MISSOULA, Mont. – Federal agencies are targeting mature and old-growth forests for logging despite these trees’ extraordinary ability to curb climate change and President Joe Biden’s directive to preserve them, according to a new report spotlighting the 10 worst logging projects in federal forests across the country. One of the projects highlighted in Montana, the “Black Ram Project” in the Kootenai National Forest threatens old-growth forests and endangered species in Yaak River Valley. The area contains Western larch estimated to be 600 years old.
In its report released on Tuesday, Worth More Standing, the Climate Forests coalition details federal logging proposals targeting nearly a quarter of a million acres of old-growth and mature forests overseen by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. The report outlines “a pervasive pattern of federal forest mismanagement that routinely sidesteps science to turn carbon-storing giants into lumber” and calls on the Biden administration to pass a permanent rule to protect these big old trees.
“This should be simple. Just don’t log the trees and forests we need to fight climate change. They’re worth more to us standing than they are as timber,” said Ellen Montgomery, public lands campaign director with Environment Montana. “Logging releases carbon, destroys habitat and it takes hundreds of years for forests and trees to grow back. The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are happening now. We must act quickly to protect our most valuable resources in the climate fight, our old and mature trees.”
“The best way to protect these carbon-storing giants is to let them grow, but our federal agencies keep turning them into lumber,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Biden administration can help curb climate change by permanently protecting mature and old growth trees. It takes centuries to make up for the carbon lost when these trees are chopped down and we don’t have that kind of time.”
Mature and old-growth forests hold enormous amounts of carbon. Preserving old-growth and mature forests is a meaningful, cost-effective measure the Biden administration can take immediately to mitigate climate change. In April, Biden issued an Earth Day executive order directing an inventory of old forests and policies to protect them.
“Without a federal rule in place to restrict logging of these critical forest tracts, these mature and old-growth trees could be lost, along with the opportunity to make significant progress toward addressing climate change,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, senior legislative representative at Earthjustice.
Also today, more than 100 groups sent a letter to the U.S. Agriculture and Interior departments requesting permanent protections for mature and old-growth trees and forests across federal lands, while allowing for necessary measures to reduce wildfire risk. Large, older trees are more resistant to wildfires and studies show logging them doesn’t reduce the risk of climate change-driven fires.
“This report highlights what we have -- but also what we stand to lose,” said Alex Craven, senior campaign representative at the Sierra Club. “Our old and mature growths are a natural climate solution, and we must protect these trees if we wish to tackle the intersecting climate and biodiversity crises.”
Scientists have pointed to forest preservation as one of the most effective ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. U.S. federal forests sequester 35 million metric tons of carbon annually, a number that could rise steadily with new conservation measures.
Beyond addressing climate change, protecting older forests also safeguards clean water, clean air, wildlife habitat, biodiversity and recreation opportunities.