U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and three other congressional lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation this week that would invest billions of dollars in wildfire prevention and wildlife restoration.
The legislation, titled the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, proposes to invest $60 billion in local efforts to prevent wildfires and restore local forests and watersheds while creating more than 2 million jobs.
“As the discussion in Washington turns to infrastructure, we have to make sure that we’re not just talking about roads and bridges,” Bennet said during a news conference. “We’re also talking about the essential natural infrastructure in the West because people in Washington need to understand that in Colorado and Idaho, across the West, our forests and public lands are as important to our economy as the Lincoln Tunnel or the Brooklyn Bridge is to New York.”
U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is a co-sponsor of the bill and U.S. Reps. Jason Crow, D-Colo., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, will introduce the legislation in the U.S. House. In a Tuesday news conference with Crow and Simpson, Bennet said they are also looking for bipartisan support in the Senate.
If passed, the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act would establish an Outdoor Restoration Fund that would support local cleanup and restoration efforts. By supporting and encouraging such local efforts, the legislation aims to create jobs in primarily rural areas in industries such as agriculture and outdoor recreation.
The Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act also proposes to make $20 billion directly available to state and local governments, tribes, special districts and nonprofits for their wildlife restoration, resilience and mitigation projects. It would also establish and support federal partnerships with states and tribes while investing $40 billion in wildlife restoration and wildfire reduction projects.
Bennet, D-Colo., first introduced the legislation in December. In President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan, the American Jobs Plan, he outlined efforts proposed in the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act, citing Bennet’s legislation as a model.
“I’m pleased President Biden recognized the importance of restoring America’s forests by including this proposal in his American Jobs Plan,” Bennet said in a news release. “This legislation was written with – and inspired by – Coloradans, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress to make it a reality.”
Bennet said he and other lawmakers supporting the legislation hope it can be passed in the Biden infrastructure plan. In the event that it does not get passed through the American Jobs Plan, they said they will be looking for other ways to pass it into law.
“If it doesn’t pass in the infrastructure bill, we’re going to have to find some other place to do it, and I look forward to working with my colleagues on the agriculture committee to try to figure that out on our side,” Bennet said at the news conference.
Bennet emphasized the importance of partnering with local communities in the execution of the legislation, and he said he hopes it will lead to better collaboration and cooperation between federal and local governments.
“Experts in Colorado tell me that we’ll need to invest up to $60 billion over the next decade to improve forest conditions, reduce wildfire risk and protect our water supplies, and I realize that 60 billion is a big number, but the cost of inaction is far greater,” Bennet said. “There is nothing fiscally conservative about paying through our teeth to recover from wildfires and to fight those wildfires rather than investing on the front end.”
Grace George is an intern for The Durango Herald and The Journal in Cortez and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.