How to Grow More Trees and Jobs in National Forests

Federal legislation would quadruple funding to reforest America
By Jad Daley, President & CEO of American Forests

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At this perilous moment in our history, America’s public lands can drive the economic recovery and environmental renewal we so urgently need. The REPLANT Act, introduced today by a bipartisan coalition in Congress, will play a pivotal role in capturing this opportunity. This landmark legislation will enable the U.S. Forest Service to dramatically increase the pace of reforesting America’s 193 million acres of national forests — providing enough funding to regenerate 1.2 billion trees per decade and support nearly 49,000 jobs in the process.

Wait, more funding to plant trees in national forests? Aren’t they already covered in trees?

To understand the urgency of this legislation, it’s important to understand the forest health crisis playing out across our national forests. Forests have slowly adapted over centuries to certain climatic conditions, but now they are weakening, dying and burning at alarming rates in our rapidly changing climate. One study found the extent of wildfire in western states has roughly doubled in recent decades due to the impacts of climate change.

As one example, approximately 162 million trees have died in California since 2010 from a synergy of droughts, uncontrolled wildfires and other forest threats. This forest health crisis is having a huge impact on national forests and other public lands that dominate the Sierra Nevada and many other natural landscapes across the country, especially in the western states.

Many of these dead and burned-over areas won’t recover without our help, including on our national forests. The U.S. Forest Service has identified 1.3 million acres in need of reforestation, equivalent to nearly 400 million trees. Other research has suggested that this reforestation backlog might be many millions of acres more, potentially as high as 7.7 million acres.

The U.S. Forest Service is falling farther behind as reforestation needs keeping growing but funding remains flat. The agency currently plants and regenerates approximately 50 million trees annually, which is not enough to keep up with the trees lost each year from our national forests, let alone catch up with the backlog. The agency will need dramatically more funding to catch up and keep up with reforesting our national forests in an era of climate change.

Fortunately, a bipartisan coalition in Congress — U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-NM), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and U.S. Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-CA), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Kim Schrier (D-WA), and Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) — is advancing The REPLANT Act to fix this problem.

This new legislation would remove an outdated cap on the federal Reforestation Trust Fund, quadrupling annual funding available to the U.S. Forest Service from the Fund.

The good news is that this additional money is waiting. Back in 1980, Congress dedicated certain tariffs on foreign wood imports to fill the Reforestation Trust Fund each year. This revenue now averages roughly $123 million annually. Removing the outdated $30 million cap would provide an extra $93 million per year based on recent trends. Otherwise, these funds will just continue to disappear into the general treasury.

The potential impact of this new legislation cannot be overstated. Just consider, with the passage of The REPLANT Act, the Reforestation Trust Fund would be able to accomplish the following every ten years:

  • Reforest 1.2 billion trees across our national forests.
  • Support nearly 49,000 jobs, many in rural communities hard hit by COVID-19.
  • Each 1.2 billion trees reforested will capture more than 750 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent over their lifetimes — equal to the emissions from using 84.3 billion gallons of gasoline.
  • Restore essential public water supply areas on our national forests that collect and filter water for 60 million Americans living downstream, in such cities as Portland, Denver and Atlanta.
  • Enhance National Scenic Trails and other iconic recreation areas.
  • Restore habitat for rare species such as grizzly bear that roam our national forests.

It is hard to imagine a more straightforward way to leverage our public lands into the economic and environmental progress we need. The recent passage of the Great American Outdoors Act has demonstrated bipartisan consensus that America should invest in our public lands as a springboard to the future. The REPLANT Act extends this commitment by making the investment to better care for our 193 million acres of national forest, generating much needed jobs and diverse environmental benefits. Now is the time for America to make this investment.

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