Act now to protect old forests for climate resilience and wildlife conservation

Act now to protect old forests for climate resilience and wildlife conservation

Conservation Northwest / Aug 11, 2022 / Action Alert, Forest Field Program, National Forests

Submit comments by August 30 that call for mature and old-growth forest protection


On Earth Day, President Biden issued an executive order directing federal land managers to identify ways to conserve mature and old-growth forests across America. This is a momentous opportunity! A chance for meaningful change! Older forests face an array of threats, from climate change to irresponsible logging. We must speak up for mature and old-growth forest protections.

Old growth trees on the Capitol State Forest near Olympia. Photo: Paula Swedeen

A public comment period is now open to solicit feedback on the first step: how “to define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands.” It is critical to demonstrate strong public support for urgent action to protect mature and old-growth forests and trees permanently.

Washington, the Evergreen state, is world renown for our lovely extensive tracts of mature and old-growth forests which are globally unique in carbon capture and storage. Our older forests are home to a rich array of biological diversity, including fisher, marbled murrelet, and northern spotted owl, providing critical habitat for many rare and iconic species.

Establishing federal protections for mature and old-growth forests will ensure these forests continue to capture and store carbon, sustain plants and animals, and provide clean air and water for life! It would reflect decades of Forest Field Program work to promote ecological resilience in the Cascade, Kettle and Selkirk mountain ranges.


Use your voice to protect our forests! You may copy/paste the letter below into the comment portal . Feel free to customize your comments to make sure the federal agencies hear from you directly.


We need lasting protections for public forests for wildlife conservation and climate resilience.


Sample Comment Letter:

Dear Secretary Vilsack and Secretary Haaland,

Thank you for taking comment on President Biden’s Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies. As you know, protecting our mature and old-growth forests and trees on federal lands represents one of the simplest and most cost-effective climate policies the US can deploy. But time is running short: the climate and biodiversity crises are growing exponentially worse, and there is an urgent need to provide lasting protections for these inordinately valuable forests.

Mature and old-growth refer to stages in forest successional development. Mature forests provide many of the ecological roles as fully functional old-growth, such as storing carbon in large live and dead trees, attenuating flood events, and providing crucial wildlife habitat. Over time, mature forests will recover depleted areas. Scientists estimate less than 1/5 of the region’s mature and old-growth forests survived earlier decades of industrial logging and development.

Mature and old-growth forest definitions must be concise, simple, and inclusive to be operationally effective. The regional policy for the Pacific Northwest defines mature trees as trees 80 or older. Applying this definition more broadly in a protective policy will conserve our most climate and carbon-critical forests. Such forests collectively contain the bulk of the carbon currently stored in federal forests and they continue to sequester carbon at substantial rates. They also provide, across forest types, vital habitat and biodiversity benefits, and important sources of drinking water and clean air for communities.

President Biden’s Executive Order rightly recognized the critical role mature and old-growth forests play as a natural climate solution, and the urgent need to confront the threats forests face. One of the most pressing threats to older forests is federally sanctioned logging, currently underway or under development. Restoration forestry has an important role, but losing more of our mature and old-growth trees and forests to logging that undermines ecological resilience will only make the climate and biodiversity crisis worse.

If we are to do all we can — and must — to limit atmospheric carbon levels and protect remaining critical wildlife habitat, mature and old-growth forest protections must be made durable in a formal rule, so that they will better endure into the future. To ensure a rule is adopted quickly, with an opportunity for robust public engagement and environmental review, it is critical for federal agencies to initiate a rule-making process as soon as possible.

I urge the US Department of Agriculture and US Department of Interior to work together to quickly initiate rulemaking based on a definition of mature forests and trees as 80 years or older and to permanently end the avoidable loss of their critically important carbon, water and wildlife values to irresponsible logging and other threats.


[your name]

Learn more about our Forest Field Program on our website

State forests like this one near the Nooksack River provide habitat for marbled murrelets, fishers, elk, salmon and many other species, as well as opportunities for outdoor recreation. Photo: Chase Gunnell