As world leaders gather to address the climate crisis, U.S. land management agencies are undermining President Joe Biden’s commitment to conserve mature and old-growth forests and trees by logging thousands of acres on public lands that serve as climate-saving carbon sinks, according to a new report.
America’s Vanishing Climate Forests profiles 12 projects on federal public lands that will log thousands of acres of mature and old-growth stands, from Oregon to West Virginia, harming habitat for endangered species and releasing centuries of carbon being stored by the trees. Advocates had identified 10 similar projects in a previous report, and all projects combined put 370,000 acres on the chopping block.
“Instead of heeding Biden’s pledge to set an example for the world, federal agencies are moving full steam ahead with massive logging of mature and old-growth forests,” said Randi Spivak, Public Lands Program director with the Center for Biological Diversity. “These are some of the world’s most magnificent trees and it'll take centuries to recover their loss. We’re running out of time. The U.S. needs to immediately change course and protect these carbon workhorses.”
Today’s report comes as members of the Biden administration meet with international leaders at COP27 about climate commitments, including efforts to reverse deforestation and promote nature-based solutions to addressing climate change. Protecting mature and old-growth forests and trees is one of the simplest and most effective ways the Biden administration can tackle climate change at home and demonstrate global leadership. “Global leaders are discussing the climate crisis in Egypt this week, and time is running out for the world’s greatest emitters to begin implementing policies to stave off the worst consequences,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice. “A federal rule that restricts logging of critical mature and old-growth forests on federal lands is a cost-effective solution that harnesses nature to fight climate change, while preserving wildlife habitat and protecting clean drinking water.”
Six months ago Biden issued an executive order directing an inventory of mature and old-growth federal forests and policies to protect them. Agencies can establish needed protections for these trees and forests while carrying forward the critical work of protecting communities from wildfire.
“We are eager to see the Biden administration lead by example with strong protections for forests and trees,” said Environment America’s Public Lands Campaign Director Ellen Montgomery. “We’ve heard about big ideas and big goals, it’s time for the U.S. to put those into action and make a commitment to leave our mature and old-growth trees and forests standing. This action can inspire other countries to preserve their forests and that’s a win for our climate and wildlife across the globe.”
At COP26, world leaders pledged to end global deforestation by 2030 but a recent assessment shows nations are not on track to achieve this goal. Ending logging of mature and old-growth forests and trees is a cost-effective solution that can start right now. Advocates from the Climate Forests campaign, a coalition of 120 organizations, are calling on the Biden administration to swiftly adopt a durable rule to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging.
“Logging continues to be a primary threat to mature forests, undermining their role as part of a broader climate crisis solution,” said Adam Rissien, rewilding manager with WildEarth Guardians. “Mature and old-growth forests not only store a vast amount of carbon, but these forests also provide clean water and crucial wildlife habitat necessary to also address our biodiversity crisis.”
In July the Climate Forests Campaign released Worth More Standing, which identified 10 of the worst projects on federal forests targeting mature and old-growth forests and trees. The agencies have not reversed course on any of the 10 sales, though a lawsuit has paused two. Maps on the Climate Forests campaign website show the projects featured in the reports and illustrate the widespread logging threat across the country.
“We know that protecting our mature and old-growth forests is one of the most affordable and effective solutions to address our changing climate, protect biodiversity, and provide access to clean water, so it is baffling to see these climate forests put on the chopping block," said Alex Craven, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club. "This report highlights how we can harness nature as a climate solution, something we know is a priority for the administration, and we look forward to working together to ensure we use all the tools available to us to fight climate change.”
“In the six New England states, we are cutting mature forests down as fast as they can grow,” said Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees. “If we want to stop treading water on climate change, we have to find the courage to take a different approach. Public forests like the Green and White Mountain national forests store 30% more carbon than private forests in New England. If we keep them standing, they’ll continue to accumulate and store carbon for centuries to come. Cut them down, and much of that carbon is immediately lost.”
"In the Pacific Northwest, mature and old-growth forests are our first line of defense against climate change," said Lauren Anderson, Climate Forest Program Manager at Oregon Wild. "Keeping these trees standing means they can continue to capture and store the pollution that causes climate change, provide future generations with clean water to drink, and protect vital habitat for fish and wildlife."