Environmental organizations call for a new national forest policy that protects old-growth and mature trees and forests
BOSTON, MA and MONTPELIER, VT — A coalition of 70 groups, including Environment Massachusetts, Standing Trees, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, and Center for Biological Diversity launched an effort Tuesday called the Climate Forests campaign. It will focus on protecting older and mature trees on federal lands that are most critical in the fight against climate change. The local campaign is highlighting mature forests that are on the chopping block in New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest and Vermont’s Green Mountain National Forest, such as the so-called Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project, which would log an 11,000-acre area where over 85% of forests are over 80 years in age.
“We are facing twin emergencies, loss of biodiversity and climate change. Here in New England we’ve seen an increase in extreme weather events from our changing climate, and significant declines in wildlife populations from overlogging and loss of high-quality forest habitat,” said Zack Porter, director of Standing Trees. “The last thing we should be doing is cutting down mature forests that remove climate-harming pollution, safeguard wildlife, reduce the threat of flooding and drought, and provide clean water for our communities. We can no longer allow our most valuable public forests to be logged. It’s time to adopt a new policy: Let our forests grow.”
The campaign is calling on the Biden administration to kick off a new era of climate and forest policy in which trees and forests are valued as key pieces of the climate solution. Forests—particularly older forests—store vast amounts of carbon and continue absorbing carbon as they age. Harvesting trees in these areas releases most of that carbon back into the atmosphere. Even under the best-case scenario, newly planted forests would not re-absorb this carbon for decades or centuries – timescales irrelevant to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Older forests with a mix of tree ages and species are more resistant to predicted changes in the climate as well as outbreaks of insects and disease.
In New England, old forests once covered upwards of 90% of the landscape prior to clearing by European colonists and timber corporations. Today, the region’s forests are still recovering from logging and burning that leveled more than 99% of the region’s original forests. Although still a long way from full-health, some of the most mature forests in New England can be found in the White and Green Mountain National Forests of New Hampshire and Vermont, respectively, which are home to a wide range of native species and capture more carbon than private forests that continue to be logged heavily for profit across the region. Today, logging is the leading cause of tree death in New England and accounts for 86% of all carbon that is lost from New England forests, annually.
“Protecting our forests is a low-cost, high-impact way to fight global warming,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director of Environment Massachusetts. “But New England’s forests aren’t just an important part of the solution to climate change; they are also some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in our region, home to diverse animal and plant species. The Biden administration should act to protect these special places, for us and for future generations to enjoy.”
The last comprehensive federal policy to protect national forests, the Roadless Rule, was enacted in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. The Rule was adopted to protect nearly 60 million acres of designated “roadless areas” from logging and road-building, safeguarding significant stands of remaining old growth. Though these areas act as a critical carbon sink, most older trees on federal land lie outside of roadless areas. Scientists and environmental groups say we have to get all our public forests into the climate fight, and do it now.
“Older forests on federal lands disproportionately continue to accumulate far greater amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide per acre than do forests that are kept perpetually younger by continual harvesting, thereby providing a highly effective, low cost natural climate solution” said Dr. William Moomaw, Professor Emeritus of International Environmental Policy at the Global Development and Environment Institute, Tufts University, and lead author of five IPCC reports. “The science is clear: we cannot get out of the climate and biodiversity global emergencies without protecting mature forests and letting them grow old. New England’s forests are especially well suited to sequestering and storing vast amounts of carbon over long periods and have a unique contribution to make in the global fight against climate change. Taking steps to protect mature forests–not just what few old-growth forests remain–would position the US as a global leader and follow-through on President Biden’s pledge at the COP 26 climate summit to end global forest losses whether in the Amazon or here at home.”
The Climate Forests Campaign works to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging across America’s public lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.
Environment Massachusetts’s mission is to transform the power of our imaginations and our ideas into change that makes our world a greener and healthier place for all.
Standing Trees works to protect and restore forests on New England’s public lands. Based in Montpelier, Vermont, Standing Trees is the only regional organization focused on rewilding the Green Mountain and White Mountain National Forests.