Restoring the World’s Forests Can Prevent Global Chaos

June 18th, 2022 - by Dan Chu / Sierra Club & Andrew Selsky / Associated Press

Protect Our Forests and Save Our Planet

Dan Chu / Sierra Club & Andrew Selsky / Associated Press

(June 15, 2022) — Urgent Forest Protection Measures: Climate change can’t be stopped if we continue to destroy our forests. That means we need to protect the land where mature and old growth trees thrive–and we need you to help make that happen.

Every day that goes by pushes us closer to the 1.5C limit that scientists have warned is the point of no return for climate change. The global community is working to curb carbon emissions dramatically, trying to leave fossil fuels behind and invest in a clean energy future.

But reducing carbon emissions isn’t enough. To have any hope of fighting climate change, we must protect our forests.

Forests — especially mature and old growth trees — are the key to pulling legacy carbon emissions from the atmosphere that have lingered for the last 200 years. The oldest of our nation’s forests can store large amounts of carbon for centuries. But they can’t help us if we continue to destroy our forests and public lands.

We’ve launched a Climate Forests campaign to fight for the preservation of these old-growth forests, alongside our campaigns to curb carbon emissions. We’re working to stop fossil fuel exploration on our public lands and waters by protecting 30% of public lands by 2030. And we’re pushing Congress to fight for communities under threat from climate change and toxic pollution.

How important is protecting forests? Of the human-caused global CO2 emissions since 1870, 26 percent is due to emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

We’ve already lost as much as 95% of primary forests (those that have never been logged) in the United States. And the impact is staggering: One study found that 65% of the carbon from Oregon forests logged over the past 115 years remains in the atmosphere. If New England forests were allowed to grow older, they could store from two to four times the amount of carbon as their current levels.

What’s more, protecting forests isn’t only a carbon issue — it directly impacts communities across the country. In the US, forests are our largest source of drinking water. Mature and old growth forest watersheds protect both drinking water quality and quantity. And bigger, older trees tend to be naturally more resistant to fire.

To fully address the threat of climate change, we must also transform our economy, fully decarbonize the electricity sector, and stop fossil fuel production. But nature has given us a vital tool with old growth forests. It’s up to us to protect them — and all of our public lands

We need to protect old growth forests to get carbon out of the atmosphere and back into our ecosystems, and we need to protect public lands against further exploitation by the fossil fuel industry

Conservation Groups Sue Federal
Government to Protect Old-growth Forests

Andrew Selsky / Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (June 14, 2022) — Six environmental groups sued officials of the Biden administration Tuesday, saying a Trump-era rule change that allowed logging of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest violates federal laws and was politically motivated.

“Large and old trees have outsized ecological and social importance. They provide critical ecosystem functions such as storing carbon, providing wildlife habitat, and maintaining water quality,” the groups said in their lawsuit.

The Trump administration amended a protection that had been in place since 1994 that prohibited the harvesting of trees 21 inches (53 centimeters) or greater in diameter and instead emphasized maintaining a combination of trees, with trees at least 150 years old prioritized for protection and favoring fire-tolerant species.

The area the rule covers is at least 7 million acres, roughly the size of the state of Maryland, on six national forests in eastern Oregon and southeast Washington state, east of the Cascade Range.

In announcing the decision to amend the old-growth protection, which took effect on Jan. 15, 2021, the Trump administration said it would make forests “more resistant and resilient to disturbances like wildfire.”

Ochoco National Forest supervisor Shane Jeffries said the 21-inch rule made it difficult to remove fire-prone species without a lengthy regulatory process.

“We’re looking to create landscapes that withstand and recover more quickly from wildfire, drought and other disturbances,” Jeffries told Oregon Public Broadcasting at the time. “We’re not looking to take every grand fir and white fir out of the forests.”

But the lawsuit said the government’s environmental assessment did not adequately address scientific uncertainty surrounding the effectiveness of thinning, especially thinning large trees, for fire risk reduction. The groups said the thinning and logging of large trees “can actually increase fire severity.”

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Pendleton, Oregon, said there’s overwhelming evidence that large trees play a critical role in maintaining biodiversity and mitigating climate change and that there is a lack of those trees in Eastern Oregon after “more than a century of high-grade logging.”

The US Forest Service said it doesn’t comment on pending or active lawsuits.

The complaint alleges that the government’s decision violated the National Environmental Protection Act and National Forest Management Act.

Plaintiffs are the Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, Central Oregon LandWatch, the Sierra Club, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and WildEarth Guardians.

The groups also notified the defendants of their intent to sue over alleged violations of Endangered Species Act protections for fish and wildlife that depend on older forests. They said the amended policy “opens up the potential for large tree logging across the landscape, including in riparian areas designated as Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas.”

They said the amendment would impact threatened or endangered fish species such as bull trout, steelhead, three types of sucker fish, and chinook and sockeye salmon.

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