Ellen Montgomery, Director, Public Lands Campaign, Environment America
WASHINGTON, DC – According to reports, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday a pathway for protecting mature and old-growth trees and 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.
Additionally, as reported by the Washington Post, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management released an inventory of mature and old-growth forests, the first of its kind, as required by President Biden’s Executive Order 14072. Mature and old-growth forests 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.
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, praised these announcements as a significant step forward.
The coalition has been elevating calls from community members, scientists, and activists around the country about the necessity of protecting these trees and forests, including from the ongoing threat of logging.
The coalition highlighted the threat to mature and old-growth forests and trees in two reports, citing 22 logging projects on Forest Service and BLM-managed forests. The Forest Service has withdrawn one of those projects, the Flat Country project in the Willamette National Forest in Oregon.
Coalition members issued the following statements:
“This is hopeful news for our country’s magnificent old trees, our climate, and the wildlife that depend on these critical ecosystems. The new rule can’t come soon enough,” said Randi Spivak, public lands policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service routinely targets mature and old-growth trees for logging. I hope this announcement signals desperately needed change at the agency, including meaningful protections while these rules are written. The Forest Service has the power right now to step in and save hundreds of thousands of acres it’s put on the chopping block.”
“It’s extremely encouraging that the Biden administration is recognizing the value of mature and old-growth trees with this inventory and advance notice of proposed rulemaking,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice. “Protecting them is one of our most important and cost-effective natural climate solutions. This is a significant step closer to a rulemaking that will protect and restore climate forests for future generations from the threats they face today, including unnecessary logging.”
“This is potentially big news for big trees. Using this inventory and other new tools, the Forest Service will be able to develop more strategic policies to protect these priceless forests from logging and other threats,” said Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director with Environment America. “We’re excited that the Forest Service is taking the next step by planning for a rule. We encourage the public to participate in the upcoming comment period to let the Biden administration know how important our mature and old-growth trees and forests are.”
“Mature forests and trees are among the most potent tools we have to fight climate change. And, as the agency’s groundbreaking inventorying effort clearly shows, federal lands remain a key stronghold,” said Garett Rose, senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “But time is not on our side. Following today’s welcome announcement, the Forest Service must promptly pursue robust regulatory protections for these essential forests and trees, including from the one threat wholly under agency control: logging.”
“Old growth and mature trees and forests have stood for every Earth Day since 1970, and it is critical that they stand for many more to come,” said Alex Craven, forest campaign representative with Sierra Club. “Protecting these trees and forests must be a top priority for federal land managers, and it is important that they have the best tools to guide their conservation work – this map can be just that. Our oldest trees and forests are critical in the effort to take on climate change and the biodiversity crisis, and the Biden Administration must finish the job they started a year ago and make sure USDA rules support those efforts.”
“The Biden Administration and U.S. Forest Service took an important step forward today by acknowledging and mapping the immense and unique value of mature and old-growth forests on federal public lands,” said Zack Porter, executive director with Standing Trees. “The question now is: how quickly and decisively will the Forest Service act to protect these essential reservoirs of carbon, clean water, and biodiversity? With proposals like the Telephone Gap logging project looming on the horizon, time is of the essence to protect our nation’s mature forests.”
“Today’s announcement clearly demonstrates the importance of mature and old-growth forests as part of a broad climate crisis solution,” said Adam Rissien, ReWilding Manager with WildEarth Guardians. “Now we need a robust, federal rule to prevent these trees from being cut down, and we will continue to remind the administration that logging remains a primary threat to these forests.”
Read the report on Environment America’s website here.