As Congress Negotiates COVID-19 Relief, Wyden and Merkley Call for Federal Support for Rural Economies

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley today introduced legislation to create thousands of living wage jobs in rural America as these communities continue to grapple with unique and devastating economic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 21st Century Conservation Corps Act builds on a recent Wyden bill and a recent Booker bill and supports rural economies by investing in job training and development, rangeland and working lands conservation programs, and the planting of billions of trees. In addition to Wyden, Merkley and Booker, U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., and Angus King, I-Maine, are cosponsors.

“Americans across the nation are out of work and struggling to pay their bills. Rural communities in Oregon and nationwide are feeling this economic crunch as the outdoor industry and other rural industries have come to a complete halt,” said Wyden. “Congress cannot leave rural America behind. By investing in job creation and restoring our public lands, it can boost the outdoor economy and create a healthier and more resilient America.”

“Our public lands have long played a big role in supporting rural economies throughout Oregon and across America,” Merkley said. “As we continue to grapple with significant job losses amid the pandemic, we have the opportunity to lean into stewardship of these resources and create reliable jobs families can depend on. Let’s keep focusing on investing in our workers by supporting the job training and conservation programs that will keep the lights on in our rural communities.”

 “Rural communities are increasingly being impacted by COVID and many already have been devastated economically by the pandemic,” Booker said. “Our bill will make urgent investments in rural communities at a time when they are needed most by creating new jobs and training programs, planting billions of trees, and investing in our farmers and ranchers as part of the solution to climate change.”

“As a former natural resources AmeriCorps Member who worked primarily in rural New Mexico, I know firsthand the value of conservation work in rural communities,” Heinrich said. “National service members make a major difference by conserving our public lands, building resilient landscapes, and helping grow the outdoor economy, which was fueling some of the fastest job growth in rural communities before the onset of the pandemic. When he established the original Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt understood that a generation of out-of-work Americans were not without worth, but rather that they could leave an indelible mark on our country. We need to expand national service opportunities in this moment to provide a new generation of Americans with the opportunity to get back to work, leave their mark, and play a major role in our national recovery.”

“The coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout has hit Americans across the country, and as Congress considers next steps, we need to make sure we create programs to specifically support rural communities,” King said. “This legislation takes the challenge we face and turns it into opportunities. Under the 21st Century Civilian Conservations Corps Act, we will not only put Americans back to work so they can pay their bills, but we’ll be able to focus their efforts on vital environmental conservation efforts. This plan strengthens the future of our outdoor recreation industry, and ensures the long-term health of America’s bountiful natural resources; it’s a win-win, which Congress should take up.”

The 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps Act:

  • Provides an additional $3.5 billion for the U.S. Forest Service and $2 billion for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to increase the pace and scale of science-based hazardous fuels reduction and thinning efforts, prioritizing projects that are shovel-ready.
  • Establishes a $9 billion fund for qualified land and conservation corps to increase job training and hiring specifically for jobs in the woods, helping to restore public lands and provide jobs in a time of need.
  • Plants over four billion trees by 2030, and over 15 billion trees by 2050, on a combination of federal, state, local, tribal and NGO lands, with over 100 million trees to be planted in urban areas across America by 2030.
  • Supports voluntary climate stewardship practices on over 100 million acres of farmland by providing supplemental funding for USDA working lands conservation programs.
  • Provides an additional $150 million for the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program, the flagship program for community forest restoration and fire risk reduction.
  • Provides $500 million for the Forest Service State and Private Forestry program, which will be divided between programs to help facilitate landscape restoration projects, including $100 million for the Firewise program to help local governments plan for and reduce wildfire risks.
  • Provides an additional $150 million for the North American Waterfowl Management and Joint Ventures program and $150 million for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Partners for Fish and Wildlife program for rangeland management improvements.

A one-pager on the legislation can be found here.

A section-by-section of the legislation can be found here.

The full text of the legislation can be found here.

A web version of this release is here.