The Biden-Harris Administration took new and historic steps this week to implement President Biden’s Executive Order to conserve and restore America’s mature and old growth forests. America’s forests are a key climate solution, absorbing carbon dioxide equivalent to more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions. This week’s actions include a first-of-its kind proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to amend all 128 forest land management plans across the country to conserve and restore old-growth forests across the National Forest System.

This builds on President Biden’s work to lead and deliver on the most ambitious climate and conservation agenda in history, which already includes protecting more than 26 million acres of lands and waters.

Leaders from across the country praised the announcement. Here is what they are saying:

Environmental Leaders

Senator Bennet (D-CO): From the maple stands of New England to the aspen groves of Colorado, forests are a vital part of our ecosystem. America’s remaining old-growth forests support forest ecology and climate change mitigation and I’m pleased @USDA is working to protect them. [X, 12/21/2023]

Ben Jealous, Executive Director, Sierra Club: “This is a groundbreaking step towards fulfilling President Biden’s promise to protect our old-growth trees and mature forests, and we need to make sure it’s not the last. We need to keep our old growth trees standing, protect our mature forests from threats, and finally shift our treatment of national forests from timber resources ripe for extraction to natural wonders worthy of preservation. It’s a bold vision, but today has shown that President Biden is up to the task.” [Statement, 12/18/2023]

Jad Daly, President and CEO, American Forests: “The Biden-Harris administration continues to deliver as champions of America’s forests, helping to conserve and steward the nation’s old growth forests and the vast amounts of carbon they store. For too long, irreplaceable old growth forests have lacked a consistent and adaptable policy to support their conservation and management, but today’s announcement by the USDA Forest Service offers a needed new course. […] Through these balanced climate-smart forestry efforts from the Biden-Harris administration, combined with the historic REPLANT Act made law through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, America’s forests are entering a new era where forest health is prioritized and better adapted to climate threats.” [Statement, 12/19/2]

