Activists Urge Biden to Halt Old-Growth Logging in US Forests

Wood Central has republished this story from NC News Line under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Wed 22 May 24


Seventeen North Carolina environmental groups have sent a letter to President Biden asking that his administration “enact the strongest possible protections for mature and old-growth trees and forests on federal lands,” as one weapon against climate change.

The letter addresses three U.S. Forest Service timber sales in the southwestern part of the state, in the Nantahala National and Pisgah forests: The 795-acre Buck Project, in Clay County, includes cutting 150 acres of trees more than 100 years old and 375 acres of mature cove forests, according to federal records and Environment North Carolina.

An estimated 60% of the 317 acres of forested area targeted for logging in the Southside Project in Macon and Swain counties is more than 100 years old, according to the Chattanooga Conservancy. And at least two stands of timber are existing old growth, with trees near or over 200 years old. The Conservancy is among several plaintiffs suing the Forest Service over the proposed logging of a small portion of the area because of its “remarkable ecological importance,” according to the lawsuit. Another timber-cutting site on Brushy Mountain, in Jackson County, has the trees that are at least 200 years old.

Old-growth forests are key to combating climate change because they store carbon. When the trees are cut and the soils disturbed, carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is released into the atmosphere. Old-growth and mature forests also provide flood control, as well as shade for cold-water streams, key habitat for many types of fish, like trout.

The environmental groups want the Biden administration to prohibit the sale of logged old-growth trees “for any reason,” and to expand the U.S. Forest Service’s pending National Old-Growth Amendment to include protection for mature trees and forests. “This is particularly important for North Carolina’s forests which have very little old-growth,” the letter reads. “Without protections for mature trees and forests, the Forest Service will continue to allow our oldest trees to be logged.”

The U.S. Forest Service told Newsline that it “recognizes old-growth forests as a valuable natural resource worthy of protection, restoration, and management.”

John Winn, national press officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said management at the Buck Project are “designed to improve or maintain the health of the forest ecosystem,” such as “tree harvesting through commercial timber sale, site preparation for forest regeneration, timber stand improvements.”

The timing of the environmental groups’ letter coincides with a national inventory of old-growth and mature forests, released earlier this month by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. That inventory, as well as an official definition of the terms “old-growth” and “mature” were required under a President Biden executive order in 2022 on conserving old-growth and mature forests on federal lands.

Nationwide, there are 80.7 million acres of “mature” forest, the stage before old-growth, and 33 million acres of old-growth stands on public lands. This represents 63% of the forested area, agency figures show.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Forest Service is working on its National Old-Growth Amendment, what the agency calls ” the first-of-its kind proposal to amend all 128 forest land management plans. The proposed amendment is intended to provide consistent direction to conserve and steward old-growth forest conditions in response to rapidly changing climate conditions,” according an agency statement. It’s expected to be complete by the middle of next year.

Current forest management practices, “might not be responsive to rapidly changing disturbances and conditions that threaten old-growth forests” — including wildfire, fire exclusion, insects and disease, extreme weather, climate and temperature, according to a 2023 U.S. Forest Service threat analysis of mature and old-growth forests on National Forest System and Bureau of Land Management lands.

  • Since 2000, U.S. Forest Service figures show that wildfires resulted in a decrease of roughly 2.5 million acres of mature forest and another 712,000 acres of old growth.
  • Another 1.86 million acres of mature forest and 182,000 acres of old growth were lost to insects and disease.
  • Tree cutting by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service resulted in a decrease of 214,000 acres of mature forests and 9,000 acres of old growth.
  • Where no forest disturbances have occurred, mature forests increased by 2.21 million acres and old-growth forests by 1.20 million acres.
  • Combined, there has been a 2.51-million-acre net decline of mature forests. About 280,000 acres of those mature trees aged into old growth.
  • NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.


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