Study: Climate-critical mature, old-growth federal forests at-risk from logging

Media Contacts
Taran Volckhausen

Former Communications Associate, The Public Interest Network

Environmental groups call on President Biden to act swiftly to protect forests and trees critical to fighting climate change


DENVER – An international team of scientists released the first coast-to-coast, map-based assessment of mature and old-growth forests in the continental United States in a peer-reviewed study published by Frontiers in Forests and Global Change on Wednesday. Maps of these forests can be found at

Among the findings, the scientists found that approximately 50 million acres of mature federal forests are unprotected from logging. These forests store the equivalent of 10.6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide which, if cut down over a decade, would emit the equivalent of 9% of U.S. annual greenhouse gasses. 

Older forests make up approximately 167 million acres, or 36%, of all forests in the contiguous 48 states, according to the study. Thirty-five percent of those forests are managed by federal agencies –  the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the National Park Service.

Older forests in national parks are largely protected from logging but only 24% of national forests and BLM forestlands — which make up the majority of federally managed forests — have equivalent protections. Protecting these forests offers a simple, cost-effective climate solution that can be implemented immediately. 

Since February, a coalition of more than 100 organizations, the Climate Forests Campaign, has been campaigning to urge the Biden administration to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging across America’s federal public lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy. 

Environmental advocates issued the following statements:

“This map is an incredible tool and reinforces that what we’ve been pushing for is really needed: more and stronger protections for our mature forests,” said Ellen Montgomery, public lands director with Environment America. “We cannot afford to chop down our most valuable trees and forests. Thanks to this study, we know how valuable they are to fighting climate change. The Biden administration should move quickly to protect them from logging.”

“America’s mature forests are nearly unparalleled storehouses of carbon, wellsprings of biodiversity, and essential to clean water,” said Garett Rose, staff attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “But they are vulnerable to logging coast-to-coast, even on the federal lands that hold the remaining significant expanses of these forests. Thanks to the pathbreaking work in this report, those stakes have never been clearer.”  

Mature and old growth forests play a critical role in providing clean water to communities, preserving biodiversity, and sequestering and storing carbon. And, as this report indicates, a significant portion of remaining mature forests are on federal lands.” said Alex Craven, senior campaign representative at Sierra Club.Now is the time to recognize the real value of these trees and conserve them as a nature-based solution to stave off the worst effects of the climate crisis.”  


The scientists who authored the study are Dominick A. DellaSala (Earth Island Institute, United States), Brendan G. Mackey (Griffith University, Australia), Pat Norman (Griffith University, Australia), Carly Campbell (Griffith University, Australia), Pat Comer (NatureServe, United States), Cyril Kormos (Earth Island Institute, United States), Heather Keith (Griffith University, Australia) and Brendan Rogers (Woodwell Climate Research Center, Falmouth, MA, United States).

Pam Clough | Used by permission