Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Jeff Merkley have introduced legislation in the United States Senate that would create a 21st Century Conservation Corps by investing in wildfire resiliency in rural communities across the Western United States.

The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act was originally introduced by Wyden in 2020, but it was not voted on by the Senate before the end of the Congressional session. In a statement, Wyden’s office said he planned to reintroduce the act in the 117th Congress.

Wyden said in a press release the act would provide funds to support natural resource management and conservation workforce in rural communities, especially those that have struggled with a combination of wildfires and COVID.

“Rural communities are facing two big challenges: struggling economies and continued wildfire threats. By investing in a 21st century workforce, this bill will put people to work to tackle the climate emergency, restore our public lands and reduce wildfire risks,” Wyden said. “The bottom line, creating new jobs and supporting our public lands go hand in hand.”

If passed the act would invest $9 billion in workforce training and jobs to support conservation programs and reforestation to help restore public lands. Economic relief of $2 billion would be provided for guides and outfitters who hold special use permits.

The FireWise program though the United States Forest Service would receive an additional $2 billion to expand its program of mitigation and responding to wildfires around private residences and businesses.

The FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program would get an additional $2 billion to improve resiliency for communities impacted by wildfires.

An additional $6 billion for the Forest Service, $6 billion for the National Park Service and $2 billion for the Bureau of Land Management would be used to address the backlog of maintenance projects, creating more jobs and increasing access to recreation opportunities on public lands.

An additional $3.5 billion for the Forest Service and $2 billion for the BLM to support science-based projects with the goal of improving forest health and reducing the risk of catastrophic fires across the United States.

Reforestation projects would be supported by $3.5 billion for work on federal, state, local, tribal and non-governmental organization (NGO) lands with the goal of planting one hundred million trees in urban areas by 2030.

Access to public lands would be expanded as more money would be invested into the Every Kid Outdoors and Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership programs.

Rangeland health and restoration would receive an additional $150 million through the North American Waterfowl Management and Joint Ventures program. An additional $150 million would support the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.

Voluntary climate stewardship practices would receive additional supplemental funding through the United States Department of Agriculture working lands conservation program to support the 100 million acres that are already part of the program.

As of press time the legislation had been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources; no vote had been held.

For more information contact Wyden’s office at 202-224-5244 or Merkley’s office at 202-224-3753.

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