Stimulus spending on public lands should focus on putting Americans back to work

Targeted investments in forest management can help promote economic recovery, improve the health and accessibility of federal lands, while providing tangible and lasting returns for American taxpayers. For more, check out our oped in The Hill.

The prospects for additional measures in response to COVID-19 are unclear.  But that has not stopped members of Congress and dozens of groups from calling for increased spending on public lands. One bill in particular, called the 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act, would spend billions of dollars on wildfire prevention efforts and watershed restoration, provide direct funding for outfitters and guides, and more.

While the bill does include funding for forest management activity, it also  proposes to spend $3.2 billion for hazardous fuels reduction, but restricts that spending to non-commercial work, meaning it must not involve the harvest or sale of commercial timber.

This restriction is a huge missed opportunity because forest management projects often mix hazardous fuels, vegetation management and timber harvesting to accomplish many goals.  Commercial thinning is often matched with hazardous fuels reduction activities, because the sale of timber generates revenue that helps pay for other, non-commercial work. Commercial thinning is also what is often needed to reduce overstocking, restore forest health, and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

This video shows how the Forest Service works with loggers to treat overstocked stands on national forests, which generates money that can be reinvested in the landscape.  This model saves taxpayer dollars, the public gets a healthier, more fire-reslient forest, and our communities benefit from the jobs and economic activity.  It also strengthens the supply chain for forest products, ensuring we have the raw materials and workforce to make tissues, medical products and other items we depend on.

Governments at all levels are working to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when 38.6 million Americans are unemployed. Increasing spending on public land management is a good thing, but economic stimulus is most effective when it helps put people back to work.

Stimulus spending on public lands should focus on putting Americans back to work