By Kate Michael

U.S. Capitol
Credit: S.Borisov.

IN THE LAST CONGRESS, lawmakers repeatedly debated whether climate change is real. During this Congress — which started in January 2019 and runs for two years — the mood is a lot different. There is a widespread belief, across party lines, that climate change is happening and solutions to it are needed. One of these important solutions is nature-based: creating healthy and climate- resilient forests. American Forests has worked diligently to ensure policymakers understand the important role of forests as a climate solution.

In 2019, several bills were introduced to establish renewable energy standards, energy saving targets and greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. The Climate Stewardship Act of 2019 included the most ambitious reforestation proposal in our nation’s history. These pieces of legislation show an increased commitment to consider forests and other natural resources as a way to address climate change and invest in resilient infrastructure.

“Obviously, climate change is a complex and global issue,” said Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) at a May 2019 hearing of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Roberts not only held listening sessions, but also a Full Committee Hearing on Climate Change and Agriculture, soliciting suggestions on the appropriate federal response. “We must be thoughtful, informed and deliberate in considering potential responses and consequences.”

Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), from the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, praised an approved $35.8 billion measure to fund the U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Forest Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Indian Health Service and other agencies in September 2019. Among the funds in the appropriations bill, for example, are some $7.47 billion for the U.S. Forest Service’s investments for improved health and management of our nation’s forests, as well as increased funding to fight wildfire.

According to Murkowski’s comments at the Hearing to Examine the Outlook for Wildland Fire and Management Pro- grams for 2019, this will be much needed as climate change exacerbates conditions impacting our forests. “There are a number of reasons why our forests and grasslands are increasingly susceptible to fire,” said Murkowski. “A changing climate means dryer and warmer weather. Much of our nation’s forest landscapes are unhealthy and overstocked with excess fuels. And the proliferation of disease and insect outbreaks — certainly like we’ve seen in Alaska and elsewhere around the country, certainly Colorado — these leave behind large swaths of hazard trees ready to ignite just like matchsticks out there. In Alaska, warmer winters have led to a population boom of spruce beetle across nearly 1 million acres in just a few years now.” Thus, this increased funding will be crucial for the state of our forests.

And on the House side, in a bill we watched closely, U.S. Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL) encouraged the passage of H.R. 330 — Solving the Climate Crisis: Natural Solutions to Cutting Pollution and Building Resilience — by saying, “Nature offers us plenty of incredible resources to mitigate climate change, but only if we work to protect it.”

These attitudes give us hope and harden our resolve.

We will continue to provide resources and guidance during the remainder of this Congress, offering policy suggestions on reforestation, land-use and green infrastructure planning, carbon sequestration, wildfire risk, and adequate funding for these priorities and others.

With last Congress’s progress in mind, American Forests sees that our work is making a difference.

Kate Michael writes from Washington, D.C. and is a lifestyle editor and publisher.