Joe Bidenadministration on Tuesday announced a new proposal aimed at banning logging in old-growth forests, a move intended to protect millions of trees that play a key role in the fight against the climate crisis.
The proposal comes from an executive order signed by the president on Earth Day in 2022 that directed the US Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to conduct an inventory of old-growth and mature forest groves, as well as develop policies that protect them.
“We think this will allow us to respond effectively and strategically to the biggest threats facing old growth,” said US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Washington Post. “At the end of the day, it will not only protect the forests, but also the culture and heritage associated with the forests.”
The US Forest Service oversees 193m hectares of forests and grasslands, of which 144m are forests. In his stock carried out following Biden’s executive order, the agency found that the vast majority of forests it oversees, about 80%, are either old-growth or mature forests. It found more than 32m hectares of old-growth forest and 80m hectares of mature forest on federal land.
The Bureau of Land Management defines old-growth forests as those with trees in later stages of stand development, which typically means at least 120 years of growth, depending on species. The giant sequoias in California, for example, are old-growth trees. Mature forests, meanwhile, have trees that are in the development stage immediately before old growth.
Advocates for years have been pushing the Biden administration to expressly prohibit logging in old-growth and mature forests. Trees in their senescence stage can store more carbon than younger trees, making them a natural solution to fighting the climate crisis.
In 2022, shortly before Biden announced his executive order, a group of more than 130 scientists wrote a letter to Biden advocating a ban on logging in old-growth forests.
“Old-growth forests offer the most aboveground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most forest carbon accumulation in the critical next few decades,” the letter read. “Although they are left vulnerable to logging, they cannot perform these important functions.”
The ban will take effect in early 2025, giving the Forest Service time to finalize rules that will protect old-growth forests from logging. Because it falls under an executive order, its existence depends on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election, which has advocates worried about the protection’s vulnerability to the country’s political climate.
But federal agencies have also been under pressure from the timber industry, which argues that logging creates economic activity and helps fight wildfires. The proposal focuses on most old-growth forests, leaving mature forests still vulnerable to logging, striking a middle ground between environmentalists and the timber industry.
Chris Wood, the president of Trout Unlimited and a former US Forest Service official, told the Associated Press that the policy “is a step in the right direction”.
“This is the first time the Forest Service has said its national policy will be to protect old growth,” Wood said.
Other advocates stress that this is just Biden’s first step in fulfilling his executive order.
“Protecting our old-growth trees from logging is an important first step in ensuring that these giants continue to store large amounts of carbon, but other older forests also need protection,” said Randi Spivak, policy director for public lands at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “To fulfill President Biden’s executive order and address the scope of the climate crisis, the Forest Service must also protect our mature forests, which if allowed to grow will become the old growth of tomorrow.”