From The Colorado Sun (Jason Blevins):
The Boulder County Democrat says it’s time to “go big and be bold” with his sweeping 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act, which provides economic relief from coronavirus shutdown while investing in overlooked forest management, wildfire mitigation and civilian corps.
U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse on Thursday introduced comprehensive legislation that aims to help Western economies better recover from the pandemic while addressing long standing conservation, forest management and wildfire challenges on public lands.
The Boulder County Democrat’s 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act is a mouthful and a big ask.
His bill would direct more than $40 billion toward wildfire prevention, bolstering the conservation corps to restore public lands, funding deferred maintenance on U.S. Forest Service land and delivering coronavirus relief for the country’s outfitters and guides. It’s one of the most ambitious public lands bills in recent memory.
Here’s some highlights of his legislation:
$3.5 billion for the Forest Service’s hazardous fuels, fire-risk reduction program, which is funded at about $445 million a year, and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management’s hazardous fuels program. $6 billion for the Forest Service’s capital improvements and maintenance program, which also is funded at about $445 million a year. The agency estimates it has a $5.2 billion backlog of maintenance on roads and other infrastructure. $600 million for state and private forests programs. $100 million for Forest Service personal protective equipment. $5.5 billion for the USDA’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program that focuses on water infrastructure development. $150 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife habitat conservation program for private lands. $4.5 billion for the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program that gives water efficiency grants to farmers and ranchers. $575 million for National Park Service programs. $6 billion for construction and maintenance at national parks. $9 billion for the Civilian Conservation Corps program to hire and train workers for public lands restoration while addressing unemployment during the pandemic. $2 billion for the National Coastal Resilience Fund to restore shorelines. $7 billion for direct payments to outfitters and guides enduring closures from COVID-19.
Temporarily waives permit fees for ski areas operating on public land and waives fees paid by guides and outfitters.
The American guiding industry saw bookings evaporate in March as the pandemic ground the economy to a halt. The decline in reservations by skiers, rafters, climbers and hunters lingered for three months and only recently have outfitters and guides seen a gradual return of customers, said Matt Wade, the head of policy and advocacy for the American Mountain Guide Association.
But even as outfitters ramp back up, they are incurring additional costs for protective equipment — think replacing all group tents with single-person tents — and seeing smaller guide-to-client ratios as they keep people distanced.
Many guiding businesses and outfitters saw business plummet 90% in the spring and the summer season is pacing to be about 50% down, Wade said.
Neguse’s relief fund would give outfitters the chance to apply for relief payments that would cover the gap between increased costs and declining revenues while keeping guides on the payroll…
Neguse is not creating new programs. He’s multiplying the budgets of a host of programs — like the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration, the Every Kid Outdoors, the Vegetation and Watershed Management, the Landscape Scale Restoration, Urban and Community Forestry, the Firewise, the Regional Conservation Partnership programs and dozens more…
Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden introduced a companion bill in the U.S. Senate and Neguse has enlisted support from counties in his Colorado district and a growing list of conservation, outdoor recreation and sportsmen groups. He said his bill “stands a good chance” as both Democrats and Republicans study another round of funding to help the country recover from the pandemic.