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U.S. Climate Policy Resource Center

Ecosystem Resilience, Climate-Smart Agriculture and Green Infrastructure

Cover image by Paul Summers/Unsplash

As the United States contends with the increasing effects of climate change, extreme weather events, drought, wildfire and sea level rise threaten both ecosystems and the people that depend on them. Climate-smart land and resource management policies will be critical in helping address these threats. There is an urgent need to invest in projects that increase the health and resilience of natural and working lands and reduce emissions from land management — while simultaneously using nature as infrastructure to buffer communities from the impacts of a changing climate.

These actions have the potential to protect communities, food production and biodiversity. They can also increase the amount of carbon sequestered by the land carbon sink (meaning carbon that is removed and stored by plants and soils) and prevent greenhouse gas emissions, all while building economic and social vibrancy.

Why Resilient Lands are Integral to Climate Policy

Land management is a key pathway to reaching the U.S. target of reducing net greenhouse gas emissions by 50%-52% from 2005 levels by 2030. The federal government and non-federal actors will need to work in tandem to increase the ability of forests, grasslands, wetlands and agricultural lands to sequester carbon. This will require enhancing the land carbon sink to remove about 900 metric tons of CO2 equivalent (Mt CO2e) annually by 2030, which represents a 19% increase in yearly sequestration over 2020 levels. This 19% increase would be equivalent to removing emissions from over 30 million passenger vehicles every year.

Actions needed include reforestation and ecosystem restoration, as well as creating resource management policies that ensure carbon is not lost through catastrophic wildfires, ecosystem degradation and land use change.

Land Resilience Investments Under New Climate Legislation

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act provide opportunities for communities, states and tribes to implement critical projects which build climate resilience through green infrastructure, climate-smart agriculture and ecosystem restoration. Where applicable, projects can also work toward realizing climate targets through stewardship of the land carbon sink. Most of the funding available to subnational entities to support these initiatives comes through four channels:

  1. Grants to help communities plan and prepare for natural hazards and disasters.
  2. Grants and investment in revolving loan funds dedicated to restoring watersheds and water infrastructure.
  3. Grants to manage forest health, including urban forests, and to mitigate wildfire risk.
  4. Grants and technical assistance to incentivize and support climate-smart agricultural practices.

While some of these funding opportunities may not explicitly mention climate mitigation or increased carbon sequestration as target outcomes, projects can be designed to provide maximum climate impact alongside other resource and resilience components. The key to using Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding to advance climate action in the land sector is smart project design that prioritizes climate resilience and carbon outcomes alongside water quality, resource and economic outcomes.

While not comprehensive, this list of programs spotlights some key opportunities for states, tribes, local governments and communities to fund green infrastructure and restoration projects that prioritize climate outcomes.

Disaster Preparedness and Response

The FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) program offers cost-share grants to states, tribes and territories to support natural hazard and disaster mitigation projects. BRIC grants can support both capacity-building and implementation projects, allowing grant recipients to invest in scoping, planning and partnership-building as well as initiating projects on the ground. While BRIC funds can be, and historically have been, used for traditional “grey” infrastructure, they can also be used for nature-based hazard mitigation projects such as floodplain restoration or wildfire risk reduction. FEMA is currently interested in understanding any barriers to using BRIC for green infrastructure and intends to encourage increased use for projects with nature-based components.

  • Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding: $1 billion for the next 5 fiscal years, $200 million available per year. Cost share: 75% federal, 25% non-federal; 90% federal, 10% non-federal for disadvantaged communities.

Water shed Restoration and Water Quality

State Clean Water Revolving Loan Funds (SRFs) are federal-state partnerships that provide low-cost financing for water infrastructure projects. The Green Project Reserve requires that states use 10% of SRF funding for nature-based projects, but there are several ways states can adjust their laws and operations to make SRFs friendlier to green infrastructure projects. For example, states can officially expand the definition of water infrastructure in their SRF codes to include green-blue infrastructure (infrastructure that leverages plants and ecosystems) and watershed restoration as eligible for SRF financing, or set aside a higher percentage of funding to be used for green infrastructure. States can also establish SRF sponsorship programs in which municipal borrowers ”sponsor” green infrastructure projects that improve water quality in the same watershed.

