A coalition of over 75 groups launched a new climate initiative on Tuesday called the Climate Forests Campaign. The campaign is calling on the Biden administration to engage in federal rulemaking to conserve mature and old-growth trees on federal lands. These trees are the most critical in the fight against climate change. The national campaign is specifically calling out timber sales like the Flat Country Project, which covers 4,000 acres of logging in forests up to 150 years old. This project, along with many others like it on Forest Service and Western Oregon Bureau of Land Management forests poses a threat to our climate, wildlife, watersheds, and communities.
Members of the coalition include Oregon Wild, Environment Oregon, KS Wild, and over 70 other national, regional, and state-based organizations across the country.
“Compared to other major climate policies the United States needs to undertake to address the climate crisis, such as decarbonizing our electricity sector and electrifying the transportation sector, conserving mature and old-growth forests is a simple, cost-effective strategy that can be implemented at scale immediately,” said Lauren Anderson, Forest Climate Policy Coordinator for Oregon Wild.
The campaign is asking the Biden administration to kick off a new era of both climate and forest policy in which trees and forests are valued as key tools in fighting the climate crisis. Forests slow climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide. Older, bigger trees store the most carbon on the landscape and are the most resistant to the impacts of climate change, making them more valuable than younger trees. In Oregon, some of the oldest Douglas fir trees are still vulnerable to being logged on our National Forests and on Western Oregon’s Bureau of Land Management lands.
“Protecting older forests is a simple solution to climate change,” said Joseph Vaile, Climate Director of KS Wild based in southern Oregon. “We know that old trees store tons of carbon. We also know cutting them down releases that carbon into the atmosphere. We should simply keep the carbon in the forest as long as possible.”
In addition to slowing down the rate of climate change, these forests help limit the impacts of climate change already happening. Older forests slow soil erosion, reduce the risk of flooding, and cool water supplies by shading streams. In Oregon, most drinking water comes from forested watersheds, further highlighting the value of protecting these areas from clearcutting.
“The Biden administration has pledged to fight climate change, and it needs to recognize that our forests are one tool in their toolbox they don’t need to invent or invest in,” said Environment Oregon State Director Celeste Meiffren-Swango. “If we’re serious about reducing carbon dioxide emissions, we need to get serious about letting trees grow. Mature trees grow into old trees and both help us fight climate change.”
The last comprehensive federal policy to protect national forests, the Roadless Rule, was enacted in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. The Roadless Rule protects nearly 60 million acres of designated “roadless areas” from logging and road-building but it did not go far enough to protect older forests and trees across public forestlands. Given the worsening impacts of climate change and the spiraling biodiversity crisis, scientists and conservation groups say that it’s time for an updated, more ambitious policy to use our forests as a frontline defense against the climate crisis.
"Older forests on federal lands drawdown massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, serving as a natural climate solution,” said Wild Heritage Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala. “The science is clear-cut, we cannot get out of the climate and biodiversity global emergencies without protecting these vestiges of our natural biological inheritance. Doing so would position the US as a global leader that is serious about the president's pledge at the COP 26 climate summit to end global forest losses whether in the Amazon or here at home."
The Climate Forests campaign is a coalition of groups that works to protect mature forests from logging across America's federal lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.
Oregon Wild works to protect and restore Oregon's wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations. Founded in 1974, Oregon Wild represents the fish and wildlife, ancient forests, and rich diversity of public lands and landscapes that make this state so special.
Environment Oregon is a statewide environmental advocacy organization working for a cleaner, greener, healthier future.
Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KS Wild) is a nonprofit organization that works to protect forests and biodiversity in southern Oregon and northern California through policy and community action.