Jamie Williams, President, The Wilderness Society: “The Forest Service’s proposed nationwide amendment is an important step to proactively conserve old-growth forests so they can do what they do best – store carbon and stabilize ecosystems. The Wilderness Society is encouraged by the administration’s efforts to take a science-based approach to safeguard our nation’s forests at a time when they are increasingly threatened by climate change. We look forward to working with the administration to secure a durable policy that conserves the forests we all depend on for healthy communities and landscapes.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Scott Garlid, Executive Director, Arizona Wildlife Federation: “We are grateful for the Forest Service’s commitment to conserving our old-growth forests using proactive, science-based management. This is a critical first step in making our forests more resilient against the impacts of wildfires and drought, both of which have severe consequences here in Arizona.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Eric Artz, President and CEO, REI Co-op: “REI Co-op has advocated for the stewardship of our public lands for over eight decades. Protecting our national forests allows our natural spaces to sequester carbon, improves nearby watersheds and strengthens local economies. Old growth forests provide essential benefits like carbon sequestration, clean water, wildlife habitat, and biodiversity. We thank the Biden Administration for preserving these spaces, which will keep our forests and communities healthy for generations to come.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Ryan Gellert, CEO, Patagonia: “We applaud the Biden administration for recognizing the importance of mature and old-growth forests and taking steps to inventory and protect them. Much of Patagonia’s business depends on the health of wild places that our customers explore, including national forests. Trees are also a key solution to the climate crisis because they store most of the above-ground carbon in a forest and preserve biodiversity. We look forward to working with the administration to ensure strong protections for mature and old-growth trees.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Chris Wood, President, Trout Unlimited: “Bully for the Forest Service! As one of the nation’s preeminent land managers, they know well the importance of older forests for combating climate change. Our national forests not only store carbon, they also provide clean water for tens of millions of American families and healthy habitat for wild and native trout and salmon. This kind of conservation leadership would make Gifford Pinchot proud, and gives the agency the opportunity to create stronger, more resilient forests that will benefit generations.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Jesse Deubel, Executive Director, New Mexico Wildlife Federation: “Considering the extensive losses of forest habitat due to catastrophic wildfires across New Mexico in recent history, hunters and anglers applaud this announcement. Future generations of sportsmen and women across our state will benefit from the agency’s commitment to protecting our remaining old growth forests.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Frank Szollosi, Executive Director, Montana Wildlife Federation: “Climate change is having a devastating impact on Montana’s forests, watersheds, and wildlife, leading to increased wildfires, droughts, and habitat loss. These changes not only threaten our natural ecosystems but also have dire consequences for our local economies, especially those dependent on agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation. We applaud the Forest Service for taking this important step to ensure our irreplaceable forests are managed in a way to make them – and our communities – more resilient so they can thrive for generations to come.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Randi Spivak, Director, Center for Biological Diversity: “Protecting our old-growth trees from logging is an important first step to ensure these giants continue to store vast amounts of carbon, but other older forests also need protection. To fulfill President Biden’s executive order and address the magnitude of the climate crisis, the Forest Service also needs to protect our mature forests, which if allowed to grow will become the old growth of tomorrow.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Dave Werntz, Director, Conservation Northwest: “Protecting the nation’s old-growth forests is a vital first step toward mitigating climate change impacts and securing exceptional wildlife habitat. Next steps must include restoring old forest distribution and abundance across the landscape to extend climate and biodiversity values.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Ellen Montgomery, Director, Environment America: “Americans love our forests. They’re natural playgrounds for people and wildlife alike. That’s why more than half a million people this summer asked the Forest Service to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests. Our mature and old-growth trees provide critical wildlife habitats, filter drinking water for communities, and absorb and store tons of carbon. We’re really pleased that the Forest Service has taken this unprecedented step and we urge them to take actions to protect mature forests. To have a future where we have more old growth, not less, it is critical to protect mature forests as well.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Drew McConville, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress: “America’s oldest forests provide clean water, rich wildlife habitat, and important solutions to the climate crisis. By improving how our carbon-rich forests are managed, President Biden is filling a massive hole in U.S. climate strategy and making good on his promise to conserve America’s lands and waters.  Today’s announcement is a major milestone, but it will take sustained commitment by the Forest Service and its partners to remedy decades of mismanagement, restore at-risk lands, and conserve and re-establish old growth forests across the country.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Shoren Brown, Vice President, Public Affairs, Conservation Alliance: “Old growth and mature forests aren’t just good for storing carbon, they provide jobs. Outdoor recreation on national public lands supports 4.6 million jobs in the outdoor industry. The Conservation Alliance and our member companies thank the Biden Administration for valuing our forests and protecting the next generation of old forests yet to come.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Lauren McCain, Senior Analyst, Defenders of Wildlife: “Old-growth ecosystems are the heart of our national forests. They are biodiversity strongholds that provide habitat for over 100 threatened and endangered species and serve as vital carbon sinks. Defenders appreciates the Forest Service recognizing the need for a long-overdue old-growth policy. We look forward to working with the agency to ensure new forest plan direction advances the recovery of the imperiled species dependent on old-growth and mature forests. The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are interwoven, and we must take every opportunity to develop policies that combat both.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Senior Legislative Representative, Earthjustice: “The Biden administration’s proposed plan to protect old-growth trees across the country is an important milestone for forest conservation and U.S. progress in addressing the climate crisis. Even as it works to complete this proposal, the Forest Service must take steps to fulfill President Biden’s executive order by also developing protections for mature trees, which are our future old growth and exist in much greater numbers than old growth, storing vast amounts of carbon. We look forward to working with the Forest Service to help it safeguard mature and old-growth forests. Conservation of these forests goes hand in hand with addressing the threat of wildfires as older and larger trees tend to be the most fire resistant.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

