Letter to Tom Vilsack, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Department of the Interior - Bonamici, Wyden, Merkley, Blumenauer, DeFazio Ask Federal Agencies to Protect and Restore Old-Growth Forests


Dear Secretaries Vilsack and Haaland:

Thank you for your leadership in managing America's national forests and public lands for the
benefit of our climate, watersheds, wildlife, and communities. We write today to request that
your agencies move forward with your obligations set out in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to protect and restore old growth forests and further encourage you to take additional action to protect other carbon-rich mature forests across the nation for the long term.

We appreciate that the Forest Service's Climate Adaption and Resilience plan (climate plan) and
its 10-year wildfire strategy each highlight the importance of strategic implementation of
hazardous fuel treatments and prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risks and to increase forest
restoration. However, in light of the worsening climate crisis, it is also imperative that the U.S.
expand that effort and optimize the climate value of mature and old growth forests throughout
the country and within USDA's and DOI's climate response and strategies.

As you know, the IIJA included historic investments in forest restoration on national forests and
public lands. Among other investments, section 40803(a) appropriates $3.4 billion for wildfire
risk reduction and forest restoration on these lands. Along with additional requirements, section
40803(g)(6) of the IIJA requires the prioritization of funding for projects that:
fully maintain or contribute toward the restoration of the structure and
composition of old growth stands consistent with the characteristics of that forest
type, taking into account the contribution of the old growth stand to landscape fire
adaption and watershed health, unless the old growth stand is part of a science based ecological restoration project authorized by the Secretary concerned that
meets applicable protection and old growth enhancement objectives, as
determined by the Secretary concerned.

We view this language to be consistent with the goals of the 10-year wildfire strategy and clear
that Congress recognizes the importance of protecting and restoring old growth forests to
enhance climate action, biodiversity, and fire resilience. Therefore, we respectfully request you
respond to the following questions by March 31, 2022:

1. What specific steps do USDA and the DOI plan to take to follow this direction for
implementing their climate plans, 10-year wildfire strategy, and other agency planning

2. What monitoring requirements and metrics will USDA and DOI use to analyze the
progress of protecting and restoring these forests across the country? Specifically, what
performance measures do you intend to use to report progress to Congress given that
"acres treated" does not incorporate old growth preservation or restoration? How do you
intend to develop new, spatially-explicit, outcomes-based performance measures to track
and report progress in restoring and preserving old growth forests?

3. What are the priority projects for restoring mature and old growth forests with IIJA funds
under the 10-year plan? Which projects do you anticipate funding in the first two years of
IIJA implementation and how to you plan on selecting projects in future years?

4. The 10-year strategy makes use of the concept of firesheds. How is restoration of old
growth forests incorporated into the fireshed model? If it is not, how do you intend to
ensure old growth is prioritized in your approach to funding allocation?

Further, these efforts should clearly build toward the goal of establishing broad policy beyond
implementation of these near-term funds and projects that will protect old growth and other
carbon-rich mature forests across the nation. The important climate and biodiversity values of
old growth forests that Congress emphasized in this provision exist throughout the federal
forests, not just in those areas most subject to fire, and not just in old growth forests but also
carbon-rich mature forests. Protection of these values for the long term is key to accomplishing
the Administration's commitments to climate and biodiversity protection.
Thank you for your leadership in managing America's national forests and public lands. We look
forward to supporting you in this important work.