  •  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Funding: $11.7 billion distributed between states.

Environmental Protection Agency Geographic Programs provide grants to a broad range of entities to undertake projects that are in alignment with their region’s conservation or resource management plans. For many, eligibility includes states, tribes and local governments. Grants are administered through EPA regional offices. Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding includes:

Forest Health and Wildfire Risk Mitigation

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program provides matched funding for collaborative, science-based forest health and wildfire risk mitigation projects that span multiple land jurisdictions. This program prioritizes the economic and social wellbeing of forest-dependent communities and encourages projects to use restoration by-products, such as small-diameter thinned biomass, to support local industry. States, tribes and communities can partner with federal employees to implement projects that are tailored to the needs of their forests and residents.

  • Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding: $100 million

The USFS Community Wildfire Defense program is a new grant program that will provide planning and implementation funds to communities at high risk for wildfires to update their wildfire strategies and implement wildfire risk mitigation treatments.

  •  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding: $1 billion

The new Department of the Interior (DOI) program Grants for Voluntary Restoration will offer grants for states and tribes to implement voluntary restoration on public and private lands.

  •  Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funding: $400 million

The USFS State, Private, and Tribal Forestry program provides grants for collaborative, science-based projects that restore and address key resource issues on prime non-industrial private and state forest land. The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for four new streams of cost-share competitive grants within the State and Private Landscape-scale Restoration Program with a cost-share requirement of 20% or greater:

  • Grants for underserved landowners to carry out climate mitigation or forest resilience practices: $150 million.
  • Grants to support underserved forest landowners in participating in markets for climate mitigation or forest resilience: $150 million.
  • Grants to support forest landowners with 2,500 acres or less in participating in markets for climate mitigation or forest resilience: $100 million.
  • Grants for states and other entities to pay forest owners for the implementation of practices that measurably increase carbon sequestration and storage: $50 million.

Wood Innovation Grants are matched grants that support sustainable forest management and address forest resource concerns such as wildfire by strengthening markets for innovative wood products. The Inflation Reduction Act provides increased funding for the program and includes construction of new facilities and hauling biomass thinned in hazardous fuel load treatments to use locations.

  • Inflation Reduction Act funding: $100 million

The Forest Legacy Program is a partnership between the Forest Service and state agencies that supports conservation of private forests through conservation easements and land acquisition. The Inflation Reduction Act includes increased funding for states to conserve forest land.

  • Inflation Reduction Act funding: $700 million

In addition, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law funded several grant programs through DOI, USFS, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) which are being pooled and administered by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). NFWF’s annual America the Beautiful Challenge offers grants for voluntary conservation and restoration projects; states, territories and tribes can apply to receive funding for collaborative planning and implementation grants.

Urban Forestry and Resilience

Through the USFS Urban and Community Forestry program, the Forest Service works with states and community groups to invest in urban forestry. The Inflation Reduction Act provides multi-year competitive grants to states, tribes, non-profit organizations and local governments for tree planting and care in urban areas. Because low-income neighborhoods are often hotter and have worse air quality than higher-income neighborhoods, urban trees are important to help cool neighborhoods and purify air.

  • Inflation Reduction Act funding: $1.5 billion

In addition, the DOT Healthy Streets program offers grants to state, local and tribal governments to deploy cool and porous pavements and plant urban trees. This program is designed to mitigate urban heat islands and urban flooding, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities. The program is funded by the Highway Trust Fund to which Bipartisan Infrastructure Law added funding so the fund would remain solvent.

