Now's the time to protect mature and old-growth forests!

Huge tree in the forest

For its nearly 50 year history, Oregon Wild has been working to protect our public forest lands from the onslaught of logging and road building that devastated them for decades. We’ve worked to protect forests as Wilderness and through the Roadless Rule, and by fighting individual timber sale projects that would harm these vital ecosystems. And while Wilderness and Roadless Areas have safeguarded over 4 million acres of public forest lands, many of the additional mature and old-growth forests remain unprotected from the threat of logging. Today, we find ourselves with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to see these forests protected once and for all - not just in Oregon, but across the nation. 

What’s at Stake
Across Oregon, only about 10% of mature and old forests remain. These forests, found almost exclusively on federal public land (managed by the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM), are essential for watershed health, provide critical wildlife habitat, are generally more resilient to wildfire and are an important natural climate solution, absorbing and storing tons of carbon.

  • Western Oregon forests can store more carbon than almost any other region in the world, especially as they grow older.
  • In eastern Oregon, large and old trees make up just 3% of the forest, but store 42% of these forests’ carbon.
  • Intact mature and old-growth forests help moderate flooding and runoff occurring more frequently in a changing climate, while also ensuring water quantity and quality to downstream communities. 
  • Mature and old-growth forests provide important corridors and refuges for wildlife and protect biodiversity in the face of climate change. 
  • Older trees and forests are the most resistant and resilient to climate change impacts like wildfire.

The Problem

Despite their importance, mature and old-growth forests are still targeted for logging on National Forests in Oregon and across the country. (Some of these projects are highlighted in these reports.)

In western Oregon, National Forest management is often driven by timber production targets at the expense of other public values, such as in the recently-withdrawn Flat Country project on the Willamette National Forest which authorized logging 2,000 acres of mature and old-growth forests in the headwaters of the McKenzie River, a drinking water source for Eugene. And the 42 Divide project on Roseburg District BLM lands targets mature forests in an already heavily-logged landscape. 

In central and eastern Oregon, protections for large and old trees were rolled back under the Trump administration, resulting in more potential for logging of these trees on a large scale. For example, the Ragged Ruby project on the Malheur National Forest proposes to log over 6,000 acres, including trees over 21” in diameter. And the South Warner project on the Fremont-Winema National Forest could log trees up to 30” in diameter over 16,000 acres, without a robust analysis.  

Continued logging of these forests results in a significant loss of carbon into the atmosphere, as well as harm to wildlife habitat, increased fire hazard, and degradation of water quality. 

The Solution
Protecting federal mature and old-growth forests is one of the most straight-forward, impactful, and cost effective ways we can fight climate change. These trees capture and store vast amounts of carbon from our atmosphere, provide critical habitat for imperiled wildlife, and filter clean air and drinking water for communities. With so much of our nation’s old-growth forests lost to past logging, it is imperative that we do all that we can to protect what remains and recover what has been lost by securing a durable rule that would safeguard federal mature and old-growth trees and forests for future generations.

That’s where public pressure and the work of the Climate Forests Campaign, a nation-wide coalition of 120 organizations working to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal land, comes in. 

As part of this campaign, Oregon Wild has been able to call national attention to logging projects that threaten mature and old-growth forests here in Oregon and across the nation, and we’ve made preserving them a priority for the Biden administration. On Earth Day 2022, we celebrated as President Biden heard our calls and announced an Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies that recognized the importance of federal mature and old-growth forests in the fight against climate change and called for their protection. The EO was especially meaningful as it acknowledged the importance of conserving mature forests too — those that offer our best chance at recovering the old-growth that has been lost to logging over the last few hundred years. This was a huge step forward. 

Since then, we’ve helped generate 142,000 public comments in support of old forest protections, pulled off some major rallies, elevated the issue in the media, and flown to Washington D.C. to educate members of Congress and tell the story of Oregon’s climate forests to agency heads. 

What now?
The future of these forests largely depends on how loud forest and climate advocates across the country can be in the coming months. The federal agencies in charge of our public forests have just released some major efforts to fulfill President Biden’s Executive Order that directed them to “develop policies, with robust opportunity for public comment, to institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies that address threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands.” That means we need to work together and be LOUDER than the timber industry to ensure these trees and forests are safeguarded for future generations, not sold and logged for a profit.

Last month, the US Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a wide-ranging conservation rule with a goal to “promote ecosystem resilience on public lands” and which includes an acknowledgment of the importance of mature and old-growth trees and forests. 

Press release (March 30, 2023): Department of Interior Moves to Protect Mature and Old-growth Trees and Forests from Logging 

Less than a month later, last week the US Forest Service announced a key step toward making a national rule to protect mature and old-growth forests as part of a strategy to improve the climate resilience of federally managed forests. The agency is pursuing a rulemaking process, which will involve a public comment period to gather input on new policies the agency can adopt. 

Press release (April 20, 2023): Forest Service takes key step toward first national rule to protect mature, old-growth trees, forests  

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management also released an inventory of mature and old-growth forests, the first of its kind, as required by President Biden’s Executive Order. This can help guide policy to protect these forests. 

We now have the opportunity to weigh in on both the DOI conservation rule AND the US Forest Service proposed rulemaking before July 5 (BLM) or July 20 (USFS). Click here to write your comment. We need to send the message to the White House and beyond - loud and clear - that Americans want to see permanent protection for their oldest forests. We need your voice during this comment period and will be asking for it with phone calls, letters, social media sharing, and more! Together, we could see our spectacular public forests - from the Coast Range to the Blue Mountains - protected before we lose any more.

Photo Credits
Daniel Howland, Chandra LeGue