The forestry title, often overlooked in the farm bill, figures to play a prominent role this time around, given the potential of trees to harbor significant amounts of carbon and the Biden administration’s goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Senate staff are actively negotiating on language to be included in that title, one of 12 in the farm bill, said an aide to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., chairman of the forestry subcommittee for the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The forestry title “is one of the first titles that the staff are working on drafting,” said National Association of State Foresters Policy Director Robyn Whitney.

“I think there's a lot of enthusiasm” around discussions of what should be in the title, Whitney said, mentioning the House Agriculture Committee’s establishment of a forestry subcommittee as an example of the importance of the issue.

In addition, he said passage of both the Inflation Reduction Act in 2022 and the 2021 infrastructure law are indications that “Congress is willing to make historical investments in this area.”

But the challenges are large. 

A recent report from Resources for the Future said aging forests are capturing less carbon than they used to, and “expanding forests is necessary to maintain land carbon sink strength and meet the nation’s climate goals.”

“Although novel technologies, such as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage or direct air capture, may eventually provide scalable [carbon dioxide removal], lands — and forested lands in particular — currently offer the only feasible means to expand removals on a large scale,” the RFF paper said.

That report found that the forestry sector generated an annual average of 0.89 gigatons of negative carbon emissions per year in 1990-1995 but 0.81 gigatons a year from 2015—2020.

Rates of afforestation — planting trees on land that has not recently been forested — “have diminished recently, and the mechanics of forest aging suggest a continued decline in CDR (carbon dioxide removal) absent another surge in afforestation,” the report added. 

The Forests in the Farm Bill Coalition, a broad range of forestry and environmental groups, have endorsed a platform that calls for the restoration of forests but also reforestation.

One of the goals of the coalition, which released its recommendations in May, is to “advance the role of forests as a natural climate solution by prioritizing reforestation in conservation programs; supporting more investment and direct assistance to tree nurseries; and supporting voluntary, market- and incentive-based policies through forestry and forest conservation at scale from private U.S. forests, with safeguards to ensure positive outcomes for forests and the climate.”

One solution is an expansion of the National Reforestation, Nursery, and Genetics Resources (RNGR) program at USDA, which would include standing up the program separately and giving it its own line item. The program’s mission is “to supply people who grow forest and conservation seedlings with the very latest technical information, and to provide links to other organizations and individuals with similar interests.”

But NASF says a lot more money needs to go into the infrastructure needed to expand seed and seedling capacity. 

“Information sharing to improve technical knowledge and practices, and to better understand demands, climate change impacts and other issues is necessary. The RNGR program is uniquely positioned to address these needs, but is sorely underfunded,” Kansas State Forester Jason Hartman said in testimony on behalf of NASF in March before Senate Ag’s forestry subcommittee.

Hartman_Jason.jpgJason Hartman, Kansas state forester

National forests often rely on state-operated nurseries and seed orchards for seed supply and vice versa, Whitney said. However, extreme weather events tied to climate change can wipe out seedling stocks. 

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

“And so the sourcing shifts,” he said. “Whereas a national forest may rely on a federal nursery one year, in another year they may need to get their supply from a state agency or from a private, nursery and so on. Having a centralized program that can serve all the needs across the reforestation pipeline and across the jurisdictional boundaries would really help get more trees in the ground.”

Whitney said the program receives about $5 million to $7 million now. The precise funding is difficult to calculate because it is spread across different programs, but Whitney says the number should be at least doubled.

“NASF is also supportive of exploring opportunities in the farm bill to look at the Reforestation Trust Fund as a potential source of revenues for funding the work of RNGR,” he said.

NASF and other groups also would like to see Good Neighbor Authority expanded. GNA allows the Forest Service to enter into agreements with state, county, and tribal agencies to perform forest, rangeland, and watershed restoration services on and adjacent to National Forest System lands.

However, Whitney says, the 2018 farm bill required that revenues generated by GNA projects can only be used for projects on federal lands. “And so we're looking to fix that issue because GNA projects can be cross-boundary in nature. And so it just makes sense to us to be able to spend the project revenues within the project boundary,” he said.

Measures intended for inclusion in the farm bill are being introduced in Congress. In the Senate, Bennet has come out with a couple of marker bills — including The Protect the West Act, which carries a $60 billion price tag.

It would give $20 billion to state and local governments, tribes, special districts, and nonprofits to support restoration, drought resilience, and fire mitigation projects. Another $40 billion would go to partner with states and tribes “to tackle the backlog of restoration, fire mitigation, and resilience projects across public, private, and tribal lands,” a summary of the bill says.

Another, the Headwaters Protection Act, would increase funding for and expand access to the Forest Service’s Water Source Protection Program and require WSPP to prioritize “local, collaborative partnerships to protect forests and watersheds.”

The bill also would create dedicated funding for the service’s Watershed Condition Framework and make a technical change to the program “to ensure management activities in our National Forests do not lead to the long-term degradation of our watersheds,” according to the summary.

For more news, go to