In his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden told Congress his administration would prioritize the use of American-made building materials in government-funded infrastructure projects. Even in the current political climate, this statement was met with rousing applause by Republicans and Democrats:
“I’m announcing new standards to require all construction materials used in federal infrastructure projects to be made in America. Made in America. I mean it. Lumber, glass, drywall, fiber-optic cable. And on my watch, American roads, bridges and American highways are going to be made with American products as well.”
Whether or not you think “Buy American” is good policy (some don’t), it’s worth noting the United States imports much of its wood from other countries. Millions of acres of federal lands also need active forest management to reduce the risks of severe wildfire, insects and disease.
Mitigating these risks can provide the timber necessary to boost American manufacturing and support good-paying jobs in communities throughout the country. It would also help the administration achieve its own ambitious strategy for confronting the wildfire crisis.
However, a few days before the President’s address, a bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives sent a letter to U.S. Forest Service leadership asking why timber harvesting on national forests has declined in recent years, especially as Congress has provided the agency with billions in new funding for forest management, and additional policies to expedite treatment on at-risk forests.
The Biden Administration has also been slow to address the disastrous “Cottonwood” court decision that is slowing forest management projects throughout the West. This week, Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee urged the administration to take immediate action on Cottonwood to fix regulatory delays that is miring public land managers in “endless planning, regulatory compliance, and responses to litigation.” Even the Obama Administration sought to reverse this decision when Biden was Vice President.
Compounding this problem is the years it takes agencies to meet federal regulatory requirements before it can implement a forest project. The real and perceived threat of anti-forestry lawsuits continues to have a chilling effect on efforts to restore the health of our forests.
Last year, Biden announced an executive order aimed at conserving “mature” and old-growth forests, and directing his agencies to define and inventory these forests. President Biden’s executive order does not identify logging as a threat to old and mature trees. Rather, it identifies “climate impacts, catastrophic wildfires, insect infestation, and disease” as the primary threats to all forests, including older forests.
Nonetheless, anti-forestry groups are pressuring the White House to further restrict forest management under the guise of protecting older forests. Such a policy would further tie the hands of public land managers, at a time when agencies are turning increasingly to thinning overstocked stands to reduce the real risks to these forests.
It is possible for Biden to boost American manufacturing and reduce wildfire risks on our forests. These are bipartisan priorities. But it will require his administration to take action and address the real obstacles to forest management, including anti-forestry litigation and the bureaucratic red tape that is keeping more work from being done on the ground.