May 13, 2021

Neguse, Bennet, Hoeven, Armstrong, Spanberger Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill to Restore Forests and Grasslands, Reduce Wildfire Risk, and Protect Water Supplies

Bill Would Formally Authorize and Double Funding for USDA’s Popular Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership

Washington, D.C. – Today, Representative Joe Negue partnered with Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, North Dakota U.S. Senator John Hoeven, North Dakota U.S. Representative Kelly Armstrong, and Virginia U.S Representative Abigail Spanberger to introduce the bipartisan, bicameral Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 to formally authorize the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative (Joint Chiefs) to better support forest and grassland restoration projects across public and private land. The unique nature of this initiative is that it supports voluntary restoration projects across ownership boundaries, so that treatments can occur across a landscape, rather than stopping at public or private land.  

Since USDA launched Joint Chiefs in 2014, the initiative has supported 93 projects, including two in Colorado, and treated 300,000 acres of hazardous fuels, restored 29,000 acres in priority watersheds, and enhanced 200,000 acres of wildlife habitat. The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 would formally establish the program at USDA, double its funding to help meet demand, and improve outreach and accountability.

“Our communities in Colorado experienced devastating wildfires this past year. In the wake of the Cameron Peak and East Troublesome Fires in our district, there is considerable recovery and restoration work to be done,” said Congressman Neguse, Chair of the U.S House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. “The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership is a successful program that has been supporting forest restoration since 2014. Last week, I had the opportunity to tour the Cameron Peak burn scar, where this program is supporting restoration and revitalization of our lands and forests. The legislation we are introducing today will formally establish the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership program to provide increased funding, transparency and improved accountability. I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort alongside Senator Bennet and to continue our work to tackle western wildfires, support our firefighters and restore our lands and communities.”

“In the West, our forests are an integral part of our infrastructure and our economy. Over the last seven years, with bipartisan support, the Joint Chiefs initiative has brought unique partners together to restore forests and improve resilience across public and private land, including in Southwest Colorado and the Northern Front Range,” said Bennet, who chairs the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry, and Natural Resources. “With the growing threat of climate change, and strong interest in the Joint Chiefs’ initiative, it makes sense to formally authorize the Joint Chiefs Partnership and double down on our efforts to mitigate wildfire, restore habitat, and protect watersheds in the West. I look forward to moving this bipartisan bill forward in the Senate Agriculture Committee.” 

“Communities across the country, including in North Dakota, have been challenged by wildfires over the past several years,” said Hoeven. “This bipartisan legislation promotes collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service to improve and restore forests and grasslands, including projects to reduce wildfire threats. The program provides resources for projects, developed with local stakeholders, on public lands as well as voluntary projects on private lands that will improve the health and productivity of our forests and grasslands while also helping to mitigate risk of wildfire.”

“North Dakotans understand that responsible management of our natural resources is critical to the health of our farming and ranching communities, wildlife, and economy," said Armstrong. "I proudly support this bill that will improve coordination of USDA programs to help reduce wildfire risk, secure a reliable water supply, and support wildlife habitat."

“The Joint Chiefs program has demonstrated its success under both Democratic and Republican administrations, and there are steps Congress can take to scale up this success and help restore additional forests and watersheds across our country. Additionally, we can ensure there is greater accountability and transparency by formally authorizing this program,” said Spanberger, Chair of the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture’s Subcommittee on Conservation & Forestry. “As Chair of the Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, I’m proud to support efforts to strengthen the health and resilience of our natural resources, and the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act is a thorough, commonsense way to deliver on this mission. By recognizing the promise of the Joint Chiefs initiative, this bipartisan bill would reduce the risk of wildfires, protect endangered wildlife habitats, and improve collaboration between the federal government, local governments, and private landowners.”

Colorado has received over $3 million through two Joint Chiefs projects: the Northern Front Range Collaboration Watershed Resilience Project and the San Juan Project. On Friday, Bennet, Neguse, and Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack visited two sites in Larimer County, where landscape scale treatment efforts through the Northern Front Range Collaboration Watershed Resilience Project helped to slow the advance of the Cameron Peak fire. Last October, Bennet also visited the San Juan Project, where the San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership spearheaded a successful project to restore forests near Pagosa Springs that were creating an unacceptable fire risk to that community, while improving wildlife habitat and protecting key water supplies. 

