Groups Applaud Forest Service Proposal to Conserve Old Growth Forests

Groups Applaud Forest Service Proposal to Conserve Old Growth Forests

Conservation Northwest / Dec 19, 2023 / National Forests, Protecting Wildlands

WASHINGTON, D.C. (December 19, 2023) – A group of conservation, sporting, and forest stewardship organizations lauded the U.S. Forest Service for announcing a historic proposal to conserve old-growth forests through proactive, science-based management approaches to address climate change and other threats to these forests. The agency’s proposal seeks to chart a new direction for the National Forest System to meet the many challenges facing our forests. We look forward to working with the Forest Service, Tribes, and other stakeholders to strengthen and refine the proposal through the public process.

Older forests provide crucial wildlife habitat, clean water, carbon sequestration, and priceless social and cultural values. But our forests have been under threat from the effects of climate change magnifying drought, and disease, insect, and fire severity. It is vital that the Forest Service establish a framework of management approaches that is based on ecological integrity and the best available western and Indigenous science and stakeholder involvement. 

“The Forest Service is to be commended that it has proposed to conserve old growth trees and forests through a robust scientific and public engagement process,” said Susan Jane Brown, principal and chief legal counsel with Silvix Resources. “We look forward to working with the agency to finalize this and other policies that ensure that old growth forests are recruited and stewarded over time and protected for current and future generations.”

“Loggers, conservationists, and the federal agencies have fought over old forests for nearly forty years. There’s a long, tumultuous history of lawsuits, log-truck rallies, and tree-sitters. A national plan amendment on old forest policy could finally set aside the acrimony of the past and allow us all to get to work on the critical task of managing forests for the future,” said David Dreher, senior manager for public lands at the National Wildlife Federation. “Old, native forests across the country are essential and irreplaceable habitat for a litany of wildlife and fish. But climate stressors like heat and drought are changing them fast. A national policy that’s flexible and tailored to individual forests will allow the conservation and maintenance necessary for them to persist into the future.” 

“Protecting the nation’s old-growth forests is a vital first step toward mitigating climate change impacts and securing exceptional wildlife habitat,” said Dave Werntz, science and conservation director at Conservation Northwest. “Next steps must include restoring old forest distribution and abundance across the landscape to extend climate and biodiversity values.”

“We are grateful for the Forest Service’s commitment to conserving our old-growth forests using proactive, science-based management,” said Scott Garlid, Executive Director of the Arizona Wildlife Federation. “This is a critical first step in making our forests more resilient against the impacts of wildfires and drought, both of which have severe consequences here in Arizona.”

“Over the last century, we have added numerous threats to old-growth forests including invasive pests, extreme wildfires, and a changing climate,” said Dr. Zander Evans, executive director of the Forest Stewards Guild. “Now we bear the responsibility to steward these critical parts of the ecosystem for the next generation.” 

“America’s oldest forests provide clean water, rich wildlife habitat, and important solutions to the climate crisis. By improving how our carbon-rich forests are managed, President Biden is filling a massive hole in U.S. climate strategy and making good on his promise to conserve America’s lands and waters,” said Drew McConville, senior fellow with the Center for American Progress. “Today’s announcement is a major milestone, but it will take sustained commitment by the Forest Service and its partners to remedy decades of mismanagement, restore at-risk lands, and conserve and re-establish old growth forests across the country.”

“The Pew Charitable Trusts supports the Forest Service’s pursuit of this generational opportunity to improve our treasured national forests,” said Marcia Argust, a director with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ U.S. conservation project. “This proposal adopts a climate-informed approach that will sustain forest health and resilience into the future by aligning management with a modern scientific understanding of forest dynamics and the benefits derived from a robust network of healthy old-growth forests. Work remains to ensure that regionally tailored plans support the development of mature forests into old-growth forests—replacing old forests lost to disturbance events, such as wildfire, and other climate change-induced stressors.”

“Climate change is having a devastating impact on Montana’s forests, watersheds, and wildlife, leading to increased wildfires, droughts, and habitat loss. These changes not only threaten our natural ecosystems but also have dire consequences for our local economies, especially those dependent on agriculture, tourism, and outdoor recreation,” said Frank Szollosi, executive director of Montana Wildlife Federation. “We applaud the Forest Service for taking this important step to ensure our irreplaceable forests are managed in a way to make them – and our communities – more resilient so they can thrive for generations to come.”

“The Forest Service’s proposed nationwide amendment is an important step to proactively conserve old-growth forests so they can do what they do best – store carbon and stabilize ecosystems,” said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. “The Wilderness Society is encouraged by the administration’s efforts to take a science-based approach to safeguard our nation’s forests at a time when they are increasingly threatened by climate change. We look forward to working with the administration to secure a durable policy that conserves the forests we all depend on for healthy communities and landscapes.” 

“Old-growth forests provide a simple, straightforward way to fight climate change, and we are excited about the Forest Service’s critical step toward protecting them,” said Sam Evans, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center and leader of the organization’s National Forests and Parks Program. “Amending forest management plans, as proposed here, will create consistency around how these incredible tracts of older forests are managed, replacing the current patchwork of local policies that leave many old-growth areas at risk of logging. We hope the administration will move swiftly to implement these added safeguards and begin using old-growth forests to their full climate potential.”

“Environmental Defense Fund applauds the Forest Service for taking this important step to protect America’s old-growth forests,” said Eric Holst, a forester and associate vice president for the Environmental Defense Fund. “This is the first comprehensive protection policy for old growth forests across all national forest system lands – a critical step in restoring the ecological integrity of these critical national treasures. The proposed forest plan amendment creates a rigorous, science-based process that will both protect old-growth forests and provide flexibility for managers, local communities, and tribal nations to recommend management actions to improve resilience to catastrophic wildfire and other climate change-induced threats.” 

“Old-growth ecosystems are the heart of our national forests. They are biodiversity strongholds that provide habitat for over 100 threatened and endangered species and serve as vital carbon sinks,” said Lauren McCain, senior federal lands policy analyst at Defenders of Wildlife. “Defenders appreciates the Forest Service recognizing the need for a long-overdue old-growth policy. We look forward to working with the agency to ensure new forest plan direction advances the recovery of the imperiled species dependent on old-growth and mature forests. The climate crisis and biodiversity crisis are interwoven, and we must take every opportunity to develop policies that combat both.”

“Considering the extensive losses of forest habitat due to catastrophic wildfires across New Mexico in recent history, hunters and anglers applaud this announcement,” said Jesse Deubel, executive director of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Future generations of sportsmen and women across our state will benefit from the agency’s commitment to protecting our remaining old growth forests.”




Our northwest national forests, such as the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest photographed here near Bonaparte Mountain, provide critical wildlife habitat, public lands for outdoor recreation, and important revenues for local communities and economies. We must manage them sustainably for the greatest good. Photo: Eric Zamora