Biden Administration Commits To Protecting Old-Growth Forests

Tongass National Forest USDA Forest Service photo by Sheila Spores.

In the last couple years, the Biden administration had committed to protecting the massive Southeast Alaska Tongass National Forest, which earlier this year came to fruition with the reinstatement of the Roadless Rule that would prohibit large-scale logging in the Tongass.

Now, the White House has introduced legislation to protect all old-growth forests across the nation. From the White House’s press release on the proposal:

The Biden-Harris Administration is today taking new and historic steps to implement President Biden’s direction – issued in his Earth Day 2022 Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies – 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. President Biden is leading and delivering on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, including by already protecting more than 26 million acres of lands and waters, and today’s actions will build on this historic progress.

Old and mature forests are vital to providing clean water, absorbing carbon pollution, and supplying habitat for wildlife. Today’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 will provide consistent direction across the Forest Service on how to conserve and restore old-growth forest conditions across the nation, and marks the first time that the Forest Service has adopted a nationwide forest plan amendment to guide new management direction on all national forests at once.

To ensure consistency during the amendment process, proposed management actions in old-growth forests will be governed by an interim policy outlined in more detail in a letter from the deputy chief of the National Forest System to regional foresters.

In recapping a list of policies in recent years, the press release pointed out the restoration of Roadless Rule protections for the Tongass, America’s largest national forest:

Repealing the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule to Protect the Tongass National Forest: In 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration finalized actions to conserve the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. USDA’s final rule restores longstanding roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Southeastern Alaska.

Here’s some reaction from Earthjustice:

Earthjustice applauds proposal that would safeguard old-growth trees from threats like commercial logging; calls on Forest Service also to initiate action to protect mature forests

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Biden administration today initiated a process to adopt protection for old-growth trees on federal forestlands across the United States. The Forest Service proposed to adopt a national plan for forest management to include protections for old-growth trees within the National Forest System against threats like commercial logging through a nationwide forest plan amendment.

The tree protections could bolster U.S. efforts to address the climate crisis and reduce biodiversity loss by helping keep ecosystems intact and storing vast amounts of carbon in the ground. In fact, according to the Forest Service, carbon stored in old-growth trees aids “the long-term carbon storage, stability, and resiliency of forest carbon” across the National Forest System.

The new proposal represents a significant next step in response to President Biden’s Executive Order directing federal agencies to protect mature and old-growth forests for the benefit of the climate and biodiversity. Old-growth forests are very rare across the National Forest System; in some states, none is left. Protecting these trees is a critical step forward. Today’s action sets the stage for next steps that will provide protection for mature trees, which exist in much greater numbers across the 193 million acres of federal forestlands in the U.S.

In response to today’s announcement, senior legislative representative Blaine Miller-McFeeley said:

“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.”


In April 2022, President Biden issued a historic Executive Order directing federal agencies to protect mature and old-growth forests for the benefit of the climate and biodiversity. 

This spring, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) moved closer to protecting mature and old-growth trees and forests from logging as a part of a new, wide-ranging proposed rule.

Then, the Forest Service announced a pathway for protecting MOG trees and forests. Additionally, BLM and the Forest Service released an inventory of MOG forests, the first of its kind

In response, more than half a million people from around the country delivered comments to the Forest Service calling for both mature and old-growth forests to be protected against logging on federal lands.