U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Suzanne Bonamici this week called on the U.S. Departments of Interior and Agriculture to follow Congress’ intent in the infrastructure bill. bipartisan to protect and restore old-growth forests as well as protect other carbon-rich mature forests in Oregon and across the country.
Oregon lawmakers have written that the U.S. Forest Service’s climate plan and 10-year Strategy for Dealing with Dangerous Wildfires and Prescribed Fires to Reduce Fire Risk must also recognize the climate crisis and expand to include plans for mature and old-growth forests.
Their letter — also signed by 19 Senate and House colleagues — noted that the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included historic investments in wildfire risk reduction and forest restoration on national forests and public lands, requiring the prioritization of funding for projects that maintain or fully maintain or contribute to restoring the structure and composition of old-growth stands consistent with the characteristics of that forest type.
“The important climate and biodiversity values of old-growth forests that Congress has emphasized in this provision exist in all federal forests, not just in the most fire-prone areas, and not just in old-growth forests, but also in forests carbon-rich matures,” the lawmakers wrote Home Secretary Deb Haaland and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Protecting these long-term values is essential to fulfilling the Administration’s commitments to climate and biodiversity protection.”
In addition to Wyden and Merkley, the other senators signing the letter are US Sens. Alex Padilla (D-CA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Michael Bennet (D-CO). In addition to Blumenauer, DeFazio and Bonamici, other U.S. Representatives signing the letter are U.S. Representatives Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-CA), Sara Jacobs (D-CA), Jared Huffman (D-CA), Ruben Gallego (D -AZ ), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Veronica Escobar (D-TX), Steve Cohen (D-TN), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jerry McNerney (D- CA), Mike Levin (D-CA), Nikema Williams (D-GA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO).
The lawmakers asked in their letter for answers to the following questions by March 31:
1. What specific actions do the USDA and DOI plan to take to move in this direction for the implementation of their climate plans, 10-year wildfire strategy, and other agency planning processes ?
2. What monitoring requirements and measures will the USDA and DOI use to analyze the progress of protecting and restoring these forests across the country? Specifically, what performance metrics do you intend to use to report progress to Congress given that “acres treated” do not incorporate the preservation or restoration of old-growth forests? How do you plan to develop new spatially explicit and outcome-based performance measures to track and report progress in restoring and preserving ancient forests?
3. What are the priority projects for restoring mature and ancient forests with IIJA funds under the 10-year plan? What projects do you plan to fund in the first two years of IIJA implementation and how do you plan to select projects in future years?
4. The 10-year strategy uses the concept of pools of fire. How is old-growth restoration integrated into the pool of fire model? If not, how do you plan to ensure that old-growth forests are prioritized in your fund allocation approach?