Press Release

The Missing Link in Biden’s Climate Agenda: Letting Older Trees Grow

Environmental organizations call for a new national forest policy that protects old-growth and mature trees and forests

Anne Hawke

ahawke@nrdc.org(202) 329-1463

WASHINGTON -- A coalition of more than 70 groups launched a new campaign Tuesday called the Climate Forests Campaign. They are calling on the Biden administration to take executive action to protect mature trees and forests on federal lands, which are critical in the fight against climate change. This comes just a year after President Joe Biden signed an executive order, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad, which set out a path to achieve net-zero emissions, economy-wide, by 2050 and to work with partners internationally to put the world on a sustainable climate pathway.

“Trees are the keys to our climate future.  And none more so than the older trees of America’s public lands,” said Garett Rose, Staff Attorney for the Nature program at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “If we’re going to succeed in the fight against catastrophic climate change, we can’t log these trees.  We must protect the essential elders that can help America store vast quantities of carbon naturally.”

Members of the coalition include Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice, Environment America, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Oregon Wild, Standing Trees, Sierra Club, Southern Environmental Law Center, and Wild Heritage.

This month marks the 117th anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service. For more than a century, the agency has focused much of its resources on logging and timber sales. The campaign is calling on the Biden administration to kick off a new era of climate and forest policy that values trees and forests as key pieces of the climate solution.

Forests—particularly older forests—store vast amounts of carbon and continue absorbing carbon as they age. Logging trees in these areas releases most of that carbon back into the atmosphere. Even under the best-case scenario, newly planted forests would not re-absorb this carbon for decades or centuries – timescales irrelevant to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. Older trees and forests are also naturally more fire resistant.  And they help limit the impacts of climate change by slowing soil erosion and moderating temperatures.

Carbon-absorbing older forests are also the best habitat for thousands of species of wildlife, including spotted owls, red-cockaded woodpeckers, and pine martens.

The last comprehensive federal policy to protect national forests, the Roadless Rule, was enacted in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. The Rule was adopted to protect nearly 60 million acres of designated “roadless areas” from logging and road-building, safeguarding significant stands of remaining old growth. Though these areas act as a critical carbon sink, most older trees on federal land lie outside of roadless areas. Scientists and environmental groups say we have to get all our public forests into the climate fight, and do it now.

"Older forests on federal lands drawdown massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide, serving as a natural climate solution” said Wild Heritage Chief Scientist Dr. Dominick DellaSala.  “The science is clear-cut, we cannot get out of the climate and biodiversity global emergencies without protecting these vestiges of our natural biological inheritance. Doing so would position the U.S. as a global leader that is serious about the president's pledge at the COP 26 climate summit to end global forest losses whether in the Amazon or here at home."

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The Climate Forest Campaign works to protect mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging across America's public lands as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change.

Environment America is a nonprofit organization that protects the places Americans love and promotes the core environmental values its people share.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at http://www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC

Oregon Wild protects and restores Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for future generations, and is committed to elevating the needs of climate impacted communities and underrepresented voices.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action.

Standing Trees works to protect and restore forests on New England’s public lands. Based in Montpelier, Vermont, Standing Trees is the only regional organization focused on rewilding the Green Mountain (Vermont) and White Mountain (New Hampshire) National Forests. 

The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of the nation’s most powerful defenders of the environment, rooted in the South. With a long track record, SELC takes on the toughest environmental challenges in court, in government, and in our communities to protect our region’s air, water, climate, wildlife, lands, and people. Nonprofit and nonpartisan, the organization has a staff of 170, including 90 attorneys, and is headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., with offices in Asheville, Atlanta, Birmingham, Chapel Hill, Charleston, Nashville, Richmond, and Washington, D.C.

Wild Heritage, a project of Earth Island Institute, works with scientists and indigenous groups around the world in protecting primary (unlogged) forests and restoring degraded areas.

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