Reps. Huffman, Neguse Introduce Bill to Make Major Investments in Wildfire Prevention, Outdoor Recreation, and Public Lands Restoration as Part of COVID-19 Economic Stimulus Efforts

New legislation would make significant investments for wildfire resiliency, provide economic stimulus for the outdoor recreation industry, and create jobs in conservation.

June 18, 2020

Washington D.C. – Congressmen Jared Huffman (CA-02) and Joe Neguse (CO-02) today introduced legislation to provide financial relief to struggling outdoor recreation industries and make historic investments in Conservation Corps and Public Lands Service Organizations. The bill provides critical funds to support the natural resource management and conservation workforce that underpins the health of our public lands. Additionally, the legislation bolsters wildfire prevention and preparedness to protect the health and safety of communities during the unparalleled combination of threats posed by wildfire season and the COVID-19 pandemic. The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act is sponsored by Senator Ron Wyden in the Senate. 

“Congress is moving aggressively to protect the economy and save lives, but it’s imperative that our recovery efforts also support long term resiliency,” said Congressman Jared Huffman, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans and Wildlife. “In rural communities, focusing on public health and safety means also preparing communities for wildfire, keeping our forests healthy, and investing in the public lands that support rural economies. With fire season already here and the confounding challenges of the pandemic, healthy forests and wildfire preparedness are critical for communities throughout the West. Our bill would scale up investments in our forests, support the outdoor recreation economy, and bring restoration jobs to rural communities like those in northwest California.”

“In Colorado, access to public lands and outdoor recreation are at the core of our economy, driving main street tourism, our recreation industry and our way of life. Therefore, recovery from COVID-19 must prioritize our public lands, our economy and the health of our communities. My plan does this by stimulating our outdoor recreation economy, employing hundreds of thousands of Americans to complete conservation projects, investing in programs that will lower the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and importantly, equipping our firefighters and first responders to stay healthy through wildfire season,” said Congressman Joe Neguse and co-lead of the legislation. “We must ensure that we are investing in our mountain economies, our small businesses, and that climate action is not set aside as we fight for a future after the pandemic.”  

“The economic impacts of the COVID-19 emergency has hit rural communities with a wrecking ball. Struggling recreation economies coupled with the unique challenges of this year's wildfire season demand a comprehensive and creative approach. That’s why I introduced my bill,” Senator Wyden said. “Now is the time to invest in our public lands, invest in clean air and water, and invest in rural jobs […]”

“We’ve worked to make sure everyone has access to our National Parks and public lands, no matter where they live or how much they make. However, the pandemic has impacted wildfire preparedness and New Mexico’s tourism economy, crippling budgets and making fighting fires more difficult.  I’m proud to join my friend and colleague Rep. Joe Neguse to provide support for wildfire prevention and preparedness, protect the health and safety, provide relief, and create jobs in our communities that rely on public lands and outdoor recreation,” said Congresswoman Deb Haaland, Chair of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands and an original co-sponsor of the legislation. 

“As someone who grew up on the Olympic Peninsula, I’m committed to doing everything we can to grow jobs and opportunity in rural communities. Making investments to support our public lands and to grow jobs in outdoor recreation is a win-win for regions like ours,” said Congressman Derek Kilmer, an original cosponsor of the legislation. “The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act will grow opportunities in our region by providing targeted relief for outfitters and guides to stay afloat during the shortened recreation season and by creating new jobs focused on enhancing access to our public lands. I’m proud to support it.”

The impacts of COVID-19 on public health and the economy, combined with high levels of drought throughout the West, create unprecedented wildland firefighting challenges in 2020. Those at increased risk for adverse health effects due to wildfire smoke exposure – people who suffer from heart or respiratory diseases – are also particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The crisis also quickly brought the outdoor economy to a halt. Many forest workers, despite their essential work, were laid off and others, like outfitters and guides who rely on tourism and outdoor recreation, are unable to work during their busy season.

The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act will provide significant investment in wildfire prevention and resiliency efforts; programs that can get rural Americans back to work when it’s deemed safe by public health experts to do so; direct relief for outfitters and guides; as well as extensive resources to support public lands restoration. The legislation:

  • Establishes a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring, helping to restore public lands and watersheds, while providing important public health related jobs in this time of need;
  • Establishes a $7 billion relief fund to help outfitters and guides who hold U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior special use permits – and their employees – stay afloat through the truncated recreation season;
  • Provides $6 billion for U.S. Forest Service and $6 billion for the National Park Service maintenance accounts to both create jobs and reduce the maintenance backlog on National Forest System and National Park System lands;
  • Provides $4 billion in National Forest Funding to make needed investments in landscape-scale restoration projects to improve forest health and reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire;
  • Provides $600 million for the Forest Service State and Private Forestry program, including $200 million for programs such as Firewise which helps local governments plan for and reduce wildfire risks;
  • Provides $100 million for land management agencies to purchase and provide personal protective equipment (PPE) to their employees, contractors and service workers; 
  • Increases access to public lands through expanding and investing in programs like Every Kid Outdoors and the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership; and
  • Provides temporary fee waivers for ski areas and public land use permit holders to aid in economic recovery. 

A one-page summary of the bill is available here. 
A section-by-section summary of the bill is available here.

Original cosponsors of the legislation include Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Deb Haaland (NM-01) and Derek Kilmer (WA-06).

Support for 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act:

Aaron Bannon, Executive Director, American Outdoors Association: “The 21st Century Conservation Corps for Our Health and Our Jobs Act provides relief right where it is needed for the outdoor industry. Outdoor recreation providers have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and most of those who are able to operate are facing financial shortfalls of 50 percent or more. This bill will meet their need for financial stability directly, ensuring that the services they provide, reconnecting people with the treasured landscapes that make up our nation’s incredible public lands, will persist. Spending time in the outdoors can and will play a key role in helping America heal.”

Kirin Kennedy, Deputy Legislative Director for the Sierra Club: “This bill provides urgently needed funds to protect workers, support the outdoor recreation economy and increase employment opportunities, while restoring parks and public lands, reducing maintenance backlogs and helping create fire-smart communities. It will provide immediate relief while setting up sustained recovery for both our economy and our outdoor spaces.”