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Unlocking the Reforestation Puzzle

In recent years, there has been a remarkable shift in the political landscape concerning reforestation policies. The REPLANT Act was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which will significantly increase the resources for reforestation efforts on public Forest Service lands and require the agency to create a long-term plan for investments on forested lands. The Inflation Reduction Act included over a billion dollars for urban and community forestry grants and hundreds of millions more for transportation and community greening.

Investments in reforestation have immediate economic, climate, biodiversity, and health benefits. However, we should not assume that the recent surplus of funding will solve our reforestation needs. We need to take a broader look at long-term solutions that include the private sector as well as encouraging government agencies to communicate with one another as these issues will cross jurisdictional boundaries.

For successful reforestation and sustainable forestry to succeed, we must proactively address the following policy constraints:

Funding and Financial Sustainability: Reforestation initiatives require significant funding for land acquisition, tree planting, maintenance, monitoring, and capacity building. Securing adequate funding is often a major hurdle for landowners organizations involved in reforestation efforts. Limited financial resources, competing priorities, and the lack of long-term funding commitments can impede the scale and effectiveness of reforestation policies.

To address this issue, Congress, state governments, and the private sector must create incentives that require limited bureaucratic red tape for landowners to access. An example of a bipartisan policy solution is the Rural Forest Markets Act, which increases access for family forest owners to carbon markets. Finding avenues to connect landowners to private sector capital where there’s mutual interest will be critical to incentivizing forest management and conservation.

Workforce Constraints: Even with historic funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act, workforce constraints limit how far this funding can go. Without the nurseries, scientists and biodiversity specialists skilled in restoring ecosystems, and everyone else across the tree supply chain. The first step should be the federal government, whether it be Forest Service, US Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies, provide technical assistance, grants to Tribes, nonprofits and small businesses to scale their work, and work with universities to build out robust academic programs that will fill the pipeline for these needs.

Monitoring and Evaluation: Monitoring and evaluation play a crucial role in ensuring the success and impact of reforestation policies. Without accurate data and feedback, it becomes challenging to assess the progress, identify potential issues, and make informed decisions for adaptive management. Whether it be through scientists, landowners, or public private partnerships, monitoring and making data more accessible is a first step in showing progress and directing where IRA and BIL funding is most needed.

Cross-Jurisdictional Solutions: We’re already seeing issues impacting reforestation efforts without clearly defined guidance from government agencies. This includes growing struggle between land for conservation easements verses renewable energy – both priorities for the Biden Administration. Issues like these require cross-agency communication and external stakeholder buy-in as competing interests will only get more complex.


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