More than 120,000 people and more than 170 organizations called on the U.S. Forest Service to strengthen its proposal to conserve old growth trees and forests on federal land. During a public comment period that closed on Friday, people asked for stronger provisions that eliminate commercial logging of old-growth trees and tighten other exceptions to ensure these trees stay in the forest. The comment period opened in December when the Forest Service proposed the first nationwide amendment to improve safeguards for old-growth forests. The proposal came in response to more than 500,000 comments submitted last summer urging swift and durable action to protect mature and old-growth forests.
The draft proposal sets ambitious goals for managing and expanding old growth in national forests, but contains major gaps that will hinder achievement of these goals. Notably, the proposal would still let old growth get sent to the mill. And it carves out the Tongass National Forest—our largest old growth national forest—from protection. The proposal also does not offer protections for mature trees and forests, which if not logged, will eventually become old-growth. Protecting mature forests is essential for ensuring old-growth that was lost to past logging is recovered. Many national forests, especially in the eastern United States, have little old-growth remaining.
Protecting older trees is a critical, cost-effective solution to address both the climate and biodiversity crises. Old-growth forests are more resilient than younger forests but unfortunately, the vast majority of old-growth forests in the U.S. have already been logged. Those that are left are largely on federally managed public lands. The Forest Service has approved numerous logging projects across hundreds of thousands of acres that target mature and old-growth trees, which store vast amounts of carbon.
The Climate Forests Campaign is a coalition of more than 120 organizations nationwide that advocates to protect the trees that serve as the greatest buffers against climate change.
Members of the coalition, including Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Environment America, Earthjustice, Oregon Wild, Standing Trees and WildEarth Guardians, issued the following statement:
"We support the Forest Service's goal to better protect and expand our old growth forests. The Biden administration recognizes the critical role these forests play in addressing the climate and wildlife extinction crises and must ensure the Forest Service prioritizes protection over commercial revenue.
“The Forest Service’s proposed plan sets important goals, and needs improvements to fulfill the vision of strong and durable protections for these climate-critical forests. The agency should listen to the clear public input calling for strong protections for both mature and old-growth trees and forests and a complete end to commercial logging of old-growth trees on federal land.
“We further urge the agency to remove the proposed exception for the Tongass National Forest, the crown jewel of our national forest system. The Tongass, like all of our old-growth and mature forests, is more valuable for absorbing carbon and providing habitat for hundreds of species than it is for timber.
“We commend the Biden administration for initiating this process, and we will continue our work to demonstrate public support for protections that ensure that mature and old-growth forests can continue to store carbon, provide clean water, and support wildlife for generations to come.”