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Biden Takes First Step to Protect Vital Climate Forests

President Joseph Biden has taken an early, critical step to safeguard old-growth forests on federal land. The president issued an executive order calling for federal agencies to conduct an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal land as a precursor to enacting policies to protect the trees.

Earthjustice has advocated and litigated for the protection of such forests as part of a greater strategy of fighting climate change by stewardship of publicly owned land and waters. Responsible management of forests and oceans could effectively reach up to 37% of the emission reductions needed to avoid worst-case climate predictions by 2030.

Established forests defend against climate change and more

  • There is no carbon capture tech better than forests — federal forest lands alone sequester 35 million metric tons of carbon. Forests pull about one-third of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere each year.
  • Forests are also an essential habitat for numerous and diverse animal species, including many that are threatened or endangered.
  • Forests mitigate and slow down wildfires (they’re much more resilient to fire than newer growth), and also tame the impact of floods.
  • Forests also contribute to building and protecting supplies of clean, drinkable water, providing an enormous benefit to humans and animals alike.
Trees tower over the Pacific Crest Trail.
Trees tower over the Pacific Crest Trail..
Bureau of Land Management

Logging is the key threat to these old trees

  • Cutting down trees releases the carbon emissions they’ve stored back into the atmosphere. Scientists have calculated that in the Northeastern and Upper Midwestern United States, 86% of annual forest carbon loss is from logging. In the Western U.S., 66% comes from logging. In the South, logging is 92% of the carbon loss.
  • Biden’s order doesn’t specifically mention logging, but requires federal agencies to identify threats to these critical forestlands with an end goal of protecting them.
  • Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen has called on the Biden administration to release “a simple rule to safeguard federal forests nationwide from logging and other threats as a central pillar of our national climate strategy.”
  • We joined many other conservation groups in the Climate Forests Campaign to urge the administration to act, and more than 34,000 of our supporters turned up the pressure with letters, calls, and other messages.
  • While we push for the adoption of much-needed protections for forests, we are also defending those that are already on the books. For more than two decades, Earthjustice has warded off industry attacks on the Roadless Rule, a federal policy that preserves about a third of our national forests from new roads and clear-cuts.
An old-growth tree trunk in Pacific Coast Range forest.
An old-growth tree trunk in Pacific Coast Range forest.
Sycikimagery / Getty Images

What happens next?

  • The United States Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior will create an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on U.S. federal land. The administration has given itself a year to complete this process.
  • Conservation groups including Earthjustice are urging the government to rely on peer-reviewed scientific research, which is amply available, to help inform its inventory. Doing so will make the process more efficient and could help agencies complete the inventory on an earlier timeline — and in fighting climate change, we have no time to lose.
  • Once the inventory is done, the Biden administration should move forward promptly with permanent protections for mature and old-growth trees across all federal land.

Help us encourage the Biden administration to protect old-growth forests as swiftly as possible!

A view from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which contains many old-growth trees.

A view from Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which contains many old-growth trees.

Bob Wick / BLM