July 29, 2020

Bipartisan, Bicameral Group of Lawmakers Introduce Major Legislation to Expand Funding to Restore America’s National Forests

The REPLANT Act increases funding and helps the U.S. Forest Service prioritize and reduce the backlog of 1.3 million forestland acres in need of replanting within ten years

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio.), and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and U.S. Representatives Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Kim Schrier, M.D. (D-Wash.), and Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.), introduced the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees Act or the REPLANT Act, legislation to expand funding for the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to carry out reforestation projects in U.S. forestland damaged by events such as wildfires, insects and disease, while creating more than 48,000 jobs over the next ten years. 

To address the Forest Service’s reforestation backlog, the bill removes the current $30 million annual funding cap for the Reforestation Trust Fund, the primary source of funding for USFS’s replanting needs, making an average of $123 million annually available for reforestation in National Forests. In addition, the REPLANT Act will direct USFS to quantify the backlog of replanting needs, reduce delays by expanding stewardship contracting, and encourage state and Tribal partnerships. 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 and wildlife that depend on forests. Replanting forests is an effective way to create jobs in rural America, support natural ecosystems and improve natural carbon sequestration. Estimates show that the REPLANT Act would help plant 410,000 acres, or 123 million trees annually, for a total of 4.1 million acres (1.23 billion trees) over the next ten years. That’s the equivalent of sequestering 75 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or avoiding the use of 8.5 billion gallons of gasoline, in a decade.  

“America’s national forests are some of our greatest natural resources. Investing in them is more urgent than ever, given the rising toll from wildfire damage, insects and disease,” said Udall, the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies. “Reforestation supports species diversity by providing wildlife with habitat improves air and water quality, and supports jobs in local communities. And in the fight against climate change and disappearing natural habitats, re-growing our forests is a cost-effective and powerful tool. I am proud to expand funding for this bipartisan legislation that lives up to our responsibility to conserve our nation’s natural gifts for future generations.”

“I am pleased to join Senators Udall and Stabenow and Reps. Panetta, Simpson, Schrier, and LaMalfa in introducing this bipartisan legislation to address the reforestation needs within our national forests. This legislation provides a wide range of benefits, including improving our environment by sequestering carbon dioxide and reinvigorating the ecosystems and native plant and animal species that depend on healthy forests, while also creating jobs and recreation opportunities on our forestland. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting this common-sense, bipartisan legislation to address the replanting needs across our nation’s forests,” said Portman.

“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, the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “Supporting reforestation is a cost-effective way to draw carbon pollution out of air, while restoring our public lands.”

“Due to funding shortages and federal limitations, each year our federal government fails to plant an adequate amount of trees.  Such little investment in reforestation by our federal government has led to significant challenges within our public lands, including wildfires, invasive species, diseases, and climate change.  By lifting the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund, we will be able to plant hundreds of millions of trees over the next decade, while creating sustainable jobs and sequestering as much as 800 million tons of carbon emissions,”said Panetta.  “Our bipartisan legislation will help to provide wildlife with critical habitat, improve downstream drinking water quality, and restore our public lands for generations to come." 

“In Idaho, we are blessed with an abundance of forests,” said Simpson. “However with forests comes wildfires, and from wildfires you lose precious natural resources such as trees. Through the Reforestation Trust Fund we can replant these trees in our national forests, without using taxpayer funds. This will benefit our environment through carbon sequestration, our economy through job creation in rural communities, and recreation all across the country. I am pleased this bill has the support of Secretary Perdue and a bipartisan, bicameral, and diverse group of stakeholders who are on the ground replanting our national forests.”

“Washington’s forests are threatened by drought, pestilence, and extreme wildfire events, much of that related to climate change,” said Schrier. “This is deeply concerning because trees are vital to keeping our air clean and sequestering carbon dioxide. Their roots are critical to maintaining good water quality for fish and wildlife ecosystems. Replanting trees will help slow the effects of a warming climate, and protect our pristine Northwest environment for generations to come.” 

“Year after year, wildfires decimate our national forests, and the resulting burn scars have made portions of our forests uninhabitable for wildlife and unenjoyable for recreators,” said LaMalfa. “The REPLANT Act is a commonsense proposal that prioritizes reforestation in our disaster-stricken areas, saving our forests' ecosystems and creating rural jobs in a cost-effective way. I’m glad to sponsor this bipartisan legislation to protect the health of our forests.” 

USFS has estimated that in FY 2018, 80 percent of its reforestation needs were attributed to wildfires. 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 national forest tree planting backlog addressed each year at current funding levels, this legislation will help provide much-needed resources to the Forest Service to address reforestation needs. Funding for the Reforestation Trust Fund comes from tariffs levied on wood products entering the United States.  

According to American Forests, U.S. forests and forest products currently offset 14-15 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions. In addition to restoring forest health across the country, the legislation will support rural employment and enhance recreational opportunities within national forests. 

The REPLANT Act has received widespread support from a variety of groups including American Forests, The National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy, Evangelical Environmental Network, The Audubon Society, The Forest Stewards Guild, Green Forests Work, the Trust for Public Land, the Bipartisan Policy Center, Longleaf Alliance, and the Outdoor Recreation Roundtable.

The full text of the bill can be found HERE. A one-page summary of the bill can be found HERE, and a background summary HERE. Statements of support from organizations can be found HERE