US Senator from California Alex Padilla urges federal agencies to protect and restore old-growth forests – includes wildfire risk reduction strategies

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The Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park
Credit: R Paterson/NPS

Lawmakers’ demand cites priorities of bipartisan infrastructure law for old-growth forest protection as well as wildfire risk reduction strategies

February 19, 2022 – WASHINGTON, DC – US Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) joined Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley as well as US Representatives Earl Blumenauer, Peter DeFazio and Suzanne Bonamici (all D-Ore.) this week to urging the US Departments of Interior and Agriculture to follow Congress’ intent in the bipartisan Infrastructure Act to protect and restore old-growth forests as well as protect other carbon-rich mature forests at the national scale. This is especially important for California, home to ancient groves of giant sequoias and redwoods.

Lawmakers wrote that the U.S. Forest Service’s climate plan and 10-year wildfire strategy must also recognize the climate crisis and expand to include plans for mature and old-growth forests.

Their letter, which was signed by 19 Senate and House colleagues, noted the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act (IIJA) included historic investments in fire risk reduction and forest restoration on national forests and public lands and required the prioritization of funding for projects that fully maintain or contribute to restoring stand structure and composition old.

“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 mature plants”, lawmakers wrote Interior 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.”

Padilla is leading the way in reforming the federal government’s wildfire response and wildfire mitigation efforts. the FIRE law, his bill to strengthen FEMA’s wildfire preparedness and response efforts, advanced out of committee earlier this month. He also led California members of Congress in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack calling on the federal government to prioritize California wildfire mitigation projects in its new 10-Year Fire Strategy. wildfires, and he recently called on the Biden administration to review federal policies on wildfire suppression and staffing of wildfire agencies.

In addition to Senators Padilla, Wyden and Merkley, the letter was also signed by Senators Martin Heinrich (DN.M.), Ed Markey (D-Mass), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Cory Booker (DN. J.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). In addition to Reps. Blumenauer, DeFazio, and Bonamici, the letter was also signed by Reps. Nanette Diaz Barragan (D-Calif.), Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Ruben Gallego ( D-Arizona), Chellie Pingree (D-Maine), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DD.C.), Veronica Escobar (D-Texas), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

In their letter, the lawmakers requested answers to the following questions by March 31, 2022:

  1. What specific steps are the USDA and DOI planning to take to move in this direction for the implementation of their climate plans, 10-year wildfire strategy, and other agency planning processes?
  1. 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?
  1. 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?
  1. The ten-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?

The full text of the letter is here and below:

Dear Secretaries Vilsack and Haaland:

Thank you for your leadership in stewarding America’s national forests and public lands to benefit our climate, watersheds, wildlife, and communities. We are writing to you today to ask your agencies to move forward with your obligations set out in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to protect and restore ancient forests and encourage you further to take additional steps to protect other carbon-rich mature forests across the nation in the long term.

We appreciate that the Forest Service’s Climate Adaptation and Resilience Plan (Climate Plan) and its 10-Year Wildfire Strategy each emphasize the importance of strategic implementation of hazardous fuel treatments and prescribed fires. to reduce wildfire risk and increase forest restoration. However, in light of the worsening climate crisis, it is also imperative that the United States expand this effort and maximize the climate value of mature and old-growth forests across the country and as part of the response and strategies. USDA and DOI climate data.

As you know, the IIJA included historic investments in forest restoration on national forests and public lands. Among other investments, Section 40803(a) allocates $3.4 billion to reduce wildfire risk and restore forests on these lands. In addition to the additional requirements, IIJA Section 40803(g)(6) requires prioritization of funding for projects that:

fully maintain or contribute to the restoration of the structure and composition of old-growth stands consistent with the characteristics of that forest type, taking into account the contribution of the old-growth stand to the fire adaptation of the landscape and the health of the watershed , unless the old-growth stand is part of a science-based ecological restoration project authorized by the appropriate Secretary that meets applicable objectives for the protection and enhancement of old-growth forests, as determined by the appropriate Secretary.

We consider this language to be consistent with the goals of the 10-Year Wildfire Strategy and it is clear that Congress recognizes the importance of protecting and restoring ancient forests to improve climate action, biodiversity and climate resilience. fire. Therefore, we respectfully request that you respond to the following questions by March 31, 2022:

  1. What specific steps are the USDA and DOI planning 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 ten-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?

Moreover, these efforts should clearly aim at the goal of establishing a general policy beyond the implementation of these short-term funds and projects that will protect old growth forests and other mature carbon-rich forests across the country. 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 mature forests. carbon-rich. The protection of these values ​​over the long term is essential to the achievement of the Administration’s commitments in terms of climate and biodiversity protection.

Thank you for your leadership in stewardship of America’s national forests and public lands. We look forward to supporting you in this important work.

Truly,
Source: Senator Alex Padilla

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