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Senate approves Bennet’s forest health plan in Infrastructure and Jobs Act

August 6, 2021, 8:08 am
I-70 in Glenwood Canyon (CDOT photo).

A proposal backed by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet to boost federal funding for forest and grassland restoration projects was approved by the Senate on Wednesday as an amendment to the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“I’m thrilled our bipartisan amendment to formally authorize the Joint Chiefs program will be included in this infrastructure bill. This amendment responds directly to the growing wildfire risk we face out West by investing in a broadly supported program that has been a clear success,” Bennet said in a press release

The Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership Act of 2021 was co-sponsored by Bennet and Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota.

A collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Joint Chiefs program was launched in 2014 to support restoration projects for forests and grasslands on public and private land. This initiative has supported “93 projects in 40 states and Puerto Rico to treat 300,000 acres of hazardous fuels, restore 29,000 acres in priority watersheds, and enhance 200,000 acres of wildlife habitat,” according to a statement from Bennet’s office. However, the current Joint Chiefs initiative has no formal authorization, and less than a quarter of projects proposed are funded. 

Bennet’s amendment would double the funding for the program, supporting projects on both private and public land that reduce wildfire risk or improve the habitat for at-risk wildlife species, and would require the USDA to implement outreach and make information on the program available to local governments, tribes, and landowners. Additionally, the amendment would improve accountability by requiring a review of the program delivery, data, and outcomes, according to the press release.

“As I’ve said on this floor before, in western states like Colorado and North Dakota, our forests and our grasslands are as important to our economy as the Lincoln Tunnel or Brooklyn Bridge are to New York, but they haven’t received nearly enough investment over the years,” Bennet said on the Senate floor in support of the Joint Chiefs program.

“As we consider this infrastructure bill tonight, one of the major east-west corridors in America is closed because of mudslides that poured down the burn scar from the wildfires last year. Now I-70 may be closed for weeks. We need to deal with this on the front end, and that is why the Joint Chiefs program matters,” Bennet added. 

“Thrilled our amendment to formally authorize the Joint Chiefs program to directly respond to growing wildfire risk will be included in this #InfrastructureBill,” Bennet tweeted on Thursday. “I thank @SenJohnHoeven for his partnership on this issue, and I look forward to getting this across the finish line.”

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is a bipartisan bill that will “accelerate the economic recovery, put Americans back to work, and boost wages for workers across the country,” according to a White House statement from Aug. 3. 

Editor’s note: This story first appeared on Colorado Newsline, which is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Colorado Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Quentin Young for questions: info@coloradonewsline.com. Follow Colorado Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

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