Joe Biden

FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Advances Commitment to Protect Old Growth Forests on National Forest System Lands

December 19, 2023

The Biden-Harris Administration is today taking new and historic steps to implement President Biden's direction – issued in his Earth Day 2022 Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation's Forests, Communities, and Local Economies – to conserve and restore America's mature and old growth forests. America's forests are a key climate solution, absorbing carbon dioxide equivalent to more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions. President Biden is leading and delivering on the most ambitious climate agenda in history, including by already protecting more than 26 million acres of lands and waters, and today's actions will build on this historic progress.

Old and mature forests are vital to providing clean water, absorbing carbon pollution, and supplying habitat for wildlife. Today's actions include a first-of-its kind proposal from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to amend all 128 forest land management plans across the country to conserve and restore old-growth forests across the National Forest System. This will provide consistent direction across the Forest Service on how to conserve and restore old-growth forest conditions across the nation, and marks the first time that the Forest Service has adopted a nationwide forest plan amendment to guide new management direction on all national forests at once.

To ensure consistency during the amendment process, proposed management actions in old-growth forests will be governed by an interim policy outlined in more detail in a letter from the deputy chief of the National Forest System to regional foresters.

In addition to updating a nationwide forest plan amendment, the Forest Service is also initiating the process to update the Northwest Forest Plan for climate resilience, including for mature and old forest ecosystems. The Northwest Forest Plan, initiated in 1994, guides the management of certain federally-managed forests in Washington, Oregon, and California. These forests contain roughly one quarter of the remaining old growth on the national forest system in the lower 48 states. This will be the first time since 2007 that the Forest Service has updated its components of the Northwest Forest Plan.

USDA's Forest Service and the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) together manage approximately 32 million acres of old growth and 80 million acres of mature forests on federal lands, for a total of 112 million acres. Today's steps are part of the Biden-Harris Administration's ongoing work to deliver on President Biden's historic climate, conservation, and restoration agenda, including through better informed management decisions and unprecedented investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act.

Whole-of-Government Effort to Safeguard and Steward Our Nation's Forests

Mature and Old Growth Inventory: At the President's direction, the Forest Service and the BLM completed the first-ever nationwide inventory of old and mature forests, and developed definitions for over 200 types of forest types in the United States. Released on Earth Day 2023, this initial inventory report shows that the BLM and Forest Service manage approximately 32 million acres of old growth and 80 million acres of mature forests on federal lands, for a total of 112 million acres. Old-growth forests represent 18% and mature forest another 45% of all forested land managed by the two agencies.

Forest Service Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: The Forest Service issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for National Forest and Grassland Climate Resilience in April 2023 to better inform the stewardship of the national forest system. The Forest Service received 92,000 individual submissions, including 30 petitions with 426,000 signatories, and information received helped to inform the issuance of today's announcement and will be used to continue to inform additional actions in the future.

BLM Proposed Landscape Health and Conservation Rule: The BLM earlier this year published a proposed rule focused on creating and sustaining healthy landscapes to ensure the agency can fulfill its statutory mandates to provide for multiple uses and sustainability. The proposed Landscape Health and Conservation Rule would support the Administration's efforts to ensure forests continue to deliver clean water, clean air, and wildlife habitat. The BLM is reviewing public comments on old and mature forests and considering ways to conserve and restore these forests into the future.

Collaborative Efforts to Conserve Pinyon Juniper: Pinyon and juniper woodlands encompass tens of millions of acres of federal lands across the West, and have significant biodiversity, climate, and cultural values. Pinyon-juniper woodlands are the most abundant forest type in the federally managed inventory of mature and old-growth forests, and are the majority of mature and old-growth forests managed by the BLM. While much management focus has been rightly placed on pinyon-juniper encroachment onto sagebrush ecosystems, less attention has been paid to the importance of mature and old-growth pinyon-juniper ecosystems. The Forest Service and the BLM will co-host a public workshop focused on the conservation of these ecosystems in 2024. Through this effort, the Forest Service and the BLM will engage the public, Tribes, land managers, experts, and stakeholders in informed discussion around management issues, threats, trends, and opportunities for climate-smart management and conservation of mature and old-growth pinyon-juniper woodlands on federal lands.

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law Implementation: As directed by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the Forest Service issued leadership direction to the field on how to integrate mature and old growth forest stewardship and ecological restoration into wildfire mitigation projects. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law provided $5.5 billion to USDA and $1.5 billion to the Department of the Interior for wildfire, forest health, and restoration. The law also directs agencies to fund projects that maximize the retention of large trees and fully maintain or contribute toward the restoration of the structure and composition of old growth stands consistent with the characteristics of that forest type.

Repealing the 2020 Alaska Roadless Rule to Protect the Tongass National Forest: In 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration finalized actions to conserve the Tongass National Forest in Alaska, the world's largest intact temperate rainforest. USDA's final rule restores longstanding roadless protections to 9.37 million acres of roadless areas that support the ecological, economic, and cultural values of Southeastern Alaska.

Reforestation Targets and Assessments: As directed by President Biden's E.O. 14072, USDA and DOI released a joint reforestation report which outlines what is needed to expand reforestation on federal lands to address the nearly 4 million acre Forest Service reforestation backlog and to build the supply chain needed for nursery and seed capacity. In response to feedback from stakeholder engagement, the report recommends conducting climate-smart seed and nursery operations, improving coordination with non-federal partners, leveraging opportunities for innovation with the private sector and building a reforestation workforce with partners like the Conservation Corps. The report also identifies more than 70 million acres of possible reforestation opportunities with state, Tribal and private landowners, providing valuable insight on how existing partnerships and programs could be focused. On federal lands, USDA and DOI set a goal of reforesting more than 2.3 million acres by 2030.

Reporting on Whole-of-Government Approaches to Stop International Deforestation: As directed by E.O. 14072, the U.S. Department of State, USDA and other agencies collaborated on two reports to President Biden on stopping international deforestation:

  • Combating International Deforestation Associated with Agricultural Commodity Production. This report addresses a primary direct driver of global deforestation: the conversion of forests to produce major agriculture commodities. The report discusses a range of approaches, including relevant options for changes in U.S. government policy, foreign assistance programming, and the potential role of public-private partnerships, to end natural forest loss and to restore at least an additional 200 million hectares (almost 495 million acres) of forests and other ecosystems.
  • Reducing International Deforestation Through USG International Programing, Assistance, Finance, Investment, Trade and Trade Promotion. This report provides insights and options on how the U.S. government is addressing and can further address international deforestation and land conversion through a range of instruments such as international programming, assistance, finance investment, trade, and trade promotion.

Urban and Community Forestry Inflation Reduction Act Grants: With urban forests making up 20% of all forests in the United States, urban trees are essential to helping communities access nature and reduce the impacts of climate change. USDA's Urban and Community Forestry Program is the only federal program dedicated to the nation's urban forest resources, reaching more than 140 million acres of urban and community forests across the United States. Understanding the importance of urban forests and trees, the Biden-Harris Administration made a historic investment of $1.5 billion in urban and community forests through the Inflation Reduction Act. In 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced $1.13 billion to provide direct federal support to local communities for urban tree-planting and management through the Urban Community Forestry Program. All of the nearly 400 awards went to disadvantaged communities in line with the President's Justice40 Initiative. Another $250 million in funding was allocated to state and territory forestry agencies. This historic funding will support projects in cities and communities throughout the U.S. to improve public health, increase access to nature, build climate resilience, and deliver tangible economic and ecological benefits.

Joseph R. Biden, FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Advances Commitment to Protect Old Growth Forests on National Forest System Lands Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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