Wyden Bill: Billion$ for the USFS

PR from Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon. Dunno if this bill has a shot, but he carries some weight on Capitol Hill. Ranking Finance Committee member, long-time member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee.


May 11, 2020

Wyden Introduces Bill to Make Major Investments in Public Health, Wildfire Prevention and Rural Jobs as Part of COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Efforts

New Wyden legislation would provide significant investment for wildfire resiliency to protect Americans from wildfire smoke, boost support for rural economies hit hard by COVID-19

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., today introduced legislation that would bolster wildfire prevention and preparedness to protect the health and safety of communities during the unparalleled combination of threats posed by wildfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The legislation also would provide relief and job creation measures that equip rural economies to respond to the unique threats they’re facing during this public health and economic crisis.

“A historic global pandemic that’s still raging at the start of wildfire season adds up to a prescription for major problems in the months ahead to public health and rural jobs in Oregon and nationwide,” Wyden said. “This legislation takes that pair of problems head-on with a comprehensive attack that connects all the dots with a 21st century Conservation Corps and more to protect health and save jobs.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on public health and the economy, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges in 2020. Those at increased risk for adverse health effects due to wildfire smoke exposure – people who suffer from heart or respiratory diseases – are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The crisis also quickly brought the outdoor economy to a halt. Many forest workers, despite their essential work, were laid off and others, like outfitters and guides who rely on tourism and outdoor recreation, are unable to work during their busy season.

Wyden’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act will provide significant investment in wildfire prevention and resiliency efforts; programs that can get rural Americans back to work when it’s deemed safe by public health experts to do so; direct relief for outfitters and guides; as well as extensive resources for watershed restoration. The legislation:

  • Provides an additional $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to increase the pace and scale of hazardous fuels reduction and thinning efforts, prioritizing projects that are shovel-ready and environmentally-reviewed;
  • Establishes a $7 billion relief fund to help outfitters and guides who hold U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits – and their employees – stay afloat through the truncated recreation season;
  • Establishes a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring specifically for jobs in the woods, helping to restore public lands and watersheds, while providing important public health related jobs in this time of need;
  • Provides an additional $150 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the flagship program for community forest restoration and fire risk reduction;
  • Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service capital improvements and maintenance to put people to work reducing the maintenance backlog on National Forest System lands, including reforestation;
  • Provides $500 million for the Forest Service State and Private Forestry program, which will be divided between programs to help facilitate landscape restoration projects on state, private and federal lands, including $100 million for the Firewise program to help local governments plan for and reduce wildfire risks;
  • Provides $10 billion for on-farm water conservation and habitat improvement projects;
  • Provides full and permanent funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which has broad bipartisan support; and
  • Provides $100 million for land management agencies to purchase and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees, contractors and service workers.

A one-page summary is available here.

A section-by-section summary is available here.

A copy of the legislative text is available here.

7 thoughts on “Wyden Bill: Billion$ for the USFS”

  1. The hope is that this provides the basis for a public lands COVID stimulus package later this summer or fall, and is modeled on the ARRA legislation from 2008. There’s a lot to like here: and look! No environmental law exemptions 🙂

  2. Well, now that the pool of inexperienced potential forestry workers has increased, the Forest Service should be very happy that projects will be completed perfectly, on time and without any virus trouble. *smirk*

  3. Hey Larry – I have a bit of a sense of ur past with the USFS thus I suspect you know that over the years many first year firefighters were inexperienced but after going through fire school on a ranger district and with additional training by a seasoned crew boss and returning crew members they did a good job on the lines with their pulaskis, shovels and other tools.
    As a USFS manager I hired lots of green seasonal employees for my trail crew and campground maintenance crew and with proper training and supervision they did very good work.
    Not sure what you have against inexperienced workers; my hunch is that you started out with little or no experience just like I did. But we built our skills and over the years passed our knowledge on to others. Kinda been like that for 1000’s of years hasn’t it?

    • Timber is sure a lot different than in ‘the good old days’, when timbermarkers would just cut all the big ones. You might want to keep your hunches to yourself, too. Some of today’s crew members don’t even know their tree species.

  4. I can’t find anything to dislike about this, although some things seem much less related to Covid than others. I do wonder that there are 7 billion worth of outfitter- guides out there. I wonder how they came up with the number and where and what services they offer?

    I also wonder if these folks can take advantage of other funds for small businesses that are already available?

    That being said, I donated money to a National Forest permittee who needs to feed his horses now and not later.

    • Hey Sharon,

      For what it’s worth, there is plenty more than 7 billion worth of outfitters and guides out there. In Idaho alone, the estimated economic contributions of outfitters and guides is just over 1 billion (that’s from the senior analyst with the Department of Commerce). They came up with that number by referencing USFS and other management authorities fee receipts and from BEA figures, and the ‘they’ was a combination of Interior/USDA folks and Senate Staffers. Where are all of these outfitters? Everywhere. That sounds pithy, but unless you live in a metropolitan area or one bereft recreational opportunities, it’s true enough without getting granular. As for what services they offer? Rafting, fishing, hunting, trail rides, backcountry mountaineering and packing and backpacking, rock climbing, zip lining, snowmobile and ate/utv tours, backcountry/heli/crosscountry skiing, kayaking, interpretive tours and wildlife view, ad infinitum. It’s a tough business that folks get into for passion. It is also being particularly hard hit by the crisis, with an industry trophic cascade of failing businesses already in progress. As for the other funds for small businesses, loan programs like the PPP and EIDL are great for keeping staff on payroll (although due to the timing, not actually during most folks’ operating seasons), but they importantly don’t actually generate revenue for those businesses or help keep them solvent.

      • Thanks, Aaron! It helps to hear from someone knowledgeable. I did want to know where they had come up with the figure, so all of us could get a better idea of where and what kind of outfitters there are. Because for one thing, if you’re not actually using a guide, they may be invisible to other recreationists (unless they are in a large group, show up in a marked van, or whatever). They may look like any other group, and there are certainly groups involved in all the activities you mention.

        Specifically, it was good to find out what the funds for small businesses do vs. the bill we were talking about.


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