Northwest forests are becoming vulnerable to fire

Dense forest stand in the Deschutes National Forest, Oregon. 

Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) has reintroduced a climate change bill that would markedly expand lands under USDA’s Conservation Resource Program (CRP), expand reforestation and restore wetlands.

Booker, along with Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA-7), compared the bill to the economic and environmental challenges faced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1930s when he implemented the New Deal.

“In FDR’s New Deal, the federal government planted billions of trees, provided conservation incentives to family farmers and ranchers, created hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Civilian Conservation Corps, and electrified rural America,” Booker said in a statement.

“The Climate Stewardship Act is a critical investment to seriously engage farmers, ranchers and rural communities as part of the solution to climate change. This plan will create important new jobs, make farms more profitable and protect our ecosystem for years to come.”

Spanberger, chair of the House Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, stated, “This legislation builds on the tremendous work farmers are already doing to build a healthier climate —and it makes sure our rural businesses and communities are not left behind as we work together to strengthen our economy.”

The legislation would:

• Incrementally increase enrollment of land through CRP to 40 million acres by 2030, with 15 million acres to be enrolled through general CRP, and 20 million acres enrolled through continuous CRP;

• Increase funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to $7 billion per year by 2024, and authorize contracts that are “highly effective at reducing [greenhouse gas] emissions and enhancing carbon sequestration and will help producers adapt to increasing weather volatility”;

• Make climate stewardship practices eligible for new supplemental funding under the Conservation Stewardship Program and increase funding from $700 million a year to $7 billion by 2024;

• Triple funding for the Conservation Technical Assistance program to help farmers and ranchers as they adopt practices to reduce emissions and respond to climate change;

• Increase funding from $50 million to $3 billion per year to provide grants and loan guarantees for the Rural Energy for America Program to expand renewable energy production and make energy efficiency improvements;

• Direct and fund the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior to reforest areas degraded by wildfire, pest infestation, invasive species, diseases, extreme weather, abandoned mines, orphaned oil and gas wells, and decommissioned logging roads;

• Provide cost-share grants to states, tribes, local governments, and nonprofits to plant 1.6 billion trees by 2030 and over 6.5 billion trees by 2050; and

• Provide funding to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to restore 240,000 acres and to the National Park Service to restore 620,000 acres of degraded coastal wetlands over 10 years.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), co-sponsor of the bill with Booker, said it “will empower farmers across the country to join conservation efforts” and will create jobs and investments in “climate solutions to strengthen our environmental resilience and economy.”

A similar bill was introduced in 2019 and did not move in either the Senate or the House. According to Politico, Booker is hoping to attach the reintroduced bill to President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package. Politico states the sponsors are hoping to get the support of Republican lawmakers along with “more cosponsors this time around and be active in infrastructure negotiations.” — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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