Portman, Udall, Stabenow Introduce Legislation to Restore America’s National Forests

The Reforestation Act of 2019 Would Double Funding to $60 Million per Year Without New Taxpayer Funds to Help the U.S. Forest Service Prioritize and Reduce the Backlog of 1.3 Million Forestland Acres in Need of Replanting Within 10 Years

December 19, 2019 | Press Releases

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Tom Udall (D-NM), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced the Reforestation Act of 2019 to bolster funding for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to address its backlog of planting needs by carrying out reforestation projects in forests damaged by events such as wildfires, insects and disease.  

Given the Forest Service’s reforestation backlog, the new bipartisan bill would double funding from the Reforestation Trust Fund to $60 million per year. The purpose of the Reforestation Trust Fund is to address USFS replanting needs.  It would also direct USFS to quantify the backlog of replanting needs, reduce delays by expanding stewardship contracting, and encourage state and Tribal partnership.  Among other associated activities, reforestation includes planting tree seedlings on forests that are unlikely to regenerate on their own in order to reestablish native plants and ensure the health of ecosystems, habitats, and wildlife populations that depend on the forestland. Replanting forests is also an effective way to increase natural carbon sequestration to reduce emissions, create jobs, and support natural ecosystems. Ensuring healthy forests also helps create jobs and recreational opportunities.  Ohio’s only national forest, the Wayne National Forest, has received $378,000 from the Reforestation Trust Fund since FY 2015 to address its reforestation needs.

“I am pleased to join Senators Udall and Stabenow in introducing this bipartisan legislation to address the reforestation needs within our federal forests. With 1.3 million acres of forest in need of replanting, addressing this backlog provides a wide range of benefits, including sequestering as much as 1.1 million metric tons of carbon emissions, reinvigorating the ecosystems and native plant and animal species that depend on healthy forests, and creating jobs and recreation opportunities on our forestland. I look forward to working with my colleagues on this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to address the reforestation backlog in our nation’s forests,” said Portman.

“America’s National Forests are some of our greatest natural resources.  Investing in them is a necessity made more urgent by the rising toll from fire damage,” said Udall. ”Reforestation supports species diversity, providing wildlife with habitat while also supplying clean air and water and supporting jobs in local communities. And in the fight against climate change, re-growing our forests is a cost-effective and powerful tool to capture carbon and combat the threats we will have to confront, including drought and extreme weather. I am proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation that lives up to our responsibility to conserve our nation’s natural gifts for future generations.”

“Restoring our national forests will not only improve water quality and create new habitats for hunting and fishing, it’s also part of the solution to combat the climate crisis,” said Stabenow”Supporting reforestation is a cost-effective way to draw carbon pollution out of air, while restoring our public lands.”

USFS has estimated that in FY 2018, 80 percent of its reforestation needs were attributed to wildfires. And one recent study found that tree mortality caused by insects and diseases alone—which impacts less acreage than wildfires—released 6 million tons of carbon, the equivalent of tailpipe emissions from 4.4 million cars. 

With only approximately 15 percent of the tree planting backlog addressed each year with current funding levels, this legislation will help provide much-needed resources to the Forest Service to address its reforestation needs.  According to American Forests, our U.S. national forests currently offset 14-15 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions. This legislation is good for the environment, and will help promote jobs and recreational opportunities within our nation’s forests.  

The legislation is supported by American Forests, the Outdoor Industry Association, the Evangelical Environmental Network, National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy.

Thanks to the leadership of Senator Udall, Senator Portman and Senator Stabenow, this bipartisan legislation solves a pressing national problem by updating the Reforestation Trust Fund so it can completely fulfill its original purpose to maintain the health of our national forests,” said Jad Daley, President and CEO of American Forests.

“Our National Forest System is a beautiful gift from God, and we are thankful for Senators Portman and Udall who are working to protect and restore these special places. Reforesting vulnerable swaths of land will help to restore fragile ecosystems, capture carbon, and clean the air. Overall, this bill is good news for our climate and all of God’s bountiful creation. We encourage Congress to swiftly pass this important legislation,” said Mitch Hescox, President and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN). 

“America’s forests provide essential wildlife habitat, protect healthy watersheds and clean drinking water, and serve as natural carbon-sinks — a vital climate solution. Investing in forest restoration and reforestation benefits wildlife and people alike,” said Collin O’Mara, President and CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “The National Wildlife Federation is grateful to Senator Udall for his tireless efforts to accelerate efforts to improve the health of our National Forests by making them more resilient to escalating impacts from megafires, drought, pests, and disease — all of which are exacerbated by climate change.” 

“Investing in our forests is one of the clearest paths to a healthy and sustainable future for our planet, and this bill puts us on the right path,” said Kameran Onley, Director of U.S. Government Relations at The Nature Conservancy. “Reforestation remains one of our most effective nature-based solutions for combatting climate change. Expanding reforestation efforts would also improve air quality, protect watersheds that provide drinking water for millions of people, preserve fish and wildlife habitats and expand outdoor recreation opportunities nationwide. Reforestation is the kind of on-the-ground, scalable and effective strategy we need to implement to ensure our forests are here for future generations. We commend these senators for coming together to forward this important investment in our forests, and we urge Congress to quickly enact this legislation.”

The Reforestation Act of 2019 would:   

  • Direct the USFS to develop a plan to address its backlog of replanting needs on national forestlands within 10 years: The Act amends the Forest Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 to require USFS to develop a plan and cost estimate to address the backlog of replanting needs on national forestlands by 2029. To aide in how to prioritize the backlog, the Act directs the USFS to prioritize land that is in need of reforestation due to unplanned events, such as wildfire and disease.
  • Provide additional funding to tackle the backlog: The Act amends the Reforestation Trust Fund to double the amount of annual funds that are authorized to be used by USFS to address its reforestation needs. The Reforestation Trust Fund is funded through tariff collections on imported wood products. This provision does not increase tariffs, but instead uses funds that are already being collected consistent with the tariff rates under the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States. The Fund currently receives a rolling ten-year average of $97M per year, and this legislation would double the current authorization – from $30 million per year to $60 million per year – of funding that can be taken from the Reforestation Trust Fund for replanting needs. Any funds that are not used from the Fund are deposited into the General Treasury. Reforestation priority would be given to understocked national forests that are unlikely to naturally regenerate following an unplanned adverse event.
  • Direct the USFS to reduce delays in tackling  reforestation projects through expanded Stewardship Contracting: The Act amends the Healthy Forests Restoration Act to ensure that stewardship contracts can include reforestation projects following an unplanned adverse event, such as a wildfire.
  • Encourages Federal, State, Tribal Partnerships: The Act expands the Good Neighbor Authority, a policy authorizing USFS to enter into forest management agreements with state and local forest agencies, to include reforestation following an unplanned adverse event, such as a wildfire, disease, or insects. As a result, the USFS will be able to partner with states and Tribes on reforestation projects.

The full text of the bill is available here. A summary of the legislation can be found here