“The San Juan Headwaters Forest Health Partnership, based in rural Pagosa Springs, Colorado strongly supports the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Act of 2021. From 2015 to 2017, Joint Chiefs funding provided a much-needed boost to accomplish on-the-ground work across jurisdictional boundaries in our geography. San Juan Project resources served as a catalyst for informed, collaborative management action that reduced the threat of uncharacteristic wildfire to our community, improved wildlife forage and winter habitat, and protected key water infrastructure and ecosystem services. The success of our local Joint Chiefs project garnered public support for forest restoration actions and helped our collaborative and its partners demonstrate our capacity and ability to plan and work together in service to the community and landscape.We hope future funding will support similarly impactful efforts and advance local resiliency,” said Dana Hayward, Partnership Coordinator,  Mountain Studies Institute.

“The Conservation Districts in Larimer County have been working in partnership with the NRCS to plan and manage forest restoration activities on private land since 2016. Our forest restoration program relies on USDA and partner funds to implement landscape-scale treatments that address wildfire risk, improve wildlife habitat, protect source water supplies, and improve ecosystem health all while adjusting for a shifting climate. The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration partnership and accompanying funding has not only helped us improve ecosystem and community resilience, it also provides local logging and wood product industries with the confidence they need to invest in expanding their equipment and personnel capacities. This has allowed us to improve the pace and scale at which we address our forest management backlog in the county. With this legislation, we look forward to continuing and growing this program,” said Douglas Ochsner, President, Fort Collins Conservation District. 

“Our forests and the communities they support are best served through collaborative, science-driven projects. This partnership ensures that America’s forest landscapes, regardless of jurisdiction, are effectively managed. These projects help protect communities against wildfires, improve water quality and expand wildlife habitat all while improving the health and resilience of America’s forests. By increasing funding for the partnership and prioritizing projects that will benefit communities, create jobs and are developed collaboratively, this partnership will benefit forest landscapes across the country. We are grateful to the sponsors for working together to advance this bipartisan, bicameral proposal to invest in America's forests,” said Cecilia Clavet, senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy

“This bipartisan legislation will ensure the durability of a vital program that has supported forest and watershed restoration projects across public and private lands in 40 states and Puerto Rico. These projects help reduce wildfire risk while improving wildlife habitat,” said David Willms, senior director for western wildlife and conservation at the National Wildlife Federation. “At a time when wildlife are declining across the country and our lands are battered by megafires, drought, and invasive species, expansion of this initiative will create jobs while building resiliency into our forests, watersheds, and nearby communities.”

“This important partnership recognizes the reality that land management is also water management when it comes to our nation’s forests. We work with the Healthy Headwaters Alliance to support safe and reliable water supplies from public watersheds throughout the West,” said Sarah Bates, senior director for western water at the National Wildlife Federation. “Authorizing and expanding the Joint Chiefs partnership offers the opportunity to restore tens of thousands of additional acres of priority watersheds in cooperation with diverse partners.”

The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative would:

  • Formally authorize the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership between the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Chief of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to improve the health and resilience of forest landscapes and grasslands across federal and non-federal land.
  • Support voluntary activities and projects across public and private land that reduce wildfire risk, protect water supplies, or improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species.  
  • Prioritize projects that reduce wildfire risk in municipal watersheds or the wildland-urban interface, are developed through a collaborative process, or increase forest business and workforce opportunities.
  • Require the USDA to perform outreach, provide public notice, and make information on the program available to landowners, tribes, states, and local governments.
  • Improve accountability by requiring a review of program delivery, data, and outcomes, and establishing annual reporting requirements to Congress.
  • Authorize $90 million annually for the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership, to be split between the USFS (at least 40%) and the NRCS (at least 40%). The remaining funds may also be used for technical assistance, project development, or local capacity.

The bill text is available HERE. A one-page summary is available HERE. A section-by-section is available HERE

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