FCWG Policy Platform - Goal Two
America’s forests and forest products are a proven carbon sequestration and storage “technology” to provide the negative emissions we need to slow climate change. Today, U.S. forests and forest products annually sequester and store almost 15% of U.S. carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels. New research suggests we could nearly double this natural carbon capture with the right actions. Best of all, this climate action through forests will build on the nearly 3 million jobs in America’s forest sector and bring broad co-benefits to our communities, from clean air and water to wildlife and outdoor recreation.
of U.S. carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels are stored annually from forests and forest products
The Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG) was founded in 2007 to provide a unified voice across the U.S. forest sector that can help America capture this remarkable opportunity. Our member organizations reflect the wide diversity of actors who help to conserve and manage America’s forests every single day: private landowners, forest products companies, state foresters and other government agencies, forestry, conservation and wildlife non-profits, carbon finance, and academic researchers.
This platform outlines how policymakers can help private forest owners and public land managers grow the powerful climate solutions in America’s forests and forest products while delivering other environmental and economic benefits. Our recommendations fall in four key areas:
Improve Forest Practices for Carbon, Adaptation, and Resilience
U.S. forests offer cost-effective and expandable carbon sequestration and storage. But we can only realize this potential if we are able to keep forests healthy and resilient in the face of rapidly expanding climate change impacts like intensified threat from drought, pests, disease, and wildfire. That means that private landowners and public land managers alike need to identify and implement the right forest practices that support strong carbon sequestration, including storage in forest products, while also addressing forest health issues that are worsening with climate change. Within this goal we identify policy mechanisms to help landowners take these needed actions, including financial incentives.
- Increase funding for forest conservation programs that help landowners improve practices for forest carbon, adaptation and resilience, and require federal agencies to align and focus the use of funding on achieving these outcomes. Programs include but are not limited to:I
- Environmental Quality Incentives Program
- Conservation Stewardship Program
- Regional Conservation Partnership Program
- Forest Stewardship Program
- USFS Landscape Scale Restoration Program
- Increase funding and expand authorities for USFS management and restoration activities on federal lands that improve forest carbon, adaptation and resilience outcomes both on federal land and across boundaries, including:
- Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program
- Good Neighbor Authority
- Hazardous Fuels Reduction and Vegetation Management
- Watershed Management
- Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program
- NEW: Establish a grant program to facilitate restoration of forest lands by federal, state, local, native and tribal and NGO actors.
- NEW: Incentivize climate-informed active forest management for resilience and reduced wildfire risk through:
- Federal grants to states for updating natural hazard mitigation plans
- Prioritizing active management on federal forest lands identified in state plans as being at high risk for wildfire.
- Prioritizing restoration practices with demonstrable carbon mitigation and resilience benefits, such as fire risk reduction within the USFS Hazardous Fuels Reduction and Vegetation and Watershed Management appropriations accounts.
Deep Dive into the Policy Options
New Forest Conservation Easement Program
Forest conservation and avoided forest conversion are leading ways to naturally sequester carbon and add to the stability of the carbon market, while also supporting water quality, working forests, local jobs and rural communities. With increasing development pressure on private forest lands that could result in conversion of forests to non-forest uses, conservation easements are an important voluntary option for forest landowners to keep their forests as forests and be part of a climate mitigation and resilience strategy to maintain forest carbon sinks.
There are two existing forest conservation easement programs at the federal level: the Forest Legacy Program, administered by the U.S. Forest Service and funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service with a discretionary funding authorization but no dedicated funding. Neither program allows an eligible entity, like a land trust, to hold the easement; and each has further restrictions and serves a narrower niche preventing them from fulfilling the need for a national, private forestland protection program that is on par with the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
We propose that the Farm Bill Conservation Title (or another legislative vehicle) expand and fund a new Forest Conservation Easement Program (FCEP) with mandatory funding at $100 million annually that is in addition to funds for existing agriculture and forest easement programs.
This program would consist of two components, entity-held easements and U.S.-held easements, as a forest-focused “sister program” to ACEP. We recommend merging the Healthy Forest Reserve Program (HFRP) into this program to implement U.S.-held easements (similar to ACEP’s WRE), and a second sub-program be created to implement entity-held easements (similar to ACEP’s ALE). We recommend merging this concept with HFRP for several reasons but one in particular is that HFRP already has enhancing carbon sequestration as a priority, which should be maintained as a priority in FCEP.
Proposed Legislative Outline:
- Create new authority for a Forest Conservation Easement Program with the goal of keeping private forests as forests through the use of conservation easements that buy the development rights from private landowners to prevent conversion to non-forest uses while maintaining working forests, a key strategy for protecting the U.S. forest carbon sink.
- Create a subprogram within FCEP, the “Forest Reserve Easement” (FRE) sub-program that would rename the current the HFRP and fund U.S.-held easements and restoration, using the existing HFRP language that includes carbon sequestration as a priority and promotes well-managed working forests.
- Create a second subprogram, the “Forest Land Easement” (FLE) sub-program, for entity-held easements (i.e. easements held by land trusts and other similar entities) that will benefit carbon sequestration opportunities and working forests.
- Allow for an increase in federal cost-share for limited resource, socially disadvantaged and veteran producers, and other historically underserved producers, including as defined in other USDA Farm Bill programs in section 2279(e) of title 7.