On Friday, President Joe Biden will issue an executive order that directs federal agencies to conduct an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on America’s federal lands so that policies can be adopted to protect them. The administration framed the move as a key strategy to store carbon and address climate change.
Conservation groups welcomed the president’s commitment to forest protection and praised Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory’s dedication to full-scale environmental protection. The spotlight is now on the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of the Interior (DOI) to quickly develop a policy protecting mature forests and big trees from threats, such as logging, that can stand as a global model for forest protection.
“We welcome the president’s Earth Day announcement,” said Ellen Montgomery from Environment America. “We have no time to lose when it comes to protecting our forests both in the United States and across the globe. Our global forests help mitigate climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and storing it for decades or even centuries. And forests provide habitat for our wildlife and are a critical source of drinking water for our communities. This announcement is a critical step forward not only for the United States but for our role as an international leader in the fight against climate change.”
Reinforcing the administration, 135 climate and natural resource experts sent a letter to the president that affirmed the importance of mature forests and big trees. Older trees accumulate and store tremendous amounts of carbon over many centuries, providing vital wildlife habitat, clean water, clean air, and mitigation for floods and droughts. Protecting them is a key tool in the fight against climate change.
“We applaud President Biden’s commitment to protecting and restoring mature and old-growth forests and recognizing the value of forests as a climate solution. We urge this administration to move forward promptly with a simple rule to safeguard federal forests nationwide from logging and other threats as a central pillar of our national climate strategy,” said Earthjustice President Abigail Dillen. “The United States can and should be an international leader in implementing forest protections as a remedy against the dual crises of climate change and biodiversity loss, and this is a major step toward safeguarding our federal forests here at home.”
Reflecting widely held scientific agreement on the urgent need to protect mature and old-growth forests as a climate solution, the executive order directs the USDA and DOI to complete an inventory of old-growth and mature stands on forest lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management within one year. This process should quickly inform a rule-making process to confer durable protection for mature and old-growth across all federal lands.
“Protecting mature forests is meaningful climate action,” said Garett Rose, staff attorney with NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council). “The president’s welcome move recognizes the importance of older forests and big trees and the need for their robust protection on our federal lands. The day has long since passed when Americans relied on federal forests for their timber. And rural communities have largely made the transition to processing small-diameter trees. This is a golden opportunity for USDA and Interior to set a durable policy and a strong example for global conservation of the trees that are so critical to fighting climate change.”
The Climate Forests Campaign has been urging the Biden administration to enact a strong, lasting rule across federal public lands that protects mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging, allowing the recovery of old-growth forests that have been lost.
“This smart move by President Biden signals to the world that he’s serious about protecting forests here at home and abroad,” said Randi Spivak at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s no carbon capture technology better than older forests and trees. For the sake of our climate and nature, it’s time to stop logging these carbon storing champions on federal forests now. We don’t have a moment to lose to secure permanent protection for mature and old growth forests and trees.”
This announcement comes 13 months after President 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.
“Our federal forest lands sequester 35 million metric tons of carbon, making them a natural solution in the toolbox to tackle the climate crisis,” said Kirin Kennedy from Sierra Club. “Conserving and protecting our remaining old and mature growth trees and forests has been the missing link of U.S. climate policy for decades. We are encouraged by President Biden’s leadership today in the hopes forests can be part of the climate solution.”
As people search for the best human-created carbon sequestration technology, they often overlook what already exists in nature. By simply managing our oceans and forests responsibly, we could effectively reach up to 37% of the emission reductions we need to avoid worst-case climate predictions by 2030.
“Mature and old forests are workhorses, providing essential habitat, clean water, and resilience to droughts and floods,” adds Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees, which advocates for recovering New England’s native old-growth forests. “And yet, only 3% of New England forests are allowed to grow old. We can do justice for the climate, biodiversity, and our communities by recovering old-growth forests on federal public lands.”
Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Environment America, Natural Resources Defense Council, Oregon Wild, Sierra Club and Standing Trees plan to engage with the administration in the months ahead to develop a strong, lasting rule applicable to federal forestlands.
“Protecting America’s old-growth forests, and letting new giants grow, is one of the biggest single steps we can take to combat climate change,” said Steve Pedery with Oregon Wild. “We thank President Biden for taking this important first step, and we look forward to working with the White House to enact strong, permanent protections for mature and old-growth forests on America’s public lands.”