Climate-smart Agriculture

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP)Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), and Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) offer cost-share grants to incentivize climate-smart agricultural practices that improve soil and water quality. These programs received significant funding increases through the Inflation Reduction Act which will address their consistent oversubscription. To help ensure effective implementation, the act also includes increased funding for technical assistance as well as quantification and monitoring of the programs’ greenhouse gas impacts through the USDA Greenhouse Gas Inventory and Assessment Program. While NRCS will orchestrate the distribution of funds and technical assistance, state, local and tribal officials, as well as universities, will play key roles as technical service providers and research partners. Inflation Reduction Act funding includes:

  • EQIP: $8.45 billion
  • CSP: $3.35 billion
  • ACEP: $1.40 billion
  • Conservation technical assistance: $1 billion
  • Greenhouse gas emissions quantification and monitoring: $300 million

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) provides matched grants to collaborative projects which increase the reach and impact of NRCS agricultural conservation programs. RCPP projects provide opportunities for state, local and tribal governments to channel funding and technical support to key resource concerns and geographies.

  • Inflation Reduction Act funding: $4.95 billion

The Inflation Reduction Act also includes approximately $6 billion in debt forgiveness and financial assistance for struggling farmers. $2.9 billion of this is dedicated to providing assistance to underserved producers, particularly those who experienced discrimination before 2021 in USDA farm lending programs. This financial assistance may help distressed or underserved landowners.

Next Steps for Advancing Land Resilience Projects

While there are many funded opportunities to expand climate-smart agriculture, ecosystem resilience and green infrastructure projects, they are not equally accessible or administrable for various reasons. States, tribes and local governments can address a broader scope of challenges and barriers to support equitable impacts.

  • Strategic partnerships can ease capacity constraints. State, local and tribal governments report having insufficient time and staff capacity to apply for grants and administer projects. Many grant and cost-share programs created under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act encourage innovative partnerships between governments, NGOs, utilities, private companies and other stakeholders to help increase capacity and add technical expertise to projects, which can help to circumvent these challenges.
  • Capacity-building funding can enable implementation. Because designing projects and building partnerships takes time, there may be a lack of green infrastructure or restoration projects that are ready to receive funding when new opportunities are released. Subnational leaders should look for programs like FEMA BRIC grants or NFWF America the Beautiful Challenge grants which offer funding for planning and capacity-building projects as well as implementation projects.
  • Quantifying outcomes can attract private finance. The implementation of Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act programs presents an opportunity to not only build resilient green infrastructure and restore ecosystem health, but also to make progress on climate and resource management goals. States, tribes and local governments should ensure that the cost of quantifying carbon outcomes, water quality outcomes and other resource outcomes is included in the budget for projects. Where appropriate, quantified outcomes can make it easier to attract private finance to projects. This can be especially useful for programs that require matching funds for federal dollars.
  • Land management by-products can enhance climate impact. To increase the climate impact of wildfire risk mitigation projects, thinned biomass can be used for climate-friendly end uses such as biochar, building materials or green hydrogen with carbon capture and storage. Not only can these projects prevent emissions from catastrophic wildfire, but smart utilization of thinned biomass can also offer an opportunity for long-term carbon sequestration.
  • Stakeholder outreach can increase project impact. The Inflation Reduction Act provides funding for landowners to receive cost-share grants for agricultural and forestry practices. States, tribes and local governments can help amplify the impact of these opportunities by conducting outreach to landowners to increase enrollment; ensuring that trusted technical assistance providers are available to help landowners; and by making sure that landowners are aware of and can benefit from other federal and non-federal opportunities such as USDA Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities projects in their area.

Equity Considerations

Many resilient lands programs funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act are also included in President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, which requires that 40% of benefits flow to disadvantaged communities. All lands projects that provide ecosystem services — not just those covered by Justice40 — can help to address the inequitable burden that many low-income and marginalized communities bear as a result of climate change. communities bear as a result of climate change.

  • Partnerships can increase project equity. All projects should strive to build robust partnerships with diverse stakeholders, especially low-income and underserved communities and underserved landowners and land managers. Many federal grant programs offer decreased match requirements for projects in underserved communities, making funding more accessible. All projects should be designed to offer maximum benefits to marginalized communities, which often experience the most extreme impacts of climate-related disasters.
  • Displacement and green gentrification can undermine project impact. Resilient and green infrastructure assets in or near frontline communities can produce damaging societal impacts like long-term residential displacement and community instability if implemented without anti-displacement strategies. To mitigate gentrification, state and local leaders can encourage inclusive project design processes that center community needs and track equity impacts.

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