U.S. Forest Service Advances Protections Plan for Old-Growth Forests

Release of environmental review document kicks off a 90-day public comment period


Jackson Chiappinelli, Earthjustice, (585) 402-2005, jchiappinelli@earthjustice.org

Today, the U.S. Forest Service made progress toward President Biden’s directive to protect mature and old-growth forests on national forestlands for the benefit of the climate and biodiversity. In an initial step toward meeting that vision, the Forest Service released a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for its Nationwide Old-Growth Amendment (NOGA), which was announced in December and could establish lasting protections for old-growth forests against threats such as commercial logging.

The DEIS represents a step forward, but protections are still needed for mature forests, which exist in much greater numbers than old-growth trees across federal forestlands. Mature forests are our future old-growth, and are critical in the fight against climate change.

“The Forest Service continues to move this process forward,” said Earthjustice Senior Legislative Representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley. “However, the Forest Service must fully meet President Biden’s historic directive to protect old growth, as well as our much vaster mature forests, which still remain exposed to commercial logging under the proposal.”

There are dozens of federal logging projects underway that target mature and old-growth trees, underscoring the importance of a strong final NOGA, and in the meantime a transparent review process by senior Forest Service staff of all logging activities that include old-growth trees, which U.S. Forest Service Deputy Chief Chris French committed to in December following the NOGA announcement. Last week, 67 environmental groups sent a letter to Deputy Chief French requesting more transparency into this process.

The Forest Service emphasized in the NOGA that old-growth trees “provide significant benefits to the American people by storing carbon, providing important habitat for wildlife, and contributing to clean air, soil, and water.” Beyond the clear climate, ecological, and public health benefits, the conservation of mature and old-growth forests helps address the threat of wildfires as older and larger trees tend to be the most fire-resistant.

The release of the DEIS kicks off a 90-day public comment period, which could set up the NOGA to be finalized by January 2025.

An old-growth forest in Oregon.
An old-growth forest in Oregon. (Frances Eatherington)

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