Can US logging agencies be trusted to protect old-growth?

Can US logging agencies be trusted to protect old-growth? Here's how you can help

On Earth Day, President Biden signed an Executive Order that specifically calls out the need to protect our mature and old-growth forests. Making the announcement in the Pacific Northwest, where forests can store more carbon than the Amazon, Biden cited the natural climate change-fighting potential of forests and action was “critical to protecting these and other ecosystem services provided by these forests.” 

Particularly important in this declaration is the inclusion of mature forests which, without protections, continue to be aggressively logged. These mature forests have the potential to become old-growth, but not if they are cut down. David Hayes, President Biden’s Climate Czar, pegged the definition of mature at a widely agreed-upon 80 years old.

Unfortunately, Biden’s order stopped short of protecting mature forests from their #1 threat: logging on federal lands. Instead, Biden has directed the Forest Service and Department of the Interior, home to the US Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to inventory and map America’s remaining mature and old-growth forests, analyze threats to their continuing survival and develop policies to protect them. 

This puts an awful lot of power in the hands of the agencies that have spent decades cutting them down. Both the Forest Service and BLM will deny that old-growth logging continues across our public lands outside of Alaska, though pictures speak louder than words:

Black Hills Resilient Landscapes Project (Black Hills National Forest, SD & WY): 180,000 Acres of logging of mature forests
Photo by Rob Klavins- Old growth logs displayed as trophies near Pendleton

Last week’s Memorandum from US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack showed us exactly how the Forest Service is misinterpreting the Executive Order. 

The memo focuses on “drought, wildfires, type conversion, and insect outbreaks” as the primary threat to older-growth stands. It downplays the threat from timber harvesting to mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal land.

Yet, the Forest Service routinely targets old forests for logging across the National Forest System. This week it approved clearcutting thousands of acres in the Kootenai National Forest in northwestern Montana, including logging mature and old-growth trees. In the Kaibab National Forest north of the Grand Canyon, the Forest Service is logging thousands of centuries-old, fire-resistant ponderosa pines, despite the project’s stated purpose of focusing on smaller trees. Here in Oregon, the Flat Country Project in the Willamette National Forest includes 1,000 acres of clearcut-style logging in Douglas-fir and hemlock stands 98-170 years old.

Photo by Victoria Wingell- A photo from our recent field trip to Flat Country. This forest is wild and messy, exactly like an old-growth landscape is supposed to be.

After decades of finding any and every excuse to log trees - especially mature trees - the culture at these agencies will be difficult to overcome. That’s why the Biden administration must pursue a strong, lasting rule that protects mature and old-growth trees and forest stands simultaneously with the inventory. We can’t wait until the mapping process is over to start ANOTHER process. Every day of delay puts more carbon-saving forests on the literal chopping block.

Oregon Wild has partnered with over 100 groups across the country as part of the Climate Forests Campaign to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people across the country to pursue this next phase. In the coming months, you’ll find us leading hikes through our Climate Forests, sharing information about the value of our forests through our monthly webinars, at trailheads, at breweries, and more, bringing needed attention to egregious logging projects happening across the United States, and writing and calling the Forest Service and President Biden thousands of times until we ensure our forests have the protections they deserve.

We don’t have time to waste when it comes to protecting these climate champions from the threats of logging.