Coalition delivers more than 122,000 comments urging logging protection for older forests, trees

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DENVER– Environmental groups, including Environment America, delivered more than 122,000 public comments on Tuesday urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) to protect mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal public lands from logging as a cornerstone of United States climate policy. 

The public comment period followed an executive order by President Joe Biden that celebrated public forests as “some of the most biodiverse parts of our planet… [playing] an irreplaceable role in reaching net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.” The comments gave input on the definition of mature and old-growth forests.

Environmental groups and grassroots supporters say that more than 80-year-old forests and trees should be defined as mature to protect against the ongoing logging that undermines President Biden’s directive to retain and enhance carbon storage and conserve biodiversity. The groups are calling for a federal rule that would designate stands and trees older than 80 years as off-limits to logging – with carefully tailored exceptions for non-commercial purposes, such as activities that support tribal cultures or appropriate measures to protect structures from fire.

“The solution is simple and needs to be implemented as quickly as possible. We must protect our mature trees from logging and let them grow in our federal forestland,” said Ellen Montgomery, Environment America’s Public Lands Campaign director. “We urge the federal agencies to move quickly to create a durable rule that will enhance our forests’ capacity to store carbon and conserve biodiversity.”

While the public comment period was underway this summer, the Climate Forests coalition published a report detailing federal logging proposals targeting nearly a quarter of a million acres of mature and old-growth forests and trees across nine states, from California to Vermont. The report called on the Biden administration to enact a permanent administrative rule to protect these vital forests and trees, which would align with its pledge to protect federal forests and live up to its climate commitments.

Mature and old-growth forests store and sequester a vast amount of carbon, making them an essential resource for achieving our nation’s climate commitments. They also offer other crucial ecosystem values, including wildlife habitat for vulnerable species, watershed function to provide water for communities across the country and unmatched outdoor recreation experiences for the public.

“Our forests do it all. They filter our air and water, provide habitat for hundreds of species and help us fight climate change. Our older forests are the real champs, performing all of these functions better than their younger counterparts,” said Montgomery. “If we leave our 80-year-old trees and forests standing, they’ll become more valuable every decade.”

As the harm from climate change intensifies, including extreme weather, drought and severe wildfires, groups are urging federal agencies to deploy effective strategies to mitigate and adapt to these impacts. Larger, older trees are generally more resistant to wildfires. Preserving mature and old-growth forests and trees is a meaningful, cost-effective measure the Biden administration can take immediately to help mitigate climate change. Federal forests sequester 35 million metric tons of carbon annually, a number that could rise steadily with new conservation measures to let these older trees continue to grow. 

In addition to the public comments from grassroots supporters, more than 100 climate and conservation organizations submitted a letter calling for a strong, durable administrative rule to safeguard mature and old-growth forests from logging.

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