New investments in conservation

The U.S. Senate passed a $1 trillion infrastructure package this month with some welcome provisions for the land trust community.

By Chelsea Welch August 25, 2021

While most of the funds were for traditional infrastructure, a large portion was dedicated to ecosystem restoration and disaster mitigation.

  • $1.7 billion was allocated for the Environmental Protection Agency’s watershed-specific programs, including $1 billion for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and $238 million for the Chesapeake Bay Program.

  • $492 million was appropriated to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for National Ocean and Coastal Security Fund grants.

  • $100 million was designated for a new competitive grant program to restore habitat in watersheds adversely impacted by Bureau of Reclamation projects.

If the legislation is signed into law in its current form, these funds will be expended over five years and would come in addition to the regular appropriations process.

Additionally, the legislation also gives $400 million to the Department of the Interior for wildfire mitigation grants. These grants would empower states and tribes to implement voluntary ecosystem restoration projects on private or public lands. Also, a new Department of Transportation program, Healthy Streets, would provide grants to nonprofits and others to expand tree cover in urban areas. It is funded at $500 million across five years.

Moreover, the legislation would establish a Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Partnership Program at the Department of Agriculture to improve the health and resilience of forest landscapes on public and private lands through the Natural Resources Conservation Service and Forest Service programs. This would initially be funded at $90 million across two years. NRCS will see an additional $300 million for its Emergency Watershed Protection Program.

And there’s potential for more. As a complement to the bipartisan infrastructure deal, the House and Senate are working on a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill. I expect more focus on climate and, hopefully, land conservation in this newest bill, which could boost Farm Bill funding. The Farm Bill conservation programs offer some of the greatest opportunities to scale up natural climate solutions, so call or email your members of Congress and ask them to double the funding for Farm Bill conservation easement programs in the reconciliation bill.