Biden administration old-growth forest proposal doesn’t ban logging, but still angers industry

Biden administration old-growth forest proposal doesn't ban logging, but still angers industry  The Associated Press

Biden administration old-growth forest proposal doesn’t ban logging, but still angers industry

Biden administration old-growth forest proposal doesn't ban logging, but still angers industry

The Biden Administration’s Plan to Restrict Logging in Old-Growth Forests

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The Biden administration is advancing its plan to restrict logging within old-growth forests that are increasingly threatened by climate change, with exceptions that include cutting trees to make forests less susceptible to wildfires, according to a U.S. government analysis obtained by The Associated Press.

Analysis Highlights the Importance of Sustainable Development Goals

The analysis, which is expected to be published Friday, shows that officials intend to reject a blanket prohibition on old-growth logging that’s long been sought by some environmentalists. Officials concluded that such a sweeping ban would make it harder to thin forests to better protect communities against wildfires that have grown more severe as the planet has warmed.

“To ensure the longevity of old-growth forests, we’re going to have to take proactive management to protect against wildfire and insects and disease,” Forest Service Deputy Chief Chris French told the AP. Without some thinning allowed on these forests, he said there is a risk of losing more trees.

Concerns from the Timber Industry and Republicans

The exceptions under which logging would be allowed are unlikely to placate the timber industry and Republicans in Congress, who have pushed back against any new restrictions. French asserted that the impacts on timber companies would be minimal.

“There’s so little timber sales that occur right now in old-growth … that the overall effects are very small,” French said.

The U.S. timber industry employs about 860,000 people, which is about 30% fewer than in 2001, according to government data. Much of their work shifted in recent years to timber from private and state lands, after harvests from national forests dropped sharply beginning in the 1990s due to new policies, changing lumber markets and other factors.

Shift in Agency’s Approach and Proposed Changes

The proposed changes on old-growth mark a shift for an agency that has historically promoted logging. They’re expected to be finalized before Democratic President Joe Biden’s term ends in January, and they come after he issued a 2022 executive order that directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to identify old-growth forests across the nation and devise ways to conserve them.

That order touched off a flurry of disagreement over what fits under the definition of old-growth and how those trees should be managed.

The Importance of Old-Growth Forests

Old-growth forests, such as the storied giant sequoia stands of Northern California, have layer upon layer of undisturbed trees and vegetation. There’s wide consensus on the importance of preserving them — both symbolically as marvels of nature, and more practically because their trunks and branches store large amounts of carbon that can be released when forests burn, adding to climate change.

Underlining the urgency of the issue are wildfires that killed thousands of giant sequoias in recent years.

Most old-growth forests across the U.S. were lost to logging as the nation developed over the past few centuries. Yet pockets of ancient trees remain, scattered across the U.S. including in California, the Pacific Northwest and areas of the Rocky Mountains. Larger expanses of old growth survive in Alaska, such as within the Tongass National Forest.

Implications for Old-Growth Timber Harvests

Old-growth timber harvests in the Tongass were limited in 2021 to small commercial sales. Those would no longer occur under the administration’s proposal.

The new analysis follows a separate report on threats to old-growth forests that was finalized last week. It concluded that wildfires, insects and disease have been the main killers of old-growth trees since 2000, accounting for almost 1,400 square miles (3,600 square kilometers) of losses.

By contrast, logging on federal lands cut down about 14 square miles (36 square kilometers) of old-growth forests. That figure has been seized on by timber industry representatives who argue that further restrictions aren’t needed.

Environmentalists’ Call for Stronger Measures

Environmentalists have urged the administration to go even further as they seek to stop logging projects on federal lands in Oregon, South Dakota, Montana, Idaho and other states.

Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society, said the proposal was “a step in the right direction.”

“But it must go further to protect and restore resilient old-growth forests in a way that meets the challenges of the changing climate,” he added.

Government inventories have identified about 50,000 square miles (130,000 square kilometers) of old-growth forests in federal lands across the U.S. and 125,000 square miles (320,000 square kilometers) of mature forests that haven’t yet reached old-growth status. That includes land overseen by the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, which in April adopted a rule intended to put conservation on equal footing with extractive industries such as logging and energy development.

Environmentalists lobbied unsuccessfully for the Forest Service to extend its old-growth logging restrictions to mature forests. That means those forests remain exposed to potential commercial logging, said Blaine Miller McFeeley, of the environmental group EarthJustice.

“If you don’t have protections for mature trees, there will never be a new cohort of old-growth,” he said.

Under former President Donald Trump, federal officials sought to open up huge areas of West Coast forests to potential logging. Federal wildlife officials reversed the move in 2021 after determining that political appointees under Trump relied on faulty science to justify drastically shrinking areas of forest that are considered crucial habitats for the imperiled northern spotted owl.

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Analysis

1. Which SDGs are addressed or connected to the issues highlighted in the article?

  • SDG 13: Climate Action – The article discusses the impact of climate change on old-growth forests and the need to protect them.
  • SDG 15: Life on Land – The article focuses on the preservation and management of old-growth forests, which are important ecosystems.

2. What specific targets under those SDGs can be identified based on the article’s content?

  • SDG 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters – The article highlights the need to protect old-growth forests from wildfires, which have become more severe due to climate change.
  • SDG 15.1: Ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services – The article emphasizes the importance of preserving old-growth forests as vital ecosystems and carbon stores.

3. Are there any indicators mentioned or implied in the article that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets?

  • Indicator for SDG 13.1: Number of hectares of forest protected from wildfires – The article discusses the need to manage old-growth forests to protect them from wildfires, indicating a potential indicator for measuring progress in reducing the vulnerability of these forests to climate-related hazards.
  • Indicator for SDG 15.1: Percentage of old-growth forests conserved – The article mentions the identification of old-growth forests across the U.S., suggesting that monitoring the percentage of these forests conserved could be an indicator of progress in achieving this target.

Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDGs Targets Indicators
SDG 13: Climate Action 13.1 Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters Number of hectares of forest protected from wildfires
SDG 15: Life on Land 15.1 Ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services Percentage of old-growth forests conserved