More than 100 "kayaktivists" and community members rally in Eugene, Oregon to protest the Flat Country timber sale. Photo Credit: Fire Plus Bird Films
It has been a big year for the Climate Forests campaign, and we could not have done it without you. Together, we’ve been able to call national attention to nearly 370,000 acres of logging projects that threaten mature and old-growth forests taking place on federally managed lands and made preserving them a priority for the Biden administration. Forest and climate activists alike rallied across the nation - from Alaska to West Virginia - to demonstrate widespread support for protecting these essential trees and forests as a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy. Our work was highlighted more than 100 times in the media, from local to national publications. Every beat of the drum brings us one step closer to securing lasting protection.
Why This Matters
Protecting federal mature and old-growth forests is one of the most straight-forward, impactful, and cost effective ways we can fight climate change. These trees capture and store vast amounts of carbon from our atmosphere, provide critical habitat for imperiled wildlife, and filter clean air and drinking water for communities. With so much of our nation’s old-growth forests lost to past logging, it is imperative that we do all that we can to protect what remains and recover what has been lost by securing a durable rule that would safeguard federal mature and old-growth trees and forests for future generations.
Getting President Biden’s Attention
The Climate Forests Campaign came together this past February to lead the charge in rallying national support for durable protections for our oldest federal forests. Today, more than 120 supporting organizations nationwide representing more than 5 million members and supporters have rallied behind the cause.
Tired of fighting bad timber sale after bad timber sale, the organizations in the Climate Forests campaign are pushing towards strong regulations that would ensure lasting, durable protections that can withstand changing administrations and are not easily undone. On Earth Day, we celebrated as President Biden heard our calls and announced an Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies that recognized the importance of federal mature and old-growth forests in the fight against climate change and called for their protection. The EO was especially meaningful as it acknowledged the importance of conserving mature forests too — those that offer our best chance at recovering the old-growth that has been lost to logging over the last few hundred years. This was a huge step forward.
President Biden’s directive means the Climate Forests campaign has a very real chance at turning the Executive Order into the biggest forest conservation achievement since the 2001 Roadless Rule. It will be difficult to change the culture of the federal agencies that have spent decades cutting these trees down, but there is no better time for action than now.
A Year Of Good Trouble
Following the EO, the US Department of Agriculture (the agency that oversees the Forest Service) released a secretarial memo stating that the “primary threat to old-growth stands on national forests is no longer timber harvesting, but rather catastrophic wildfire and other disturbances resulting from the combination of climate change and past fire exclusion.” It’s notable that USDA very deliberately dropped “mature” from the language, foreshadowing that the agency would try to ignore that part of the EO. Mature forest stands on federal lands have historically been what we call “sacrifice zones” to the timber industry, and are often targets for agressive clearcutting. In the past, the Forest Service and Dept. of Interior have refused to protect mature forests, or even acknowledge their value.
We know that numerous mature and old-growth forests on federal lands across the nation are on the chopping block right now - from the Flat Country timber sale in Oregon’s Willamette National Forest to the Upper Cheat River project of West Virginia, hundreds of thousands of acres are at risk. The language in the secreterial memo indicates the agency’s desire to maintain the status quo, but President Biden’s EO is our opportunity to turn it on its head.
We’ve been pushing back on this narrative and earlier this year, we released our first report, titled “Worth More Standing” that spotlights 240,000 acres of egregious mature and old-growth logging projects on federally managed lands. Close on the heels of news coverage from the report, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management opened a public comment in the Federal Register seeking to define mature and old-growth forests, and identify the best strategy for establishing a national inventory. The comment period, which received over 130,000 comments from the campaign in support of establishing durable protections for these climate and biodiversity havens, will hopefully be a stepping stone towards a real rulemaking process.
Our second report, “America’s Vanishing Climate Forests,” came as a 6-month progress report on how well federal agencies have been implementing the EO to date. We identified an additional 12 logging sales taking place on federal lands across the country, bringing our total to 370,000 acres of federal mature and old-growth forests to be axed.
These reports served as a rallying cry for forest defense groups across the country to band together and collectively call on the Biden Administration to step in. We planted and sowed the seeds that resulted in 7 rallies across the country-in the forests, on the water, and in the streets. More than 100 “kayaktivists” and community members grabbed their kayaks and banners and kicked off a series of forest and climate action in Oregon on the McKenzie River to oppose the Flat Country timber sale, a logging project that threatens the McKenzie watersheds and vital mature and old-growth forests. We supported and empowered other groups to cause some good trouble of their own: in Oregon, Alaska, Montana, West Virginia, New Mexico, and Vermont, hundreds of people participated in a National Week of Forest and Climate Action to raise the pressure ahead of two leading international climate conferences - COP27 and the UN Biodiversity conference.
“We just have to make clear, forests are more valuable when they are preserved than when they are destroyed. It’s that basic.” - President Biden at COP27
What Comes Next
In the coming months, we’ll continue to elevate these carbon-storing giants as being as important as solar panels and wind turbines in the climate fight, and we’ll continue to push for their lasting protection.
We’re working to mobilize activists from every corner of the United States to call on the Biden administration to step in and initiate a rulemaking before these forests are lost for a lifetime. We’re looking forward to the launch of a virtual activist training series to give you all the tools you need to take action for our forests and climate. By Earth Day 2023, the one-year anniversary of President Biden’s Executive Order, we want to make so much noise that we’re impossible to ignore. Together, we will hold the Biden administration accountable to its Earth Day promise. Join us!