U.S. Capitol

THE START OF A NEW CONGRESS, like the start of the new year, is an important time to count blessings and dream big for the coming year.

The 116th Congress began on the heels of a remarkable legislative success in December: the 2018 Farm Bill passed with strong bipartisan support and brings important federal tools and re- sources to strengthen America’s forests.

This legislation will create jobs and timber, restore water quality and improve wildlife habitat by investing in collaborative approaches to managing our national forests through the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFL-RP). Previously, the CFLRP reached its authorized funding cap, so no new projects could be added. This provision doubles the allowed spending cap to $80 million a year and extends the program authorization for five more years.

The bill also delivers conservation results on private forestlands in critical conservation areas, by increasing investments in outcomes-oriented public-private projects through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP). This program provides funding to conservation groups and farmers to work together to cut pollution and improve water quality, in part by restoring forested lands.

It also focuses new attention on forested buffers — which are critical for water quality — thanks to Senator Robert Casey of Pennsylvania and his commitment to making the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program work better for landowners. These improvements will establish a new level of transparency and account- ability and ensure states, like Pennsylvania, can meet their forest buffer goals — planting 900 miles of forested buffers a year — in partnership with the federal government.

The bill also sparks innovation. There are key provisions from the Timber Innovation Act, that will provide funds for research and development of wood-building construction as well as wood innovation grants. Additionally, it reauthorizes authorities directing U.S. Forest Service and state counterparts to tackle forest health, wildfire and drinking water protection.

Simply put, this legislation is a win-win for Americans and America’s forests. The challenge for the new Congress is to tackle the issues that this bill did not address. At American Forests, we are dreaming big. We see a future where resilient, healthy forests thrive. To get there we need to significantly increase the federal commitment to address pest and disease infestation, rebuild stronger forests across the country, and ensure our forests are a part of a climate solution. With the support — and voices — of members like you, we will succeed!

Alexandra Murdoch writes from Washington, D.C., and is American Forests’ vice president of policy.