On December 3, 2020, the Democratic Caucus appointed Georgia Congressman David Scott to serve as Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Congressman Scott represents the 13th District, which covers a large area just outside the perimeter of Atlanta; however, he is no stranger to agriculture as he has served on the committee since he was elected in 2003. As the first African American and Georgian to serve as committee chairman, he will lead the legislative oversight relating to a variety of issues pertaining to the agriculture industry, including commodity exchanges, nutrition, rural development, water conservation, and – important to our readers – forestry. The Georgia Forestry Association recently met with Congressman Scott to congratulate him on his new role and learn more about his priorities for the committee.
Congratulations on being elected Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Can you share with our readers a bit more about yourself and your plans for the committee moving forward?
I got an early start in agriculture – I grew up living and working on our family’s farm in rural Aynor, South Carolina – picking the cotton, cropping the tobacco, all of that, so I know about that hard work. As a Member of Congress, I’ve had the privilege of sitting on the House Agriculture Committee and serving on various subcommittees since 2003, up until my most recent appointment as Committee Chair. And so, I have been intimately involved with agriculture my entire life. Now, as Chairman, I am tackling what I see as the most critical issues facing agriculture and forestry. Perhaps chief among those issues is the challenge of climate change. As I always say, no other industry is impacted more by the threat of climate change than agriculture and forestry. It produces the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our shelter. In February, we held our first committee hearing on the subject, and as we continue committee action on climate change, I intend to make sure that the Agriculture Committee remains out in front on this issue.
As a representative from the #1 forestry state, how can we partner with you and your committee to advance forests as a carbon solution to climate change?
As you all know, forests are one of the most valuable carbon sinks available. The latest EPA estimates suggest that U.S. forests sequester over 10% of total U.S. emissions that’s a significant contribution, and we must continue to lift up this sector. We must support private forestland conservation, and I will make certain that our private forest landowners are included in our conservation programs and other efforts to help them store carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the committee of jurisdiction over the U.S. Forest Service, we must also seek out ways to support the role public lands play in mitigating climate change. Last year, the country witnessed one of the worst wildfire years in recorded history. In many areas, forests will be unable to return on their own. To that end, another important policy change I’m looking at is lifting the cap on the Reforestation Trust Fund to make funding available to plant new trees. This funding could help reforest damaged areas, which would speed wildfire recovery while also sequestering significant amounts of carbon. So I think to answer your question, it’s really just about getting that message out and letting Georgia’s foresters and forest landowners know that they have a partner leading the Agriculture Committee.
What is Congress considering in regard to wildfire management?
The 2020 wildfire year was unprecedented. Our hearts go out to all the families impacted by the fires and I am grateful for the courageous firefighters who placed themselves in danger’s way to help put them down. Over 10 million acres burned nationwide and more acres burned across National Forest System lands than during the Big Burn of 1910. Unfortunately, current weather and fuel conditions point to another long and difficult wildfire year. As the House Agriculture Committee, it is vital that we ensure the agency has the personnel and the proper resources in place to help prepare for and suppress fires. I also welcome President Biden’s proposal to increase funding for hazardous fuels and forest resilience projects.
You have been a strong voice for jobs throughout your career in Congress. Where do you see agriculture and, more specifically, forestry in that?
Like the agriculture industry, the U.S. forestry sector is a vital economic engine. It contributes approximately $300 billion to the national economy while supporting 2.5 million jobs across the entire supply chain. In our state of Georgia, we have more than 24 million acres of private and public forest land. This land base supports nearly 141,000 jobs and contributes over $977 million in state and local taxes. Forestry plays a vital role in underpinning not only the state economy but the national economy as a whole. We can further leverage the economic and employment potential of this sector by supporting private land conservation and helping establish new markets for wood products. And the wonderful thing is, that if we do this right, efforts to strengthen the economic sector can at the same time deliver the environmental benefits we all care about and want.
As Congress begins work on an ambitious infrastructure package, what opportunities if any do you see for forestry in such a package?
Earlier, I discussed the devastation wrought by the 2020 wildfire season. Many of those forests won’t return if we don’t aid in their recovery. When forests are damaged and not given adequate resources to rebuild, we lose vital recreation spaces as well as critical watershed protection, wildlife habitat, and other natural resources. Perhaps most importantly, losing forests to wildfire means losing one of the most important tools in the fight against climate change. However, the American Jobs Plan recognizes that these losses are too important to ignore, by including nature-based infrastructure in its framework. The plan calls for forest restoration, investments in wildfire protection, and a new Civilian Climate Corps. I am excited for the potential we have here to scale our investments in forest infrastructure to meet the magnitude of the challenges before us. The American Jobs Plan also calls for additional investment in climate-smart agriculture practices, so we’re looking to include funding for both our farm bill conservation and forestry title through this effort.