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Last week to comment on protections for mature and old growth forests!

Update: Comments were due on July 20th. Thanks to the efforts of GHCC members and many, many others, over a half million people called on the Forest Service to protect mature and old growth trees! Learn more here.

Last year, President Biden issued an Executive Order calling on the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture to do a number of things: conserve our country’s mature and old growth forests, combat deforestation, retain and enhance carbon storage, promote biodiversity, and much more. By doing this, he issued the Secretaries – and their agencies, the Bureau of Land Management and US Forest Service – some homework. They were to inventory the mature and old trees in the forests they manage, and use that information to create new rules to better conserve these big trees and the biodiversity that surrounds them.

As an agency that has historically been tasked with producing timber as its primary directive (the USFS does belong to the Department of Agriculture, after all), this exercise could seem a little counterintuitive. But they did do it, and it showed around 32 million acres of old-growth and 80 million acres of mature forest across the country. If those numbers sound large to you, you’re not alone. Of the several estimates that have been published in 2023, the federal government’s are certainly the most inflated.

Even if they’re 100% accurate (which is unlikely), we know that the situation in the Blue Mountains isn’t so rosy. Like most of the West, forests in the Blues were heavily commercially logged, leaving us with a deficit of mature and old growth trees. In many cases, “mature” trees – trees that are not yet old growth, but are next in line to become it – are all that’s left. And even those trees are vulnerable to logging, especially with the revised” Eastside Screens.

Big trees like these on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest are still being logged. Photo credit: Rob Klavins.

So, how much mature and old forest is left in the Blues, and what is their role in combating the climate crisis? 5 researchers (including Dr. David Mildrexler and Dr. Beverly Law, both from Oregon) have recently published several studies and articles that help answer that question. In 2020, they identified that mature and old trees (in this case, trees ≧ 21” in diameter at breast height) only accounted for ~3% of all trees in the forest, but stored 42% of the aboveground carbon. This showcases two things: what little mature and old growth forests we have left in the region, and that those few remaining trees play a disproportionate role in storing carbon.

Our eastside forests are wonderfully diverse and complex! We have everything from the delightfully orderly and dry ponderosa pine forests to messy, moist mixed-conifer forests jam packed with biodiversity. But the complexity of these forests has often been seen as a liability – eastside forests have historically been left out of legislation and policy efforts because of their complexity, or prescribed a one size fits all “treatment” that should only apply to truly dry forests.

The Big Mosquito project on the Malheur National Forest is another example of mature and old trees being logged under current regulations, Photo credit: Daniel Howland.

It’s important that this doesn’t happen again with the Forest Service’s mature and old growth rulemaking. Please join us in submitting comments to the agency asking them to protect all mature and old growth trees, regardless of species. Specifically, we are urging them to include in any future administrative rules an end to ecologically harmful logging of mature and old growth forests and trees on federal land. While there are certainly other threats to our older forests, including wildfire and drought, the threat of logging is fully under their control and can be quickly acted on.

We have until Thursday, July 20th to submit comments. You can submit your comment directly via here, or via the Climate Forests Coalition here.

Not sure what to say? Feel free to borrow some of these points:

  • It’s critical to retain Oregon’s mature and old growth forests, especially as we look towards a climate changed future. These trees pull pollution and carbon from our air, combat drought by storing and slowly releasing water throughout the year, and provide excellent wildlife habitat that is used by fish and wildlife throughout their lives.

  • Protections for both mature and old growth trees in the Blue Mountains deserve to be included in any future rulemaking. Mature and old growth trees comprise only 3% of the trees in Blue Mountains forests but contain 42% of the aboveground carbon storage.

  • There are few remaining mature and old growth trees remaining in NE Oregon and SE Washington’s Blue Mountains, and as a result they deserve protection from logging. While fire is a legitimate concern, it is unlikely that cutting mature or old growth trees – even species like grand fir – will be required to successfully implement fuels reduction projects.

If you submit comments through the Climate Forest Coalition’s website, please be sure to add some personalization to your message!

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