It’s a new year flavored by a new session of Congress and the start of a new term for President Obama. Even with the re-election of incumbent members of Congress and the continuation of the same administration, new faces are arriving on the scene. It isn’t everyday — or every year for that matter — that such an opportunity arises. That is what it is: an opportunity. Though American Forests finds itself in all-too-familiar battles on ages-old legislation in every session, each year we also win a few new battles and gain some ground — and hopefully some forests, too!
Last year, American Forests reaped several successes benefiting our nation’s forests. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program received bipartisan support in Congress, ensuring full funding and the addition of 10 new projects, while the Farm Bill passed the Senate with healthy debate on numerous amendments. Our efforts helped pass positive amendments, like the additional permissible purposes for the Community Wood Energy Program grants, and blocked amendments that would have repealed the Forest Legacy Program, Forest Stewardship Program and Conservation Reserve Program.
But we can achieve more. This year, American Forests is continuing to alter our strategy and “upping” our game. We will be focusing our efforts to align more strategically with American Forests’ new programmatic goals, increasing our education of new congressional and administration members and staff, and maintaining leadership roles in various collaborations — all while expanding and strengthening our voice.
In alignment with Global ReLeaf and our other forest restoration programs, we will continue our strong advocacy for increasing efficiency and effectiveness of forest restoration activities: highlighting CFLR project results, increasing transparency and streamlining on-the-ground restoration efforts. With our renewed commitment to urban forests, we will continue the call for increased research efforts and funding, while working with specific cities to help them understand the benefits their urban forest provides and how to leverage that information for increased community awareness. In addition, our Endangered Western Forests initiative provides us an opportunity to have a regional impact that is felt nationally. Working with western policymakers, we can help affect how our forests are managed in order to be more resilient and withstand insect infestations, disease, warming climate and other stresses.
American Forests will continue leading and participating in collaborative efforts with a varied group of organizations and associations, as we believe the best policy answers are found through collaborative processes. It is essential to diversify our partnerships to ensure that only the most comprehensive and effective policy is endorsed. A wide-ranging stakeholder group also guarantees the support of policies that can be implemented on the ground.
Lastly, and maybe most importantly, this year, we are expanding our voice. We have a secret weapon that has not been utilized to its fullest potential: you. Yes, you. For years, American Forests has been sending policy updates and alerts, but we have not requested any action. We believe the way to make the biggest impact on forest policy is to strengthen and expand our voice. To do this, we need you to join our advocacy efforts. Restoring and protecting our forests is not just a job for American Forests; it is a job for the American public.
American Forests is looking forward to the 113th Congress and President Obama’s second term. We plan to seize this opportunity to make a significant difference in our nation’s forests. We hope you will join us in our fight. Visit our Action Center at www.americanforests.org/action-center to find out how.
Jami Westerhold writes from Washington, D.C., and is American Forests’ director of strategic initiatives.