June 18, 2020

Congressman Joe Neguse Introduces Bill to Make Major Investments in Wildfire Prevention, Outdoor Recreation, and Public Lands Restoration as Part of COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Efforts

New Neguse legislation would make significant investments for wildfire resiliency, provide economic stimulus for the outdoor recreation industry, and create jobs in conservation.  

Washington D.C.—Congressman Joe Neguse today introduced legislation to provide financial relief to struggling outdoor recreation industries and make historic investments in Conservation Corps and Public Lands Service Organizations. The bill provides critical funds to support the natural resource management and conservation workforce that underpins the health of our public lands. Additionally, the legislation bolsters wildfire prevention and preparedness to protect the health and safety of communities during the unparalleled combination of threats posed by wildfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic. The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act is sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden in the Senate. 

“In Colorado, access to public lands and outdoor recreation are at the core of our economy, driving main street tourism, our recreation industry and our way of life. Therefore, recovery from COVID-19 must prioritize our public lands, our economy and the health of our communities. My plan does this by stimulating our outdoor recreation economy, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans to complete conservation projects, investing in programs that will lower the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and importantly, equipping our firefighters and first responders to stay healthy through wildfire season,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “We must ensure that we are investing in our mountain economies, our small businesses, and that climate action is not set aside as we fight for a future after the pandemic.” 

“The Civilian Conservation Corps was a cornerstone of America’s response to the Great Depression,” said Colorado Governor Jared Polis. “As our country faces another monumental challenge due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our nation’s public lands and outdoor recreation economy must once again feature prominently in our economic recovery, especially in Colorado. Rep. Neguse’s bill would make valuable investments to correct underfunding and end a growing backlog of maintenance at our public lands agencies while focusing on helping outdoor recreation businesses that support jobs in our communities. I urge Congress to pass this important legislation." 

“Congress is moving aggressively to protect the economy and save lives, but it’s imperative that our recovery efforts also support long term resiliency,” said Congressman Jared Huffman, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife and co-lead of the legislation. “In rural communities, focusing on public health and safety means also preparing communities for wildfire, keeping our forests healthy, and investing in the public lands that support rural economies. With fire season already here and the confounding challenges of the pandemic, healthy forests and wildfire preparedness are critical for communities throughout the West. Our bill would scale up investments in our forests, support the outdoor recreation economy, and bring restoration jobs to rural communities like those in northwest California.” 

“The economic impacts of the COVID-19 emergency has hit rural communities with a wrecking ball. Struggling recreation economies coupled with the unique challenges of this year's wildfire season demand a comprehensive and creative approach. That’s why I introduced my bill,” Senator Wyden said. “Now is the time to invest in our public lands, invest in clean air and water, and invest in rural jobs. Thanks to Congressman Neguse for leading this effort in the House.”

“We’ve worked to make sure everyone has access to our National Parks and public lands, no matter where they live or how much they make. However, the pandemic has impacted wildfire preparedness and New Mexico’s tourism economy, crippling budgets and making fighting fires more difficult.  I’m proud to join my friend and colleague Rep. Joe Neguse to provide support for wildfire prevention and preparedness, protect the health and safety, provide relief, and create jobs in our communities that rely on public lands and outdoor recreation,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and an original co-sponsor of the legislation. 

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I’m committed to doing everything we can to grow jobs and opportunity in rural communities. Making investments to support our public lands and to grow jobs in outdoor recreation is a win-win for regions like ours,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer, an original cosponsor of the legislation. “The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act will grow opportunities in our region by providing targeted relief for outfitters and guides to stay afloat during the shortened recreation season and by creating new jobs focused on enhancing access to our public lands. I’m proud to support it.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on public health and the economy, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges in 2020. Those at increased risk for adverse health effects due to wildfire smoke exposure – people who suffer from heart or respiratory diseases – are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The crisis also quickly brought the outdoor economy to a halt. Many forest workers, despite their essential work, were laid off and others, like outfitters and guides who rely on tourism and outdoor recreation, are unable to work during their busy season.

Neguse’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act will provide significant investment in wildfire prevention and resiliency efforts; programs that can get rural Americans back to work when it’s deemed safe by public health experts to do so; direct relief for outfitters and guides; as well as extensive resources to support public lands restoration. The legislation:

  • Establishes a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring, helping to restore public lands and watersheds, while providing important public health related jobs in this time of need;
  • Establishes a $7 billion relief fund to help outfitters and guides who hold U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits – and their employees – stay afloat through the truncated recreation season;
  • Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service and $6 billion for the National Park Service maintenance accounts to both create jobs and reduce the maintenance backlog on National Forest System and National Park System lands;
  • Provides $4 billion in National Forest Funding to make needed investments in landscape-scale restoration projects to improve forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire;
  • Provides $600 million for the Forest Service State and Private Forestry program, including $200 million for programs such as Firewise which helps local governments plan for and reduce wildfire risks;
  • Provides $100 million for land management agencies to purchase and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees, contractors and service workers; 
  • Increases access to public lands through expanding and investing in programs like Every Kid Outdoors and the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership; and
  • Provides temporary fee waivers for ski areas and public land use permit holders to aid in economic recovery.

