The Forest Service’s public comment period on mature and old-growth forests ended on August 30th, and climate activists and conservation advocates have much to be proud of. Since February, Oregon Wild has been a driving force of the Climate Forests campaign, an alliance of more than 100 groups from across the country calling for durable protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.
Together, the coalition generated over 142,000 comments from forest defenders like you. These comments call on the Forest Service and other agencies to develop sweeping protections for our public lands which can withstand future administrations that might value timber industry profits over the benefits our forests provide for clean water, clean air, outdoor recreation, climate mitigation, and more.
A big thanks to all our partners in the Climate-Forest coalition, their dedicated support bases, and most of all, every single person who submitted a comment.
This opportunity for public comment would not have been possible without you. After months of campaigning and building pressure, the comment period came out of President Biden’s Earth Day Executive Order that formally recognized Federal mature and old-growth forests as key players in combating climate change. The order outlines a process by which the USDA and DOI must create climate-smart forest management policy, which includes a requirement for public input on this policy. This latter requirement is crucial because we cannot leave the future of our climate forests up to the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, the very same federal agencies who have spent decades cutting them down. Without public pressure, there is little reason for them to alter decades of established forest management practices that have caused our forests to vanish at alarming rates.
The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management are not happy with all this grassroots pressure. Even though the comment period was intended for public guidance, the Forest Service has encouraged its own employees to submit comments. This undermines grassroots efforts and distracts from comments aimed at developing good policy to protect America’s remaining mature and old-growth forests.
Given these concerns, the White House needs to be more involved in the rulemaking process to ensure that agency officials pushing the status quo do not try to sway the results. It’s never been more clear that some in the Forest Service will continue to oppose protections for mature and old-growth forests, regardless of what the Executive Order says. In response, the public must continue to insist on the 80-year definition of mature forests until our government hears it loud and clear that these trees are worth more standing.
Getting the campaign this far has depended on public action. President Biden signed the Earth Day Executive Order because he recognized that climate and the protection of mature and old-growth forests are issues that the American public cares deeply about. Decades of grassroots organizing, including rallies, canvassing, petitioning, and countless other actions undertaken by citizens across the country led up to that order. Very often, environmental policy only succeeds when the public steps up. Public comments made the River Democracy Act possible, which is set to protect over 4,600 miles of rivers and streams in Oregon. Such a monumental policy success arose from the comments of just 15,000 individuals–imagine what over 142,000 comments could do!
We are overjoyed to see so many climate activists speaking up for our climate forests, both during the public comment period and through direct action across the country. On August 16th, Cascadia Forest Defenders, in cooperation with community members, hung a banner across Highway 126 in protest of the Flat Country Timber Sale. In North Carolina, more than 500 activists surrounded the Forest Service headquarters to protest logging projects in Pisgah National Forest, including one of the Climate-Forests’ top 10 timber sales, the Buck Project. It’s inspiring to see such demonstrations taking place, and we hope for many more in the future. If you want to learn more about how to conduct such worthwhile demonstrations, check out the Deep Roots Action Training Camp coming up in September. This training will teach you how to engage with forest and climate action and help build affinity groups for demonstrations to stop current and future timber sales like the Flat Country or Buck Projects.
Thanks again to everyone who spoke out during the public comment period. The obstacles that the USDA put in our way highlights that this pressure is working, and we need to keep this momentum going to ensure that lasting protections are put in place. Don’t worry if you didn’t submit a comment on time, there are many ways to get involved and advocate for the protection of Oregon’s wild and scenic places.
How you can stay involved:
- Sign up for Oregon Wild’s annual event, Call of the Wild
- Check out our advocacy resources, like the Worth More Standing Advocacy Toolkit and the End of USDA Comment Period Toolkit
- Explore Oregon by signing up for one of our Climate-Forests hikes
And remember, the future of our forests depends on your actions today.