July 20, 2023
Washington D.C.– More than half a million people are calling on the U.S. Forest Service to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging on federal land as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.
In April the Forest Service issued a rulemaking proposal to improve the climate resilience of federally managed forests. The public comment period on the proposal closed today.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands of people who weighed in, dozens of environmental and grassroots organizations submitted comments, including the Climate Forests Campaign, a coalition of more than 120 organizations working to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal land from logging. Read ELPC’s comments here.
Activists and environmental advocates gathered today at the D.C. offices of the Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Forest Service, to celebrate the amount of public support.
“More than half a million people around the country, including the Midwest, submitted comments calling on the U.S. Forest Service to enact a rule that protects mature and old-growth forests from being chopped down,” said Ann Mesnikoff, Federal Legislative Director at the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “Even as the Forest Service accepts comments, they aggressively log forests that their own reports show are mature and key for climate security and biodiversity. The Forest Service must heed federal climate policies and pause logging of mature forests in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest while moving forward quickly with a rule that keeps mature and old-growth trees standing.”
“Hundreds of thousands of people from across the country have chimed in with enthusiastic support for President Biden’s order to protect mature and old-growth forests on federal land,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice. “Establishing a durable, nationwide, rule to protect these vital forests would be a historic climate achievement for the U.S.”
“The public wants the nation’s mature forests and trees to be protected from the chainsaw, and with good reason,” said Garett Rose, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “They store carbon. They protect imperiled species. They safeguard key waterways. It’s well past time for the federal land managers to adopt a rule that durably protects these climate-critical trees–and lets them be a key ally in the climate right.”
“Mature and old-growth forests are the only proven, cost-effective carbon capture and storage technology. We just have to let them grow,” said Randi Spivak, public lands policy director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really frustrating that the Forest Service, in the midst of this proposal, is still planning to log even more of these old trees. Our climate can’t wait another year for a rule. The time to act is now.”
“Climate change isn’t off in the distant future; it’s here, now. My hometown of Montpelier, VT and others across the Northeast were ravaged by climate-driven floods on July 10th that could have been mitigated by the presence of old-growth forests,” said Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees. “As the single largest steward of forests in the nation, the US Forest Service has an obligation – not just an opportunity – to protect communities from natural disasters by managing national forests, often located in critical headwaters, to grow old.”
“We are urging President Biden to enact a clear rule protecting mature and old growth forests from the Forest Service chopping block,” said Adam Rissien, WildEarth Guardians’ ReWilding Manager. “Public support has never been higher for bold, effective solutions to keep carbon in the woods and in the ground.”
“I’m not surprised that so many people took the time to get involved in this comment period. We love our trees and forests so of course people spoke up, said Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director for Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Our forests clean our water, are home for wildlife and are an incredible ally in our work to stop climate change. Our mature and old-growth forests and trees are worth more standing than as lumber.”
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) concluded a public comment period for its own proposed rulemaking, with hundreds of thousands of people calling on the federal government to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging. In March the BLM announced its wide-ranging “Conservation and Landscape Health” rule, with a goal to “promote ecosystem resilience on public lands” and included an acknowledgment of the importance of mature and old-growth trees and forests.
In addition to the two proposed rules, the Forest Service and the BLM released an inventory of mature and old-growth forests, the first of its kind, as required by the executive order President Biden signed on Earth Day 2022. The White House directed the Forest Service and the BLM to inventory and conserve mature and old-growth forests on federal land, and to implement policies to address threats facing forests.
The Climate Forests Campaign has been elevating calls from community members, scientists, and activists around the country about the necessity of protecting these mature and old-growth trees and forests, including from the ongoing threat of logging. The coalition has highlighted the threat to mature and old-growth forests and trees in two reports, citing 22 of the worst logging projects on Forest Service and BLM-managed forests.
Mature and old-growth forests are some of the most effective tools available for mitigating climate change and promoting biodiversity. They store huge amounts of carbon and keep it out of the atmosphere. They also provide essential wildlife habitat and are the most fire-resilient trees in the forest. As the world experiences record-shattering heat and widespread climate disasters, protecting these forests is critical for preventing the worst impacts of climate change.