New Bipartisan Legislation Aims to Boost Small Family Foresters, Tackle Climate Change

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U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, introduced a bipartisan bill on Tuesday aiming to offer economic opportunities to small-scale family foresters. This initiative seeks to reward their sustainable and voluntary land management efforts, which are often overlooked in favor of larger forests when companies seek to offset their environmental impact.

The proposed Rural Forest Markets Act aims to assist smaller foresters in overcoming financial hurdles to innovative marketplaces, create new forestry jobs, and encourage private investment in rural communities. Simultaneously, it supports various carbon reduction efforts, contributing to environmental improvement. Companion legislation was simultaneously introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME-1) and Congressman William Timmons (R-SC-4).

Senator Casey stated, “Small family foresters have long been at the forefront of carbon reductions efforts. They should be able to profit off of their conservation and sustainability efforts, just as larger-scale foresters do now. This Rural Forest Markets Act will help them maximize the carbon benefits of their forests while ensuring the health of Pennsylvania woodlands.”

Echoing Casey’s sentiments, Senator Braun, a tree farmer himself, said, “Sustainable forest management represents both a win for conservationists and all Americans. I’m proud to join Senators Casey and Stabenow to reintroduce the Rural Forests Markets Act because it’s a low-overhead solution that takes advantage of private investment to notch a win for small family foresters and the environment.”

Chairwoman Stabenow added, “Big or small, our forests are an important part of tackling the climate crisis. For too long, there have been barriers that prevent family foresters from being able to take advantage of the economic benefits of their carbon reduction efforts. This bipartisan legislation changes that by removing those barriers and ensuring that they can tap into new markets and be rewarded for their climate-smart practices.”

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Voluntary carbon markets allow companies, local governments, and other organizations to balance their carbon footprint by investing in large-scale environmental projects that remove or store an equivalent amount of carbon from the atmosphere. Participating in these markets provides forest landowners an opportunity to earn extra income while improving forest health and mitigating climate change. However, family forest landowners have typically been excluded from the carbon marketplace due to high upfront costs.

The Rural Forest Markets Act plans to establish a program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to guarantee loans, bonds, or other investment vehicles for projects like the Family Forest Carbon Program. This move is designed to assist private forest owners in overcoming financial and technical barriers to entering carbon markets.

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