U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet has joined a group of bipartisan members of the U.S. House and Senate in introducing legislation that would formally establish and increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Joint Chiefs program.
The bill, called the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act, would formally establish the USDA’s Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Initiative, a program in which the U.S. Forest Service and the Natural Resources Conservation Service have partnered to improve the health and resilience of forests and grasslands on public and private lands.
By formally establishing the program and increasing funding, the legislation would support more projects that seek to reduce wildfire risk, protect water supplies or improve wildlife habitat for at-risk species. It would also prioritize projects that reduce wildfire risk in municipal watersheds.
“In the West, our forests are an integral part of our infrastructure and our economy,” Bennet said in a news release. “Over the last seven years, with bipartisan support, the Joint Chiefs initiative has brought unique partners together to restore forests and improve resilience across public and private land, including in Southwest Colorado and the Northern Front Range.”
The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act would also allocate $90 million annually to the program, about double the amount it is funded now, and put practices in place to improve USDA outreach and make the program more accountable and transparent. For example, if the bill is passed, the USDA would be required to perform outreach and make information about the program available to landowners, tribes, states and local governments.
The USDA introduced the Joint Chiefs program in 2014. It has helped pay for 93 grasslands and forest restoration projects in the U.S., including the Northern Front Range Collaboration Watershed Resilience Project and the San Juan Project in Colorado.
The San Juan Project in Pagosa Springs reduced wildfire threats for 500 homes, improved habitats for local wildlife and improved water quality for the community.
“With the growing threat of climate change, and strong interest in the Joint Chiefs initiative, it makes sense to formally authorize the Joint Chiefs Partnership and double down on our efforts to mitigate wildfire, restore habitat and protect watersheds in the West,” said Bennet, D-Colo., in the release.
U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Kelly Armstrong, R-N.D., will also introduce the bill in the House. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., is also on the bill.
Bennet is the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Conservation, Climate, Forestry and Natural Resources. The Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Act will be referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Grace George is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.