Family Forest Blog

2021 in Review: Policy

Robert Sherman

January 31, 2022

Shutterstock-Captiol Building and Reflection

Operating in the second year of the pandemic and the wake of last year’s elections meant that the policy world of 2021 was a new landscape for everyone from local grassroots advocates to leaders in the halls of Congress. However, the American Forest Foundation (AFF) and our unparalleled network of family forest owners were able to navigate these uncharted waters, turning uncertainty into opportunity and a series of real policy wins for small landowners and forest conservation efforts across the country.

Forests Take Center Stage in Washington, D.C.

Policies that center forests in the fight against climate change were in the middle of some of the most high-profile environmental policy debates in Washington this year. This is without a doubt due in part to the extraordinary advocacy efforts of our grassroots leaders, many of whom participated in our first-ever virtual Fly-In.

AFF’s 2021 virtual Fly-In took place over three days in June and saw unprecedented levels of participation from forest owners from around the country. Over 100 Fly-In attendees had meetings with 114 different congressional offices to talk about issues that affect the future of forests. These meetings provided a unique opportunity to put small landowners in direct conversation with their Members of Congress, helping to raise awareness of the challenges they face and to advance meaningful legislation.

One such piece of legislation is the Rural Forest Markets Act (RFMA). RFMA would enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide loan or bond guarantees to organizations, like AFF, trying to help small landowners access previously untapped markets, such as the voluntary carbon market.

With RFMA in place, the Family Forest Carbon Program would be able to scale in a way that allows tens of thousands of landowners to get the support they need to implement carbon-sequestering practices in the forests. For the first time ever, 2021 saw RFMA introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate, with steadily growing numbers of bipartisan cosponsors.

Another critical piece of legislation that was moved forward thanks to our advocacy leaders was the Disaster Reforestation Act (DRA). This bill would amend the federal tax code to allow family and private timber growers to recover the loss of their uncut timber and reforest their land following a natural disaster. DRA was also introduced in the House and Senate by bipartisan pairs of lawmakers following the AFF Fly-In. With your continued support, we will keep getting these bills closer to the finish line and signed into law.

AFF’s policy team also advocated for the passage of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide substantial backing for wildfire mitigation on public and private lands, wood product market development, and a number of other forest restoration projects. We are also continuing to work toward passage of the Build Back Better Act and its historic forest investments, which at the time of writing were still being negotiated.

AFF Ramps Up State-Level Policy Work

AFF brought a new focus to our state-level policy work this year, with emphasis on reducing wildfire risk in California and on supporting the expansion of the Family Forest Carbon Program.

In California, the 2021 legislative session produced the largest investment in wildfire and forest resiliency in the state’s history. The $1.5 billion budget will target workforce needs, public lands risk reduction, and critically for family forest owners, reducing barriers for hazardous fuels reduction for small landowners.

AFF also played a leadership role in the passage of a Resolution through both chambers of the state legislature that affirms the role of family forests in collaborative, science-based wildfire mitigation. 2021 was yet another catastrophic year for wildfires in California and throughout the Western U.S., but with continued effort, we can begin to shift to a risk reduction model that will foster healthier forests and safer communities.

Our advocacy efforts at the state level also expanded to include support for the Family Forest Carbon Program. In Maryland, AFF worked with a number of state and local leaders on the passage of H.B. 94, a bill that will allow the state’s Water Quality Revolving Loan Fund to guarantee green bonds issued by nonprofit entities like AFF for projects with a clean water benefit.

We have also been working with policymakers and key stakeholders in other Carbon Program states like Pennsylvania and West Virginia to minimize the barriers faced by small landowners trying to enter the voluntary carbon market.

AFF Policy Team Welcomes New Leadership

This year, AFF’s policy team was proud to add new leadership to its ranks to ensure that the voices of family forest owners are amplified both at the state and federal levels. Michael Reed joined AFF as our new Vice President of Policy and Advocacy, following an esteemed career on Capitol Hill, where he most recently served as chief of staff to Chairman Sanford Bishop of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture.

Also joining the team as Director of Policy and Advocacy is Maya Solomon, a 16-year veteran of the U.S. Forest Service, where she most recently served as the national Training Program Manager for Lands and Realty Management. With Michael and Maya on board, AFF’s growing policy team will be looking at an even more ambitious 2022.

Looking Ahead

Thanks to the work of our supporters, some of whom have been leaders for decades and some of whom just got started in the last 12 months, 2021 was a pivotal year in ensuring that family forests will be a central part in solving some of our most pressing conservation challenges. If you want to learn more about AFF’s policy work or are interested in joining our Advocacy Leaders network, please visit the all-new Advocacy Action Center.

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