According to reports, the Biden administration will announce Tuesday a proposed nationwide forest plan amendment to advance protections for the last remaining old-growth trees in U.S. national forests. President Joe Biden has said these trees are critical components of the nation’s fight against the climate and extinction crises. The proposal, if adopted, would add new restrictions on logging and is a step toward fulfilling the promise of the president’s April 2022 Executive Order, which directs the Departments of Agriculture and the Interior to address threats to mature and old-growth forests on federal lands as a natural climate solution and develop policies to conserve them.
Members of the Climate Forests Campaign, a coalition of more than 120 organizations working to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal land, welcomed the announcement as an important step forward while urging the Forest Service to pursue steps to protect mature trees. Both old-growth and mature forests are essential to removing climate-warming carbon pollution from the air and storing it, safeguarding wildlife, and providing clean drinking water for our communities.
The vast majority of old-growth forests have already been logged. Most that are left are largely on federally-managed public lands. As of November 2022, the Climate Forests Campaign had identified numerous timber sales targeting at least 370,000 acres of mature and old-growth forests for logging on federal land.
In addition to storing huge amounts of carbon and keeping it out of the atmosphere, mature and old-growth forests also provide essential wildlife habitats and are the most fire-resilient trees in the forest. As the world experiences record-shattering heat and widespread climate disasters, protecting these forests is critical to prevent the worst consequences of climate change.
The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the proposal in a public comment period.
In response, environmental advocates issued the following statements:
“Protecting our old growth trees from logging is an important first step to ensure these giants continue to store vast amounts of carbon, but other older forests also need protection,” said Randi Spivak, public lands policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “To fulfill President Biden’s executive order and address the magnitude of the climate crisis, the Forest Service also needs to protect our mature forests, which if allowed to grow will become the old-growth of tomorrow.”
“The Biden administration’s proposed plan to protect old-growth trees across the country is an important milestone for forest conservation and U.S. progress in addressing the climate crisis,” said Earthjustice senior legislative representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “Even as it works to complete this proposal, the Forest Service must take steps to fulfill President Biden’s executive order by also developing protections for mature trees, which are our future old-growth and exist in much greater numbers than old-growth, storing vast amounts of carbon. We look forward to working with the Forest Service to help it safeguard mature and old-growth forests. Conservation of these forests goes hand in hand with addressing the threat of wildfires as older and larger trees tend to be the most fire-resistant.”
“Americans love our forests. They're natural playgrounds for people and wildlife alike. That’s why more than half a million people this summer asked the Forest Service to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests,” said Ellen Montgomery, Public Lands Campaign Director with Environment America. “Our mature and old-growth trees provide critical wildlife habitats, filter drinking water for communities and absorb and store tons of carbon. We’re really pleased that the Forest Service has taken this unprecedented step and we urge them to take actions to protect mature forests. To have a future where we have more old-growth, not less, it is critical to protect mature forests as well.”
“The Administration has rightly recognized that protecting America's mature and old-growth trees and forests must be a core part of America's conservation vision and playbook to combat the climate crisis,” said Garett Rose, senior attorney at NRDC. “This announcement is an important step toward meeting these goals. The Forest Service should move forward to develop the strongest possible safeguards for these forests.”
"Oregon Wild has been working to protect old-growth forests for 50 years. With today's action, President Biden is taking a major step forward in protecting these national treasures," said Lauren Anderson, Climate Forest Program Manager with Oregon Wild. "We look forward to working with his administration to implement this policy, and to ensure that mature and old-growth forests across the country are protected."
“Our ancient forests are some of the most powerful resources we have for taking on the climate crisis and preserving ecosystems,” said Sierra Club Forests Campaign Manager Alex Craven. “We are pleased to see that the Biden administration continues to embrace forest conservation as the critical opportunity that it is. This amendment is a meaningful step towards averting climate catastrophe, safeguarding vulnerable ecosystems, and fulfilling President Biden’s commitment to preserve old-growth and mature trees across federal lands.”
"We applaud the Biden Administration for taking a significant step towards increasing protections for our nation’s endangered old-growth forests," said Zack Porter, Executive Director of Standing Trees, an organization that works to protect and restore public lands in the six-state New England region. "But the reality is that more than 99.9% of old-growth forests in New England have already been cut down. For the climate and biodiversity, the Forest Service must put an end to destructive mature forest logging that prevents the recovery and expansion of old-growth forests across the US. We are buoyed by today’s announcement, and remain optimistic that the Forest Service will take further action to secure protections for America’s future old-growth forests.”
“Mature and old- growth forests are an essential component of a broader climate-crisis solution - but only if we protect them from logging,” said Adam Rissien, Rewilding Manager with WildEarth Guardians. “Today's announcement by the Forest Service establishes necessary and long-overdue protections for old growth forests, limiting when they can be cut and sold commercially. Taking the next step and developing a national rule covering both mature and old-growth would deliver on the Biden administration’s commitment to protect these trees once and for all.”
PHOTO by Scott Stursa