated as they will broaden the capacity of nonprofits, government and tribes to restore forests and increase resiliency, protecting watersheds and the people that live in them,” said Holly Loff, Executive Director, Eagle River Watershed Council.

“Colorado communities derive extraordinary economic and social benefits from the ongoing health and beauty of our natural environment. The economic and social benefits, combined with the environmental stewardship for our forests, enhance Colorado’s quality of life. Respecting this heritage, we are thrilled to see the investment in our national forests through the Budget Reconciliation bill. This funding for our national forests will serve 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 on this legislation that supports the natural environment as well as the economy of our local communities,” said Chris Romer, ACE, President & CEO, Vail Valley Partnership.

“In 2018 catastrophic wildfire was identified as a top threat to lives, water, infrastructure, homes, wildlife, and the recreation assets that support our economy and quality of life.  The citizens of Chaffee County voted to tax themselves to fund forest treatment in 2018.  Our collaborative community wildfire plan works to treat the most important 5% of acres which models show can reduce the risk of severe wildfire to community assets by 50%.  We are excited to see federal funding also appropriated for this critical work and appreciate Senator Bennet's work to make it happen,” said Cindy Williams, Co-Chair, Envision Chaffee County.  

“Colorado Springs Utilities greatly appreciates Sen. Bennet’s work to address the growing threat that wildfires present for drinking water supplies for many communities in the West due to unhealthy forests and persistent drought conditions. The programs and funding championed by Sen. Bennet will enable federal, state and local stakeholders to increase the pace and scale of forest health and wildfire mitigation work. This will provide greater water security for communities like Colorado Springs as well as improve public safety,” said Wayne Williams, Chair, Colorado Springs Utilities Board of Directors.

“I commend Senator Bennet and Congress for prioritizing funding for forest health, and natural disaster mitigation and recovery programs. Colorado is just one lightning strike, one drought season, and one unattended fire from our next mega fire.  These welcome federal funds will leverage the over $88 million passed by Colorado’s General Assembly for wildfire recovery, risk mitigation and workforce development on our lands and waters in the last year. Together, these transformational investments will accelerate efforts to improve landscape conditions in Colorado and other Western states susceptible to the effects of climate change, wildfires and prolonged drought, and better protect our communities, infrastructure, drinking water supplies, and wildlife habitat for the long-term,” said Dan Gibbs, Executive Director, Colorado Department of Natural Resources.  

“Across Colorado and the West, we see the intensifying effects of climate change, like record-breaking heat, prolonged drought, erratic weather, intense wildfires, and toxic air pollution. The Build Back Better bill and the forestry provisions provide badly needed resources to help Western states mitigate wildfires, restore forests, improve air and water quality, and advance equity, while supporting millions of good-paying jobs. We applaud Senator Bennet for spearheading the largest investment in national forests in history, which will help in building a more climate resilient West,” said Jon Goldin-Dubois, President, Western Resource Advocates.

“It is great to see this funding for forest restoration moving forward based on Senator Bennet’s Outdoor Restoration Partnership legislation. We depend on our public lands to drive the outdoor recreation industry, which is a powerhouse economic driver in Colorado . This legislation will be the largest single investment Congress has ever made in our National Forests, and it couldn’t come at a better time as climate change continues to make our forests more vulnerable to wildlife. I thank Senator Bennet for his continued leadership on these issues that are so important to Colorado and the rural Mountain West,” said Sarah Shrader, Owner and Co-Founder, Bonsai Design, Grand Junction, CO.

“Colorado Water Congress is grateful for Senator Bennet’s leadership on the Forestry Title in the Build Back Better Act.  The substantial investment in forestry programs will help combat forest fires and contribute to healthy, resilient forests. These investments will provide 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,” said Doug Kemper, Executive Director, Colorado Water Congress.

“The Forestry Subtitle in the Build Back Better Act couldn’t have come at a better time to support our Forest Health efforts in Southwest Colorado. The 10 year horizon and the magnitude of BBA funding aligns perfectly with the RMRI Southwest Colorado goal of treating 310,000 acres of public and private land in 10 years. The 20% match requirement also provides critical leverage in meeting our pace and scale goals. Eligibility in the Forestry Subtitles aligns with our Federal, State, Tribal and Local partners that are actively engaged in our three Forest Health Collaboratives.  The activities encompassed in that Act cover our core values of Community Resilience, Water, Recreation, Forests and Wildlife. The Act overcomes funding limitations on Programs that have worked well for us.  We are excited about new elements such as the research programs that address areas that are of vital interest to us such as climate change and the carbon cycle. We want to thank Senator Bennet for visiting our projects, listening carefully to our needs, and helping to frame the kind of bold forestry initiatives in the BBA that will be critical to our success,” said Mike Preston, Steering Committee Member RMRI, Southwest Colorado.