A one-page summary of the bill is available here. 

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Jared Huffman (CA-02), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Derek Kilmer (WA-06).

Support for 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act:

Jefferson County Commissioner Lesley Dahlkemper: “In Jefferson County, our first responders are on the frontlines of two major battles: wildfire risk and COVID-19. The impact of wildfire season coupled with a highly contagious and deadly pandemic place extraordinary pressure on firefighters already stretched thin – both in terms of resources and people. Congressman Neguse’s bill will provide hands-on help to thin unhealthy forests to help reduce wildfire risk, put people back to work, and encourage greater collaboration to identify solutions before a fire starts thanks to a renewed investment in the Firewise program.”  

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence: “In Summit County, outdoor recreation is at the heart of our economy, driving tourism and fueling our main street small businesses. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, investments in our outdoor economy, our public lands and support for our firefighters as they enter wildfire season will be crucial. We applaud Congressman Neguse's efforts to create an economic stimulus and recovery plan that puts our mountain communities and the needs of the west front and center.”

Jim Ramey, Colorado State Director for The Wilderness Society: “Now, more than ever, we need leadership from our elected officials in Congress to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic fallout. Rep. Neguse has answered that call with this bill.  The 21st Century Conservation Corps for our Health and Our Jobs Act recognizes the significant role public lands and the outdoor industry plays in our nation’s economy and the health of our communities. This bill rightfully looks to our public lands to spur the economic recovery and put people to work stewarding our local parks and national treasures. Lawmakers from across the country should be able to get behind this common-sense idea.” 

Matt Wade, Advocacy and Policy Director at American Mountain Guides Association: “Rock climbing, mountaineering, and backcountry skiing guides around the country are experiencing grave circumstances as the COVID-19 crisis is affecting their ability to provide educational courses and guided trips on public lands. Representative Neguse’s proposals to provide relief funds and waive permit fees will help guides across the country remain in business at a time when the American people will significantly benefit from experiences in the outdoors.”  

Melanie Mills, President & CEO of Colorado Ski Country USA: “Colorado Ski Country USA’s 22 member ski areas salute Congressman Neguse for introducing the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. The ski fee waiver provision in the Act will provide critical support to Colorado’s ski areas as they work to reopen after the COVID-19 closures and to recover from the economic challenges ahead posed by a cautious traveling public.”

Lise Aangeenbrug, Executive Director of the Outdoor Industry Association: “The outdoor industry supports Congressman Neguse’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. Investment in the outdoor recreation economy will create jobs, expand access to recreation for all and support a sustained economic recovery in communities affected by the ongoing impacts of the pandemic.”

Erik Murdock, Access Fund Policy Director: “In these challenging times, our country is ripe for a revolutionary program that welcomes all young Americans to an inclusive work and training system, creates a safe outdoors that they will return to repeatedly, and deepens their ethic of conservation and public service. Similar to after the Great Depression, our public lands can be a significant part of America’s recovery effort by creating jobs, increasing conservation values, and bootstrapping local economies. Access Fund supports Congressman Neguse in his efforts to make this happen.”

John Gale, Conservation Director for Backcountry Hunters & Anglers: “On behalf of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and as a constituent from Pine, Colorado, I applaud Rep. Neguse for introducing the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Jobs and Our Health Act. By putting people back to work with shovel-ready projects and addressing the improved management of our forests and watersheds, we not only create healthier wildlife habitats; we also safeguard water resources, reduce hazardous fuel loads to protect our communities, and enhance restoration efforts by leveraging private and public investments in forest health.”

Teresa Martinez, Executive Director of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition: The 21st Century Conservation Corps for our Health and Our Jobs Act would provide much needed relief for gateway communities to the Continental Divide Trail and other public lands. Congressman Neguse understands that public lands are vital not only to our physical and mental health, but to our economy as well. This bill addresses longstanding needs such as trail maintenance, habitat restoration, and forest health, as well as immediate needs in the wake of COVID-19. By creating jobs and investing in our public lands, trails, and waters, this legislation will help rural communities now and well into the future.”

Brent Tregaski, General Manager of Eldora Mountain Resort in Roosevelt National Forest. “Ski areas have never asked the federal government for waiver of fees before, but these are unprecedented times. Ski Fee Waiver would provide much-needed relief for ski areas like Eldora suffering from the economic impacts associated with COVID-19.  This relief will also benefit mountain communities as we work towards recovery and prepare for additional challenges and impacts to visitation this winter season.”

