We’re in a new era for American forestry. Our nation’s trees are critical green infrastructure, and in the past year, the federal government has increasingly recognized them for their ability to create jobs, cool communities and clean smog from the air. Here’s the latest proof of that recognition:
The newly proposed Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 invests over $5 billion in forests, which will reach from city streets to our iconic public lands. This monumental framework will fund programs to help slow climate change while also protecting us from its impacts — all while generating jobs and savings for the American people.
This thrilling development comes just months after Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which contains billions of dollars in forest-climate investments. The administration has been busy, too: President Biden issued an Earth Day Executive Order to strengthen America’s forests and mobilize their power in the fight against climate change. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released both a 10-year Wildfire Crisis Strategy and a new Reforestation Strategy to clear its planting backlog on U.S. national forests, using the REPLANT Act funding that was part of the infrastructure package.
And yet, despite all of this progress on forests for climate solutions, we’ve needed help from the reconciliation bill , now packaged as the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, to round out our forest-climate toolbox. This bill meets that challenge and then some, providing the missing pieces for forests, along with huge and much-needed investments in other climate solutions, such as clean energy.
Let’s do the numbers: The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has $369 billion in overall funding to combat climate change. That is the largest climate investment in U.S. history. It’s projected to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 40 percent over the next decade. My organization, American Forests, has long held that forestry investments must be coupled with aggressive reductions in carbon emissions to reach the maximum effect on climate change. This bill delivers that combination, taking real climate action at scale.
It also delivers some truly pivotal — even, in some cases, life-saving — investments that will enhance our resilience to the impacts of climate change.
This starts with bringing the cooling and scrubbing power of trees to the corners of our cities where relief is needed most. In the face of extreme heat, temperatures can be as much as 20 degrees hotter in neighborhoods lacking adequate tree cover. To help cities and community groups plant and care for urban trees, the Inflation Reduction Act pledges a robust $1.5 billion to U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry grants. By American Forests’ calculations, this unprecedented level of funding would enable the planting and protection of 23 million trees — a game-changing lift for communities across America. Not only will those trees reduce health risks from heat, but they will also provide huge household energy savings. Already, our trees reduce home heating and cooling costs by more than $7 billion nationally each year. More trees will lead to more savings and cleaner air, too, thanks to the way urban trees absorb and deflect air pollution.
This tremendous urban and community forestry funding opportunity through the U.S. Forest Service will be augmented by funding grants through other agencies. The bill framework directs $1.893 billion for Department of Transportation Neighborhood Access and Equity grants and $2.8 billion for EPA Environmental and Climate Justice block grants, both of which will help fund trees where they’re needed most to cool and shade our most vulnerable communities.
The reconciliation bill’s life- and money-saving investments in urban and community forestry would alone be worthy of hearty applause, but this once-in-a-generation legislation invests in several other crucial forest programs that have us at a standing ovation.
Wildfire stands alongside extreme heat as one of the most clear and present dangers of climate change. To help our forests remain resilient to extreme megafires, we must engage in thinning and prescribed burning techniques. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 helps make these preventative actions possible, dedicating over $2 billion for wildfire risk reduction and landscape recovery on our national forests, building on prior infrastructure bill funding. It also invests $121 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and states to restore resilience to climate-vulnerable areas on national wildlife refuges and state wildlife lands, as well as $250 million for conservation, protection and resiliency of National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management forested areas.
But we need equal attention to the more than half of America’s forests that are in private hands, and Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 meets that challenge. Conversion and development of private forests is a major driver of carbon loss from America’s forests, and when we clear forests, we also lose their future capacity to capture and store more carbon. That’s why the reconciliation bill funds $700 million for the Forest Legacy Program to permanently protect forested lands through voluntary conservation easements and acquisitions by local governments.
To get the full climate benefit, we must also help private landowners adjust how they manage forests. The framework meets this need by providing $450 million through the U.S. Forest Service to innovative carbon incentives, which will be offered to private landowners who voluntarily agree to undertake forestry practices that are beneficial for climate change. This funding includes special emphasis on working with historically underserved landowners and family forest owners whose smaller properties together represent a huge slice of America’s forests.
Lastly, we must tap the power of science and innovation to use our forests the right way for climate solutions. The bill has two vital investments in this area: The first is $100 million for U.S. Forest Service Wood Innovation Grants, which explore new ways to store carbon in wood products, including creative ways to use lower-grade wood removed from forest restoration efforts like thinning. The second is $50 million to inventory old-growth regions within our national forests, which will help us better understand how to manage and protect our best carbon sinks.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 is rooted in America’s economic health and well-being, so I find it important to close with the incredible economic impact these investments will make. Private forests alone already support 2.5 million jobs in America, with a payroll of more than $100 billion. Research has shown that forestry, including urban forestry, can support as many as 27 jobs per $1 million invested. That means we’re combining the direct economic benefits to families and communities with a broader boost for America’s overall economic standing, all while positioning the nation as a global powerhouse on climate change.
Indeed, this bill can help turn the challenges of climate change into an opportunity. We all owe thanks to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Senator Joe Manchin and the leadership of the Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee for this tremendous framework. Now we must work for its speedy passage into law.
Update 8/12/22: The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 has passed the House and is awaiting the President’s signature.