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Legislation introduced in the U.S. Senate last week would authorize spending up to $60 billion on a series of initiatives to protect forests and watersheds by supporting local efforts to restore habitat, expand outdoor access, and mitigate wildfire threats.

Sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), the Outdoor Restoration Partnership Act (S. 1248) closely mirrors an earlier version of the proposal that Sen. Bennet offered last December. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Establish an Outdoor Restoration Fund to support local-level efforts to restore forests and watersheds, reduce wildfire risks, and remove invasive species, among other priorities;
  • Authorize $20 billion for state, local, and tribal governments, as well as special districts and nonprofit groups, to support restoration, resilience, and mitigation projects on public and private land; and
  • Authorize $40 billion in targeted projects to restore wildlife habitat and reduce wildfire risk across the U.S.

A statement from Sen. Bennet’s office last week listed broad support for the proposal among conservation organizations, and the plan was referenced last month in President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. Supporters are expected to push to include the proposal in a broad package of infrastructure legislation that Congress is likely to consider in the coming months. For water systems, the legislation’s focus on watershed protection efforts could reduce the risk of damaging wildfires or other hazards that could put water supplies at risk.