America Fitzpatrick, Program Director, League of Conservation Voters: “The Biden-Harris administration made great progress in addressing the climate crisis today with its historic proposal to protect old-growth forests across the United States. We applaud the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) for this first-of-its-kind proposal that will conserve old-growth forests, support forest resilience and protect biodiversity. We hope the USFS will take future action to protect mature trees as well, and we look forward to supporting the USFS as it works to make our national forests part of the climate solution.” [Statement, 12/19/23]

Andy Olsen, Senior Policy Advocate, Environmental Law & Policy Center: “We thank President Biden for his commitment to protect remaining mature and old-growth trees and forests. We are grateful for the announced plan to amend forest plans for our national forests to protect old growth trees and forests. This is a start but there is more yet to do.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

David Dreher, Senior Manager, National Wildlife Federation: “Loggers, conservationists, and the federal agencies have fought over old forests for nearly forty years. There’s a long, tumultuous history of lawsuits, log-truck rallies, and tree-sitters. A national plan amendment on old forest policy could finally set aside the acrimony of the past and allow us all to get to work on the critical task of managing forests for the future. Old, native forests across the country are essential and irreplaceable habitat for a litany of wildlife and fish. But climate stressors like heat and drought are changing them fast. A national policy that’s flexible and tailored to individual forests will allow the conservation and maintenance necessary for them to persist into the future.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Andrew Wetzler, Senior Vice President, Natural Resources Defense Council: “This is a key step in making mature and old-growth trees and forests into a centerpiece of our national efforts to combat the climate crisis and preserve our national natural heritage. The Forest Service has an unparalleled opportunity to continue building towards the Administration’s vision of fully safeguarding these essential trees and forests. The agency must do all it can to make the most of it.” [Statement, 12/20/2023]

Lauren Anderson, Program Manager, Oregon Wild: “Oregon Wild has been working to protect old-growth forests for 50 years. With today’s action, President Biden is taking a major step forward in protecting these national treasures. We look forward to working with his administration to implement this policy, and to ensure that mature and old-growth forests across the country are protected.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Jane Brown, Chief Legal Counsel, Silvix Resources: “The Forest Service is to be commended that it has proposed to conserve old growth trees and forests through a robust scientific and public engagement process. We look forward to working with the agency to finalize this and other policies that ensure that old growth forests are recruited and stewarded over time and protected for current and future generations.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Sam Evans, Senior Attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center: “Old-growth forests provide a simple, straightforward way to fight climate change, and we are excited about the Forest Service’s critical step toward protecting them. Amending forest management plans, as proposed here, will create consistency around how these incredible tracts of older forests are managed, replacing the current patchwork of local policies that leave many old-growth areas at risk of logging. We hope the administration will move swiftly to implement these added safeguards and begin using old-growth forests to their full climate potential.” [Statement, 12/19/2023]

Marcia Argust, Director, The Pew Charitable Trusts: “Our national forests support abundant habitat for fish and wildlife, robust local economies, and fresh drinking water sources. Old-growth forests are a critical component of healthy and climate-resilient forest landscapes. Previous management choices, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, are stressing many forest ecosystems, challenging the ability of forests to continue providing these important ecosystem services. The Pew Charitable Trusts supports the Forest Service’s pursuit of this generational opportunity to improve our treasured national forests. This proposal adopts a climate-informed approach that will sustain forest health and resilience into the future by aligning management with a modern scientific understanding of forest dynamics and the benefits derived from a robust network of healthy old-growth forests. Work remains to ensure that regionally tailored plans support the development of mature forests into old-growth forests—replacing old forests lost to disturbance events, such as wildfire, and other climate change-induced stressors. We urge the Forest Service to listen to Tribes, local governments, stakeholders, and the public to ensure that the amended plans retain existing old-growth forests, restore the health of degraded old-growth forests, and grow future generations of old-growth forests.” [Statement, 12/19/23]

