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TAKE ACTION: Speak out by Friday Feb 2nd for mature and old-growth forests on federal public lands

Updated: Mar 21

The US Forest Service is proposing sweeping updates to old-growth forest management across the US. The trouble is, the proposal could weaken old-growth protections in many locations, and leaves out protections for future old-growth forests. Please take action today!

A hiker looks at an old-growth tree in the Green Mountain National Forest.
A hiker takes in a monumental maple in a rare old-growth portion of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Ready to submit your comment?

Old growth on the rocks

Just before the holidays, the US Forest Service announced the most significant proposed change to national land management policy since the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule. The agency's proposal is a response to two years of advocacy by the Climate Forests Coalition and forest activists across the US. But after careful analysis, does it measure up to the promise or the requirements of President Biden's Executive Order 14072? The answer is: no.

Fall foliage in a mature forest in the Green Mountain National Forest
Mature forest in the Telephone IRP project area in Vermont's Green Mountain National Forest.

On Earth Day of 2022, President Biden directed the US Forest Service to "manage forests on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development."

On December 20th, 2023, the US Forest Service announced its intention to amend every National Forest management plan across the US using a "nationwide forest plan amendment," the first such action in the agency's history. But the agency's proposal fails to honor the President's orders, jeopardizing the carbon, resilience, biodiversity, and cultural values of mature and old-growth forests.

Missing the forest for the trees

The US Forest Service's old-growth policy proposal misses the mark in two main ways:

1. It creates conditions for more logging of old-growth trees and stands in New England's National Forests, not less. The Forest Service is proposing that, so long as commercial timber harvest is not the primary rationale for a logging project, old-growth forests are fair game for cutting as long as they can create an ecological justification. As we and our partners have experienced time and time again, the Forest Service rarely - if ever - cites commercial timber harvest as a primary rationale for logging, and it has no problem manufacturing faux-scientific reasons to conduct harvests in even the most sensitive locations. Old-growth forests in the Northeast US are at greater risk from the impacts of logging than they are from climate change, insects, and disease. The state of Massachusetts recently released its Report of the Climate Forestry Committee: Recommendations for Climate-Oriented Forest Management Guidelines. The committee was composed of foresters, ecologists, and scientists from the private sector, NGOs, and state government. Here are some highlights from their report:

  • "The Committee found no ecological rationale for salvage harvesting and noted that it usually represents a short term (10-20 year) carbon loss to the atmosphere in comparison to leaving the wood to decay" [emphasis added] (p. 6).

  • "The Committee strongly agreed that ecological disturbances, even when they are more frequent and intense due to human activity, are an important and necessary aspect of forest ecosystems as they serve to increase the structural and compositional complexity and dead wood that are often lacking in Massachusetts’ forests because of the region’s land-use history" (p. 30).

  • "The Committee was deeply skeptical of pre-salvage harvesting (removal before trees are affected by a pest or pathogen) and the notion that it is ecologically beneficial" [emphasis added] (p. 31).

And yet, the Forest Service is proposing to give itself leeway to do exactly the type of salvage logging that the experts behind the Massachusetts report argue is ecologically unjustifiable.

2. The proposal includes no substantive restrictions on mature forest logging, meaning the Forest Service will continue to heavily log the nation's future old-growth forests. Old-growth forests historically dominated New England's landscape prior to European arrival, but today they are nearly absent, comprising less than one-tenth of one percent of the region's land area. One of the most rigorous attempts at quantifying old-growth forests in the Eastern US calculated that 83.7% of what remains in the Northeast is located on state and federal public land. Mature forests, or "future old-growth," is also more abundant on public land than on private land across the Northeast. In recent years, logging has increased dramatically in state and federal forests around New England to remove timber at its maximum economic value, which corresponds with the threshold of forest maturity, typically when stands are in the range of 80-150 years old. This also happens to be the age of a significant percentage of the forest managed by the US Forest Service in the Green and White Mountain National Forests. The Forest Service's policy proposal provides no protection for mature forests, including much of the land targeted for logging in the Telephone Gap, Lake Tarleton, Sandwich Range, and other projects that Standing Trees is working to stop.

Take action by Friday, Feburary 2nd.

Now is your chance to make your voice heard! The Forest Service will continue to review this proposal throughout 2024, and will offer various "alternatives" for public consideration by this summer. Take action today:

An old-growth area in the Green Mountain National Forest.
An old-growth area in the Green Mountain National Forest.

Add to your comment by highlighting the following points:

  • Prior to European settlement, old-growth forests blanketed New England. Today, less than one-tenth of one percent of New England forests are old-growth, perhaps the lowest percentage of any forested region of the United States.

  • One of the most rigorous attempts at quantifying old-growth forests in the Eastern US calculated that 83.7% of what remains in the Northeast is located on state and federal public land.

  • Considering how little old-growth forest remains, and its exceptional ecological and cultural value, all existing old-growth should be strictly protected from cutting and logging. There is no ecological justification for active interventions in old-growth forests. The White Mountain NF 2005 Forest Plan Forest-Wide Management Direction states: "S-3  Timber harvest is prohibited in old growth forest." We appreciate that the proposed changes will not directly weaken this standard, but we are concerned about the precedent that these changes will set. Please remove any and all exceptions for logging in old-growth. 

  • In order to ensure the recovery of old-growth forests at a meaningful scale, for the benefit of the climate, biodiversity, flood and drought mitigation, and water quality, the US Forest Service must take action to protect future old-growth forests - or "mature forests" - on lands such as the White and Green Mountain National Forests. One easy step the Forest Service should take is to halt logging of lands classified as "mature" or "old" in White Mountain National Forest Management Area 2.1, including lands targeted for logging in the Sandwich Vegetation Management Project, Tarleton Integrated Resource Project, and other similar projects.

  • To meet the intent of President Biden's Executive Order 14072, the Forest Service should promulgate a rule that protects all existing mature and old-growth forests for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.

Thanks for taking action for mature and old-growth forests!


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