This week, Congressional Democrats announced details about their vision for a Civilian Climate Corps, a Biden administration-backed initiative that aims to create government jobs conserving public lands and investing in climate resiliency. At the time, wildfires raged across the western United States, pouring out smoke and haze that now stretches from Oregon all the way to the East Coast.
Corps programs may be a way to get boots on the ground in the form of young people eager to tackle outdoor projects. But they cannot address the underlying obstacles to conserving public lands that have led to problems like our current wildfire crisis. Those obstacles include regulatory uncertainty that hamstrings forest restoration projects, poor incentives that have resulted in neglect of public lands, and litigation risks that stymie big projects by federal agencies and their private partners alike. Reforms to address these barriers and make it easier to engage the private sector are needed to improve our ability to conserve and restore public lands, whether undertaken by members of a new corps program or otherwise.
Federal agencies face mounting conservation challenges, notably the worsening wildfire crisis and neglected public land maintenance. These issues won’t go away on their own—they will require active effort to resolve. But several key obstacles hinder federal land managers, along with their state, tribal and private partners, from addressing the challenges.