Wyden, Merkley Unveil Plan to Establish 21st Century Conservation Corps, Invest in Wildfire Resiliency

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, today with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., unveiled legislation to establish a 21st Century Conservation Corps. The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act, originally introduced in July 2020, would provide critical funds to support a natural resource management and conservation workforce and 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, as well as supporting President Biden’s climate and economic agendas.  

 “Rural communities are facing two big challenges: struggling economies and continued wildfire threats. By investing in a 21st century workforce, this bill will put people to work to tackle the climate emergency, restore our public lands and reduce wildfire risks,”Wyden said. “The bottom line, creating new jobs and supporting our public lands go hand in hand.

“Oregon’s public lands have made countless contributions to the spirit of our state, and like public lands across America, they’re integral to the vitality of countless rural economies,” said Merkley. “Now more than ever, we should harness the opportunity to create good jobs that will also help preserve and sustain these lands for future generations to enjoy them. This is a commonsense way to invest in our workers, maintain our natural treasures, and help our rural communities get through this storm and thrive on the other side.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on public health and the economy, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, created 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 COVID-19 crisis has also quickly brought the outdoor economy to a halt – and with it lost jobs – as Americans are limiting travel.

The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act aims to address these challenges directly by investing in workforce training and jobs to support conservation programs and reforestation to restore our public lands; address deferred maintenance and expand recreation access on our public lands; provide direct relief for outfitters and guides; improve access to clean drinking water; and mitigate the risk of catastrophic wildfires. 

This legislation: 

·       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 provide jobs in a time of need;

·       Establishes a $2 billion fund to provide economic relief for outfitters and guides holding U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits;

·       Provides an additional $500 million for Tribal drinking water infrastructure repairs, prioritizing Tribal communities that have decrepit and underfunded drinking water systems causing health and safety emergencies;

·       Provides $2 billion for the National Fire Capacity program, which helps the Forest Service implement FireWise, to prevent, mitigate, and respond to wildfire around homes and businesses on private land;

·       Provides $2 billion for the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program to improve resiliency for communities impacted by wildfire;

·       Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service, $6 billion for the National Park Service, and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management maintenance accounts to create jobs, reduce the maintenance backlog, and expand access to recreation;

·       Provides an additional $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to support science-based projects aimed at improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire;

·       Provides $3.5 billion for reforestation projects on a combination of federal, state, local, tribal and NGO lands, with over one hundred million trees to be planted in urban areas across America by 2030;   

·       Increases access to public lands through expanding and investing in programs like Every Kid Outdoors and the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership;

·       Supports voluntary climate stewardship practices on over 100 million acres of farmland by providing supplemental funding for USDA working lands conservation programs; and

·       Helps restore and improve rangeland health by providing an additional $150 million for the North American Waterfowl Management and Joint Ventures program and $150 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife. 

Original cosponsors of the legislation also include U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., as well as Representatives Joe Neguse, D-Colo., Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif.  

Additional quotes of support for the bill are available here. 

A one-page summary of the bill is available here.

A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.