August 24, 2022
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Dr. Patrick Bigger, firstname.lastname@example.org
Dr. Sara Nelson, email@example.com
Washington, DC - Today the Climate and Community Project along with the Centre for Climate Justice at the University of British Columbia launched its latest report: “High Roads to Resilience: Building Equitable Forest Restoration Economies in California and Beyond.”
This is a new playbook on how to implement a green industrial policy for forest management that will empower rural communities and workers, Indigenous organizations, formerly incarcerated firefighters, and public agencies. This ambitious suite of more than 40 detailed recommendations would create vibrant rural economies by better managing our public forests, staving off wildfires, and growing a range of industries that will benefit workers, communities and the environment for generations.
The wildfire crisis isn’t just an environmental problem that impacts our forests; increasingly severe wildfires worsen air quality, have impacts on local and downstream water supplies, and contribute to global warming when trees go up in smoke with regional, national, and global consequences.
The report traces the roots of rural precarity and vulnerability from the genocide of Indigenous Californians, through the decline of the timber industry, to today’s escalating housing and transportation costs, and the current structure of the forest management industry. Each of these issues have contributed to the erosion of living standards and reduced community, workforce, and government capacity to implement forest restoration strategies as forestry sills have been lost, workers have sought out better paying or less dangerous work, and economic stagnation has contributed to social problems, from addiction to house insecurity, across the rural West.
Dr. Sara Nelson, Research Manager at the University of British Columbia Centre for Climate Justice and lead author of the report said, “It’s great that there has been more funding for forest restoration coming from state and federal governments, but our report shows that there is still a long way to go if we want to rebuild rural economies in environmentally beneficial ways;” she continued, “The pace and scale of forest restoration has been increasing, but there are some serious bottlenecks that will slow down wildfire risk reduction efforts if we do not invest in frontline communities and workers.”
Decades of underfunding has hamstrung public agency capacity to achieve restoration goals. While new funding from the Inflation Reduction Act, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and other recent Congressional appropriations signal increasing urgency and commitment to solving the wildfire crisis, there is still a long way to go. Dr. Patrick Bigger, Research Director at the Climate and Community Project and an author on the study put it, “Our public land management agencies have been underfunded and understaffed for a long time. As these agencies start to get some of the resources they desperately need to restore our neglected forests, it is a good time to rethink some of their policies that may not be up to the challenge of rolling out a new vision for public lands fit for the 21st century.”
The “High Roads to Resilience” report offers recommendations for shifts in regulatory policy and identifies legislative priorities to improve the US Forest Service’s ability to meet its restoration goals. It also focuses on how the state of California can effectively distribute forest management funding in ways that benefit local workers and communities.
Bigger, the CCP Research Director, notes that, “Taking a high road to forest resilience isn’t just about reducing fuel in forests or paying forest restoration workers what they deserved; those things are important, but we also need to invest in the industries and infrastructure that can contribute to vibrant communities across the west, from small-diameter wood processing to safe, affordable housing.”
The care and management of public lands will be a critical part of achieving climate goals in just ways. Substantial funding is beginning to flow for forest management, but there must be a concerted focus on the social dimensions of the wildfire crisis, and the workers who will confront it, to put rural communities on a high road to resilience.
The Climate and Community Project is a network of academics and researchers using quantitative and qualitative research to advance climate justice.
The Centre for Climate Justice at UBC advances the urgent social, political and economic changes necessary to address the climate crisis.