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February 15, 2022

The Missing Link in Biden’s Climate Agenda: Letting Older Trees Grow

Environmental organizations call for a new national forest policy that protects old-growth and mature trees and forests

Contacts

Randi Spivak, Center for Biological Diversity, rspivak@biologicaldiversity.org, (310) 779-4894

Becca Bowe, Earthjustice, rbowe@earthjustice.org, (415) 217-2093

Ellen Montgomery, Environment America, emontgomery@environmentamerica.org, (720) 583-4024

Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council ahawke@nrdc.org, (202) 329-1463

Steve Pedery (he/him), Oregon Wild, sp@oregonwild.org, (503) 998-8411 

Medhini Kumar, Sierra Club, medhini.kumar@sierraclub.org, (303) 918-4282

Zack Porter, Standing Trees, zporter@standingtrees.org, (617) 872-5352

Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D, Wild Heritage, dominick@wild-heritage.org, (541) 621-7223

Washington, D.C.

A coalition of more than 70 groups launched a new campaign Tuesday called the Climate Forests Campaign. They are calling on the Biden administration to take executive action to protect mature trees and forests on federal lands, which are critical in the fight against climate change. This comes just a year after President Joe Biden signed an executive order, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which set out a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by 2050 and to work with partners internationally to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway.

“When the Roadless Rule rulemaking got underway more than 20 years ago, one million Americans weighed in and voiced their strong support for the measure, leading to the most significant forest protection policy our nation has ever seen,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “Today’s vision for a new federal rulemaking aims just as high, except with the goal of safeguarding the trees that we know must not be logged if we are serious about addressing climate change. These climate forests are worth so much more to us standing because we are continuously benefiting from their unique carbon-storing abilities. Yet we’ll never achieve this new rulemaking without broad public engagement. Now more than ever, people who love trees and want to see us take real action on climate must make their voices heard and tell the Biden administration to protect our nation’s climate forests.”

Members of the coalition include Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, Standing Trees, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Wild Heritage.

This month marks the 117th anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service. For more than a century, the agency has focused much of its resources on logging and timber sales. The campaign is calling on the Biden administration to kick off a new era of climate and forest policy that values trees and forests as key pieces of the climate solution.

Forests — particularly older forests — store vast amounts of carbon and continue absorbing carbon as they age. Logging trees in these areas releases most of that carbon back into the atmosphere. Even under the best-case scenario, newly planted forests would not re-absorb this carbon for decades or centuries — timescales irrelevant to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Older trees and forests are also naturally more fire resistant. And they help limit the impacts of climate change by slowing soil erosion and moderating temperatures.

“We need to protect more of our forests across the globe to fend off the impending biodiversity and climate crises,” said Environment America Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery. “This campaign calls for the Biden administration to take the first step toward meaningful safeguards for forests in the U.S. — by protecting the most important standing trees in those forests. We can no longer allow our forests to be logged to the detriment of biodiversity and the climate crisis. It’s time to adopt a new policy: Let these trees grow.”

Carbon-absorbing older forests are also the best habitat for thousands of species of wildlife, including spotted owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and pine martens.

The last comprehensive federal policy to protect national forests, the Roadless Rule, was enacted in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. The Rule was adopted to protect nearly 60 million acres of designated “roadless areas” from logging and road-building, safeguarding significant stands of remaining old growth. Though these areas act as a critical carbon sink, most older trees on federal land lie outside of roadless areas. Scientists and environmental groups say we have to get all our public forests into the climate fight, and do it now.

“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 U.S. 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.”

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.