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America's forests are at risk without a funding strategy

America's forests are at risk without a funding strategy
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The images of the 2020 wildfire season were as extraordinary as they were tragic: the Golden Gate Bridge and Seattle’s Space Needle shrouded in orange and crimson haze. These fires uprooted communities, killed neighbors and firefighters alike, and underscored the true and mounting cost of climate change and decades of neglect and mismanagement of forests.

Addressing the existential threat we face from modern megafires and ensuring our forests endure for future generations will require a new approach to managing our national forests and public lands, reprioritizing the natural resilience of our forests and undertaking climate-informed forest restoration.

President BidenJoe BidenSchumer vows to advance two-pronged infrastructure plan next month Biden appoints veteran housing, banking regulator as acting FHFA chief Iran claims U.S. to lift all oil sanctions but State Department says 'nothing is agreed' MORE has recognized this challenge and opportunity. His first executive orders around climate and conservation specifically called out conservation and reforestation and the role of forests in confronting the climate crisis. The president built on these commitments in his infrastructure and jobs package.

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America’s forests are critically important to our water, wildlife and way of life throughout the nation. They are home to critical watersheds and headwaters in the West, they provide crucial habitat and migration corridors to iconic species and they support hundreds of thousands of jobs in a wide range of sectors throughout the nation. That’s why our organizations — the National Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and American Forests — came together to support a new approach to national forest restoration and management.

Our platform to revitalize our national forests, based on the input of dozens of forest management and policy experts from across the United States, would invest at least an additional $1 billion per year in the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. This new funding — dwarfed by the damage wildfires routinely wreak on communities — would increase the scale and quality of forest restoration, including reorienting national forest stewardship to focus on climate and related ecological benefits.

The plan also would increase and lift the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund, which was established more than four decades ago, prior to the rise of modern megafires, and prioritize reforestation where it is most needed. It also urges the Forest Service to expand its use of prescribed burns as a restoration tool that increases resilience.

This platform is a strong foundation for ensuring our forests not only endure for future generations, but also that they can thrive in a rapidly changing climate. That said, it should only be the starting point for negotiations on Capitol Hill and in the White House, in coordination with state and tribal forest managers.

This foundation, however, cannot stand by itself. We need to pair restoration and better forest management with broader climate action. Our nation must meet its obligations under the Paris Climate Accord, transition to clean energy sources and realign our economy around reducing emissions.

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Although wildfires are part of the natural lifecycle of forests and the backcountry, they used to be confined to several months out of the year, but due to the climate crisis, wildfire season is growing longer and longer.

The fires that burned in 2020 are harbingers of an increasingly climate-altered future. But such wildfires are not inevitable.

By prioritizing new funding to restore our national forests and address the conditions that make megafires increasingly likely, Congress and the administration can begin to solve this crisis before it is too late.

Dr. Bruce Stein is chief scientist for the National Wildlife Federation. Rebecca Turner is chief strategy officer for American Forests. Cecilia Clavet is a senior policy advisor at The Nature Conservancy.