Staff report written from press release
WASHINGTON — In a move to protect and restore the nation’s mature and old growth forests, the Biden-Harris Administration unveiled a series of initiatives today. These strides align with President Biden’s visionary Earth Day 2022 Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies, according to the White House.
Recognizing forests as a crucial climate solution, sequestering over 10% of the nation’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, President Biden’s administration has remained resolute in delivering the most ambitious climate agenda in history, according to a press release from the White House. To date, over 26 million acres of lands and waters have been safeguarded. The newly announced measures are poised to augment this remarkable progress.
Old and mature forests play a pivotal role in ensuring clean water, absorbing carbon pollution, and nurturing wildlife habitats. Key among the announced actions is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s proposal to revise all 128 forest land management plans nationwide. This initiative aims to conserve and restore old-growth forests within the National Forest System, marking an unprecedented nationwide strategy guiding forest management.
To maintain consistency during this amendment process, an interim policy, delineated in detail in a communication from the deputy chief of the National Forest System to regional foresters, will govern proposed management actions in old-growth forests.
Additionally, the Forest Service has initiated the revision process for the Northwest Forest Plan, focusing on climate resilience, particularly in mature and old forest ecosystems. This plan, governing federally-managed forests in Washington, Oregon, and California and housing a significant portion of the remaining old growth in the lower 48 states, will see its components updated for the first time since 2007.
The USDA’s Forest Service and the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management jointly oversee approximately 112 million acres of old growth and mature forests on federal lands. These measures stand as a testament to the ongoing commitment of the Biden-Harris Administration towards climate, conservation, and restoration, bolstered by informed management decisions and substantial investments from legislation such as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.
Among the achievements highlighted by the White House are the completion of the first-ever nationwide inventory of old and mature forests, culminating in definitions for over 200 forest types across the United States. Furthermore, the Forest Service’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for National Forest and Grassland Climate Resilience, supported by a massive response from 92,000 individual submissions and 30 petitions with 426,000 signatories, contributed to shaping today’s announcement and will inform future actions.
Moreover, the BLM’s proposed Landscape Health and Conservation Rule focuses on sustaining healthy landscapes to uphold multiple uses and sustainability mandates. Efforts to conserve pinyon-juniper woodlands, comprising a substantial portion of federally managed mature and old-growth forests, will be furthered through a public workshop scheduled for 2024, engaging various stakeholders in dialogue for climate-smart management and conservation.
The Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to wildfire mitigation projects, as directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, includes leadership directives to integrate mature and old growth forest stewardship and ecological restoration. This law allocated significant funding to address wildfire, forest health, and restoration, emphasizing the retention of large trees and the restoration of old growth stands in line with forest characteristics.
A conservation action in 2023 saw the repeal of the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule, safeguarding the Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest, and restoring roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of critical areas in Southeastern Alaska.
Addressing reforestation needs on federal lands, a joint reforestation report by USDA and DOI aims to expand reforestation efforts, including tackling the Forest Service’s 4 million-acre reforestation backlog. The report outlines strategies such as climate-smart seed and nursery operations, enhanced collaboration with non-federal partners, and the identification of over 70 million acres for potential reforestation opportunities.
Furthermore, in compliance with E.O. 14072, reports on combating international deforestation associated with agricultural commodity production and reducing international deforestation through various U.S. government instruments reflect a concerted effort across agencies to address global deforestation.
Recognizing the significance of urban forests in combating climate change and enhancing community well-being, the Inflation Reduction Act made a historic $1.5 billion investment in urban and community forests. In 2023, $1.13 billion was allocated to support tree-planting and management in disadvantaged communities, aligning with the President’s Justice40 Initiative, while an additional $250 million supported state and territory forestry agencies.