Issue Brief

International Forest Conservation: A Survey of Key Staff in the 112th Congress

May 15, 2011 | Michael Wolosin, Peter T. Jenkins

Slowing and reversing deforestation is an issue most people support. But actually solving the problem has been a struggle for decades, and forest loss continues to drive species extinctions and pump carbon into the atmosphere, while leaving behind degraded land and unstable, impoverished populations.

In a new RFF and Climate Advisers Issue Brief, RFF Visiting Scholar Michael Wolosin and coauthor Peter Jenkins summarize the results of a February 2011 survey of key congressional staff on their thoughts and attitudes about tropical forest conservation.

Staff were supportive of U.S. engagement on the issue, and “conserving nature” was a positive—as one respondent said, “The wildlife message still has strong support.” But hitching the forest conservation wagon to a climate horse is not going to win the race in this Congress. Although many staff identified climate as a reason for action, there was strong agreement that it is a losing frame for now—especially among Republicans.

It was also clear that most staff put the issue in a “foreign aid” box—and with the Hill focused intensely on tightening the national budget, foreign aid dollars will likely end up on the cutting room floor. This means existing programs will need to be on the defensive, making extra effort to justify expenditures with high-quality effectiveness data.

Staffers were very interested in the idea that tropical deforestation has impacts on the domestic economy and wanted to learn more. And although prospects for an energy bill seem scant right now, there was some openness to alternative legislative vehicles like the Farm Bill or tax mechanisms.

Overall, say Wolosin and Jenkins, findings suggest forest advocates will need to focus their efforts in the near term on defending their progress of the last few years, making sure programs work and supporting the strongest possible arguments with facts—while at the same time getting creative with other opportunities for reducing deforestation.