Green Groups Urge Biden Administration to Protect Old Growth Forests

Image: Rob Bertholf/Flickr

Environmentalists are urging President Biden to prioritize old-growth forests in his plans to protect 30% of all lands and waters by 2030. Following the Trump administration’s attacks on the Tongass National Forest and a devastating wildfire season in California’s old-growth Sequoia forests, advocates say that restoring and improving protections for these massive carbon sinks is crucial to fighting climate change.

Meanwhile, tree-planting projects are moving forward in some parts of the U.S., where leaders hope to create new, long-lasting carbon sinks.

Why This Matters: In a letter to President Biden, a coalition of environmental groups wrote that “establishing permanent protections for temperate rainforests in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, along with mature federal forests and trees nationwide, will be one of the most cost-effective and essential near-term climate solutions the United States can employ.” 

Old-growth forests, like oceans, sequester billions of tons of carbon each year. 

  • Across the world, deforestation has been rising despite COVID-19, and only 7% of the contiguous United States’ forests remain intact. 
  • The nation’s largest forest, the Tongass, contains 44% of all carbon stored in national forests, but protections rolled back under Trump have yet to be fully restored. 
  • Restoring these protections will not only help fulfill Biden’s 30×30 promise but also aid in reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and cutting 50% of emissions by 2030.

Seeds of Doubt: In October 2020, the Trump administration slashed protections for the Tongass National Forest, opening up 168,000 acres of old-growth forest to logging. Since then, President Biden has ordered a review of the rollback but has yet to reinstate full protections. Advocates worry that without clear direction from the President, the Forest Service will fail to protect these resources on its own. 

Some have gone so far as to urge the government to ban old-growth logging outright. But Forest Service spokeswoman Babete Anderson told HuffPost that “the Forest Service does not have a one-size-fits-all policy to guide management decisions.” Advocates say that until the administration takes concrete steps to protect old-growth forests, they can’t put their trust in its broad promises alone.

Seeds of Change: Meanwhile, leaders in Tucson, AZ, are taking matters into their own hands. Mayor Regina Romero has pledged to plant one million trees by 2030 in a most unlikely place: the semi-arid desert landscape of Arizona. “Climate change waits for no one,” said Romero. “Without a liveable community, we have no Tucson.” 

Romero and experts say that planting widespread vegetation in the city will help cool rising temperatures, which broke the city’s all-time heat records in September 2020. Leaders plan to focus planting efforts in low-income communities of color, which can be 8 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the city’s average. The plan has also been praised for its potential to improve and restore biodiversity, including monarch butterfly habitats. “Velvet mesquite trees, desert ironwood, blue palo verde—there are a number of trees that are very appropriate to plant in the city, are found at these low elevations, and can be sustained just on rainwater,” said Lisa Shipek, executive director of Watershed Management Group in Tucson.

While replanting forests and planting trees within cities is important, protecting old-growth forests is absolutely critical. Mature forests have superior carbon sequestration abilities but need increased protection to protect them from logging and development across the globe.

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