Today on Earth Day, President Biden announced his administration would consider a path to ending logging of late-successional and old-growth forests on public lands. The Western Environmental Law Center, an organization that has worked since its founding in 1993 toward this goal, applauds the announcement.
The president’s executive order directs the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to: 1) define and inventory existing mature and old growth forests; 2) analyze the threats facing these forests; and 3) develop policy to conserve older forests on federal lands.
In the last 15 years, researchers have made exciting new discoveries about the role older forests play in keeping climate-warming carbon out of the atmosphere. Once thought to be on a declining carbon sequestration curve, scientists have shown the opposite is true. Older trees, powered by the sun and a greater number of leaves, grow more quickly, pulling more carbon from the atmosphere.
In addition, older forests are more resilient to stressors such as wildfire. Conserving these forests is essential in a climate-constrained world in which we are likely to see more wildfire on the landscape.
The inclusion of the BLM in this order is crucial. The western Oregon BLM manages 2.6 million acres of forestland, much of which is currently managed for intensive timber production. In recent years, the BLM has targeted older forests for logging, despite the importance of these forests to wildlife, recreationalists, and the climate. WELC continues to fight for these forests in federal court.
While the Forest Service has largely moved away from logging older forests, some examples of the practice remain. For example, the Flat Country timber sale on the Willamette National Forest in Oregon focuses on the harvest of older forest to meet the Forest Service’s annual timber target. President Biden’s executive order should make timber sales like Flat Country a thing of the past.
“Protecting the old growth cathedral forests of the Pacific Northwest has been my passion and profession for decades,” said Susan Jane Brown, Wildlands and Wildlife Program director at the Western Environmental Law Center. “These ancient forests provide us with clean water to drink, charismatic wildlife to enjoy, recreational opportunities to experience, and are fundamental to our way of life, particularly for the Indigenous people who have stewarded them for millennia. Protection for these forests is long overdue, and WELC looks forward to working with the Forest Service and BLM to finally accomplish this most worthy goal.”
The Western Environmental Law Center has a long history of working to protect older forests across the western U.S. Most recently, WELC prevailed in a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s Griffin Half Moon timber sale that would have resulted in the logging of nearly 1,000 acres of older forest home to the enigmatic great gray owl.