Legislation aims to restore national forests

It has a catchy acronym “REPLANT” and bipartisan support. It also has the potential to improve the burn scar left by the North Complex Fire.

Congressman Doug LaMalfa joined Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH), and Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-CA) and Mike Simpson (R-ID), in introducing the Repairing Existing Public Land by Adding Necessary Trees (REPLANT) Act, to help the U.S. Forest Service restore the national forests. Backers say that it will create nearly 49,000 jobs over the next 10 years.

“Wildfires devastated millions of acres in California last year, and the Forest Service is facing an enormous backlog of lands that need to be restored,” LaMalfa said. “The REPLANT Act will assist with getting burned areas replanted in the North State and across the West.”

He continued, “We cannot leave our public lands a virtual moonscape that creates the brush conditions that lead to the next terrible fire. Replanting our damaged forests protects our watersheds and begins to restore wildlife habitats and recreation. This is one step needed to protect our forests, but we also must improve our active forest management to reduce the risk of these massive forest fires.”

“Restoring our national forests will not only support our hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation economies, it’s also part of the solution to the climate crisis,” said Senator Stabenow. “Planting trees is a cost-effective way to draw carbon out of the air, restore our public lands, and create jobs.”

From destructive wildfires to invasive pests and disease, National Forests across the country are in desperate need of reforestation, proponents of the bill say. The demand for reforestation has vastly outpaced the current funding available, which has contributed to a backlog of nearly 2 million acres in need of restoration. Each year, only 15 percent of the national forest tree planting backlog is addressed.

The REPLANT Act removes the current funding cap of $30 million per year in the Reforestation Trust Fund, making an average of $123 million annually available for reforestation in National Forests. The bill only uses funds that are already being collected through tariffs on foreign wood products – it does not change the list of products, increase the tariffs, or use taxpayer funds.

The bill directs the Forest Service to develop a 10-year plan and cost estimate to address the backlog of replanting needs on national forest land by 2031. It also prioritizes land in need of reforestation due to natural disasters that are unlikely to naturally regrow on their own.