Washington- Thanks to recent investments, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service is poised to take bigger, broader steps to confront the wildfire crisis and combat the impacts of climate change on the nation’s forests and grasslands, communities, and critical infrastructure.
“2022 offered a historic opportunity for the Forest Service to serve the American people and meet our mission’s challenges head-on,” said Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment Dr. Homer Wilkes. “Together with partners, we took bold and targeted actions to build up American infrastructure, accelerate restoration of forests and rangelands, and increase community resilience to climate change, drought, and wildfire risks. We are leveraging investments from all sources to put us in position to increase the pace and scale of our work in 2023 and deliver much needed results on the landscape.”
Addressing Threats from Wildfire and Climate Change
The Forest Service made multiple investments in 2022 to make communities, lands, and waters healthier, safer, and more resilient to climate change and wildfire.
In January 2022, the Forest Service released its 10-Year Wildfire Crisis Strategy to treat large landscapes and begin the process of lowering fire risk to communities, critical infrastructure, and natural resources. This science-based strategy for confronting the wildfire crisis focuses on the 250 highest-risk firesheds — areas where wildfire is likely to pose the greatest risk — for communities in the western U.S. and serves as the anchor for the more than $10 billion provided by Congress through President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. The agency also released a Climate Adaptation Plan, identifying risks and critical adaptation actions to incorporate climate change into its operations and decisions to support communities and forests nationwide. The plan enables the Forest Service to design and prioritize strategies and support actions to enhance climate resilience.
With input from Tribes, partners, and communities throughout the U.S., the Forest Service in April 2022 announced investment in the 10 initial landscapes as part of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy. This included the deployment of funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to begin work in 68 of the 250 priority firesheds. In total, the Forest Service treated 3.2 million acres last year to reduce wildfire risk nationwide. Also as part of the Wildfire Crisis Strategy, the Forest Service announced historic investments in community safety and resilience, including offering the first round of funding through the Community Wildfire Defense Grants provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
To support restoration and recovery, the Forest Service invested more than $1.2 billion dollars in critical recovery and restoration efforts in places impacted by wildfire and other disasters and released a new National Reforestation Strategy to tackle a reforestation backlog of more than 4 million acres and leverage additional funding provided through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. In addition to a wide range of local and regional partnerships, four national-level reforestation partnership agreements have generated an additional $7 million towards 16.5 million seedlings for reforestation projects in 22 states and Puerto Rico in fiscal year 2022.
The Forest Service also made historic progress in pay improvements and equity for wildland firefighters, announcing landmark support to federal wildland firefighters, converting a record number of temporary firefighter positions to permanent positions, and delivering pay increases to more than 11,300 men and women who protect our nation’s communities, forests and grasslands.
This year, the Forest Service also launched the agency’s first Equity Action Plan, committing to a broad set of actions contributing to high impact and enduring systemic change affecting underserved communities, Tribes, and other partners. Delivering the Forest Service’s mission in a purposefully equitable way requires changing perspectives, processes, actions, and performance measures to ensure the full suite of agency benefits, outcomes, and opportunities to participate are made available to everyone.
The Forest Service took steps to make it easier to develop strategic partnerships by making significant and historic changes to its grants and agreements policies. This work will open doors more equitably for underserved communities, Tribes and non-traditional partners. The revised policy marks the first significant change since the early nineties.
In November, the Forest Service signed 11 co-stewardship agreements with 13 Tribes as part as part of the agency’s commitment to protecting Tribal interests on their ancestral homelands. Sixty additional co-stewardship agreements involving 45 Tribes are in various stages of review. These agreements support Joint Secretarial Order 3403, which directs USDA and Department of the Interior agencies to ensure their decisions and activities on public lands fulfill the federal government’s trust obligations to federally recognized Tribes and their citizens.
Providing Economic Relief through Job Creation
Forest Service stewardship of the nation’s forests and grasslands provided opportunities to help the economy recover in 2022, welcoming more than 150 million visitors. Federal investments improving the visitor experience on national forests and grasslands contribute billions of dollars to the national economy each year while providing jobs and economic opportunities for rural communities.
The Forest Service rapidly put provisions of the Great American Outdoors Act into action, delivering benefits to visitors and nearby communities through major investments in recreation infrastructure, public lands access, and land and water conservation. These investments improved outdoor recreation and contributed to economic growth and job creation by improving service, infrastructure and facilities. Highlights include:
- 172 trail and 323 recreation site projects currently working in 41 states and Puerto Rico
- Supported locally driven conservation projects with nearly $89 million through the Forest Legacy Program
- Awarded $243 million in contracts for maintenance backlog projects, 97% of which were awarded to small businesses
The Forest Service also provides economic relief to communities by prioritizing small businesses and equity in its contracting process. In 2022, the Forest Service awarded 90% of its contracts to small and disadvantaged businesses. Of these,
- 30% were Small Disadvantaged Businesses
- 16% were Women-Owned Small Businesses
- 4% were Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
- 7% were HUBZone-certified businesses.
“I am incredibly grateful to Forest Service employees and our partners for the work they have accomplished this year on behalf of the American people,” said Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “The work we’re doing with partners to focus fuels and forest health treatments more strategically and at the scale of the problem, using the best available science as our guide, will position us well this year and into the future,” added Chief Moore. “We will continue to do everything we can to implement the 10-year wildfire crisis strategy through the resources provided by the Congress so we can improve forest health and resilience and reduce wildfire risk to communities, critical infrastructure, and natural resources.”
For more information about the Forest Service visit www.fs.usda.gov.