Eric Holst, Associate Vice President, Environmental Defense Fund: “Environmental Defense Fund applauds the Forest Service for taking this important step to protect America’s old-growth forests. This is the first comprehensive protection policy for old growth forests across all national forest system lands – a critical step in restoring the ecological integrity of these critical national treasures. The proposed forest plan amendment creates a rigorous, science-based process that will both protect old-growth forests and provide flexibility for managers, local communities, and tribal nations to recommend management actions to improve resilience to catastrophic wildfire and other climate change-induced threats.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Philanthropic Leaders

Fred Ackerman-Munson, Executive Director, 444S Foundation: “It is so critical that we protect not just our remaining old growth forests, but also the mature forests that will become old growth forests soon. We applaud the Administration for recognizing the importance of protecting ‘future old growth forests’ in its first of a kind National Forest Plan Amendment proposal. And we are heartened that, in the interim, any logging in old growth forests now must be reviewed and approved before proceeding.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Sam Gill, President and CEO, Doris Duke Foundation: “Safeguarding forest health and resilience in the face of changing climate and conditions, so that they can continue sustaining wildlife, carbon sequestration, water supplies and local economies, is an urgent challenge. We applaud the Biden-Harris Administration’s actions, through the National Old Growth Forest Plan Amendment, to secure our most critical national forest areas and ensure that they are adaptively stewarded for long-term health and resilience through science-based, climate-smart approaches.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Avi Garbow, President, Resources Legacy Fund: “Resources Legacy Fund supports President Biden’s executive order advancing ‘climate smart’ protection of America’s forests. The Administration’s new plan to implement this EO strategically expands the nation’s arsenal in the ongoing battle against climate change and biodiversity loss by conserving mature and old growth trees on US federal lands in California and across the country. This will sequester carbon and protect wildlife, watersheds, and communities. In California, we must pursue this effort through a robust collaboration that includes the state, Tribes, and other stakeholders, to develop science-based forest conservation and restoration strategies that reduce the risks of climate-driven wildfires. RLF looks forward to working with the Biden Administration—including the Interior and Agricultural departments, the US Forest Service, and the Bureau of Land Management—to bring this historic presidential action to fruition.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Birch Beaudet, Executive Director, Wilburforce Foundation: “We applaud the Biden Administration’s recognition of the irreplaceable value of current and future old growth forests to both wild and human communities: clean water, clean air, carbon storage, biodiversity, and essential fish and wildlife habitat, as well as healthy and robust local economies. We are highly supportive of the inclusion of Indigenous Knowledge systems alongside western science as a means to ensure the highest standards of stewardship of our shared natural systems. We look forward to working with the Administration to advance forest and wildlife habitat protections and resilience throughout the West.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Julia Bator, Executive Director, J.M. Kaplan Fund: “The J.M. Kaplan Fund supports the protection of old growth and mature forests as critical agents for carbon sequestration and mitigating climate change. We applaud the Administration for making a commitment to advance this vital work.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Al Jubitz, Founding Director, Jubitz Family Foundation: “I am personally excited that President Biden is moving forward with cataloging and preserving old growth and mature forests on our public lands. Forest Service lands supply drinking water for one in five Americans. Where they remain, old forests protect the headwaters of many streams and rivers. These places provide vital spawning habitat for species like salmon and benefit biodiversity overall. Old Growth Forests are the bedrock of a healthy watershed and serve humans and wildlife alike. Thank you President Biden for moving toward protecting these irreplaceable assets.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

Bill Lazar, Lazar Foundation: “We have dedicated our family Foundation’s assets for decades to protect our prized forests here in the Pacific Northwest. Mature forests are tomorrow’s old growth. To meet our climate goals and to enhance biological diversity, we need to protect these forests so they can benefit humanity in the years to come. I look forward to working with the Administration to protect our mature and old growth forests across the U.S.” [Letter, 12/19/2023]

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