New federal action on forests supports resilient economies

This Earth Day, the Biden administration released an executive order outlining new measures to restore the nation’s forests and increase resilience to wildfires. This is welcome news as wildfire season – which is becoming longer due to climate change – now approaches, and communities in the West recover from destructive fires in 2021 that caused $10.8 billion in damages and burned more than 7.1 million acres. The executive order showcases that healthy forests not only make communities more resilient, but also strengthen local economies and provide needed jobs, especially in rural America.

The executive order follows critical increases in funding and new programs created by the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law, which included $8 billion for forest and land management projects and a new Community Wildfire Defense Grant program. The enhanced resources provided by the law will support communities with high wildfire risks in becoming more physically and economically resilient to the changing climate.

The executive order builds on the law by requiring the Department of the Interior and Department of Agriculture to complete an inventory of old-growth forests on federal lands, increasing our understanding of the threats these forests face. This inventory will also guide the development of new policies on climate-based management practices for these forests.

The order also spurs enhanced coordination between federal agencies and states, tribal nations, and private landowners on wildfire risk reduction efforts. Coordination is vital across varied stakeholders located in the wildland-urban interface to ensure that forest management efforts are consistently implemented on public and private lands.

Further, the order establishes new agency actions that will harness the connections between forest health and thriving local economies by supporting the expansion of industries that rely on forests, namely outdoor recreation and sustainable forest products. It also will expand partnerships to advance federal reforestation goals and require the development of a federal plan to boost seed and nursery capacity. These actions are critical to tree planting efforts and the timber-based economies that rely on healthy forests.

C2ES recently highlighted the connections between local economic vitality and climate resilience in our new report, The Climate Resilience-Economy Nexus: Advancing Common Goals, where we discuss strategies that advance local economies and climate resilience at the same time. These collaborative approaches not only work to reduce the economic risks of climate change, but foster new opportunities and growth.

One such approach is working to develop a local workforce that can support climate resilience projects, benefitting both broader community resilience and creating pathways to good-paying jobs. An example of this strategy is in Sonoma County, California, devastated by wildfires in recent years. At the county’s community college, Santa Rosa Junior College, administrators recently established a wildfire resilience academic program, which prepares students for careers in forest and natural resource management practices critical to wildfire resilience. The program helps foster the local workforce to design and implement wildfire resilience projects, keeping funding spent on these projects within the community and creating new job opportunities for Sonoma County residents.

As wildfire risks increase in the changing climate, continued collaboration and creative approaches to advance both climate resilience and economic resilience will be necessary to support communities across the country. Federal actions such as those outlined in the administration’s announcement are an essential piece of support to accelerate this action.