There was much to celebrate this Earth Day!
President Biden traveled to the Pacific Northwest to sign an Executive Order to expand his Administration’s efforts to tackle the climate crisis. Among other things, the order will safeguard mature and old-growth forests on federal lands, and in doing so, it signals that this Administration recognizes just how critical large and mature trees on federal lands are to our nation’s climate mitigation strategy. Specifically, it directs the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to define and inventory existing mature and old growth forests, analyze the threats facing these forests, and develop policy to conserve older forests on federal lands.
This news follows the announcement a few weeks ago that the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) has convened an interagency working group to address the decline of salmon and steelhead in the Columbia Basin and address concerns about the lower Snake River dams shared by the Pacific Northwest Native American Tribes.
Both of these announcements were welcome news following 15 months of advocacy by GHCC and our members. Since Biden was sworn into office, we have been asking the Administration to reinstate protections for the largest and oldest trees across six national forests in the Greater Hells Canyon Region; protections the Trump administration unlawfully got rid of during its last days.
A 2020 study of these six national forests found that a shockingly low 3% of trees in our eastside forests were considered large (>21” in diameter), yet these trees contained roughly 42% of the forests’ above-ground carbon. Not only are these forests efficient and effective carbon sinks, they provide a number of important co-benefits including habitat for wildlife, protection of water quality and quantity, and wildfire resiliency. While the Executive Order signals that we are entering a new era in how we manage our federal forests, it is only the first step in protecting the forests that do so much to protect the climate and, in turn, protect us.
Without protections in place for mature and old trees across six national forests in the Greater Hells Canyon Region, the Forest Service is planning to extensively log the largest and most mature trees in upcoming timber sales. We need to restore and expand these protections if we want to achieve the Administration’s goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States by 50-52% by 2030 and conserving 30% of America’s lands and waters by 2030. Currently just 10.1% of forests in Oregon, the most forested state in the Western Continental U.S., are protected.
Oregon’s congressional delegates have also been leaders on this issue, asking for protection for old growth and mature forests as part of the nation’s carbon reduction planning efforts.
Please, join us in thanking President Biden and Senators Wyden and Merkley for their leadership on addressing the climate crisis. Let them know how important it is that we get to the finish line and enact strong durable protections for our large and mature trees and forests—as President Biden said, they truly are the lungs of the planet.