Will Roush, Executive Director for the Wilderness Workshop: “I applaud Representative Negus for introducing the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. This legislation will help address significant maintenance backlogs on public lands across the West and create thousands of new jobs while doing so. Importantly it will also help advance projects to protect communities from wildfires while keeping our backcountry wild.”

Ian Stafford, Colorado Policy Strategist at American Whitewater: “American Whitewater is thrilled to see the introduction of  the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act. Across the country we see the outdoor recreation economy becoming more ingrained in communities. This legislation will ensure to protect public lands and waters, recreationists, commercial operators, and local economies by providing reliable jobs and income to communities across the country.” 

Keegan Young, Executive Director of Colorado Mountain Club: “The Colorado Mountain Club is pleased to see our House Representative Joe Neguse introduce The 21st Century Conservation Corps for our Health and our Jobs Act which includes $12 billion to support Construction and Maintenance of infrastructure on National Forest and National Park Service lands across the country.  This funding will help mitigate the maintenance backlog on thousands of miles of roads and trails to improve sustainable recreation opportunities and mitigate impacts to natural resources.  The bill also proposes $9 billion to support land and conservation corps programs – like CMC’s Stewardship Crew – that provide jobs for young adults to complete critical work on public lands.”

Aaron Bannon, Executive Director, American Outdoors Association:
 “The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act provides relief right where it is needed for the outdoor industry. Outdoor recreation providers have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and most of those who are able to operate are facing financial shortfalls of 50 percent or more. This bill will meet their need for financial stability directly, ensuring that the services they provide, reconnecting people with the treasured landscapes that make up our nation’s incredible public lands, will persist. Spending time in the outdoors can and will play a key role in helping America heal.”

Laura Forero, Legislative Representative, League of Conservation Voters: “We thank Representative Joe Neguse for his efforts to invest in rural communities who depend on safe, healthy forests and our public lands. In light of the catastrophic wildfires of the past year as well as the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on rural economies, this comprehensive piece of legislation provides crucial investments for wildfire resiliency, supports workers affected by forest closures due to wildfires and COVID-19, and invests in the creation of green jobs in our public lands. We’re glad this bill also funds urban and tribal forestry programs and invests in the younger generation by increasing funds for the Every Kid Outdoors Program.”

Kirin Kennedy, Deputy Legislative Director for the Sierra Club: “This bill provides urgently needed funds to protect workers, support the outdoor recreation economy and increase employment opportunities, while restoring parks and public lands, reducing maintenance backlogs and helping create fire-smart communities. It will provide immediate relief while setting up sustained recovery for both our economy and our outdoor spaces.”  

Diane Regas, President and CEO of The Trust for Public Land: “A historic, one-time investment in local parks would stimulate the creation of thousands of jobs and economic activity, expand park access for the one-in-three Americans who do not have a close-to-home park, while creating and improving parks in the neighborhoods where they are needed most and are disproportionally impacted by the pandemic. I'm grateful for Rep. Neguse’s leadership, and pleased that a wide ranging group of advocates and non-profit organizations are coming together to support universal access to quality, close-to-home parks.” 

Geraldine Link, Director of Public Policy at National Ski Areas Association: “Fee Waiver is absolutely essential to public land ski areas across the country hit hard by COVID-19. Our challenges are far from over, and we thank Rep. Neguse for his support and recognition of the vital role we play in rural communities.”

Louis Geltman, Policy Director, Outdoor Alliance: “As our country works through the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the opportunity to get into the outdoors has been an invaluable reprieve for many people. At the same time, the crisis has demonstrated inequities around outdoor access and the need for better recreation infrastructure, especially close to home. Addressing that unmet demand presents a big opportunity to put Americans to work building resources that will be of lasting value to communities, and the outdoor recreation community greatly appreciates Rep. Neguse's leadership in recognizing the tremendous value of our public lands and waters in helping our country recover from this crisis.”

Carlos Fernandez, Colorado State Director, The Nature Conservancy: “Colorado, like much of the West, will soon face another wildfire season, but forest restoration and other efforts to prepare against this threat are being stalled by the pandemic.  Congressman Neguse’s proposal will provide critical relief to rural communities at greater risk of lost revenues and higher levels of respiratory diseases this wildfire season.” 

Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO, The Corps Network: “During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt said that 'no country, however rich, can afford the waste of its human resources.' His response was to put Americans to work through popular and successful programs like the Civilian Conservation Corps. In response to this current crisis, a bold investment in Youth and Conservation Corps would offer a solution to rising youth unemployment. In times of economic crisis, our young people, especially those living in underserved communities, are often overlooked. By prioritizing national service as a means of engagement, we can improve our public lands and communities while providing young people with training and supportive services to help them achieve a bright future. We extend our appreciation to Representative Neguse and Representative Huffman for championing the critical role that Corps can play in helping our country through these unprecedented times.”