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Biden’s new policy aims to safeguard America’s ancient trees in national forests from logging.

The Biden administration announced a groundbreaking proposal to protect old-growth trees in America's national forests. This initiative, spearheaded by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, marks the first time the U.S. Forest Service plans to revise all 128 of its forest management strategies simultaneously. The policy primarily focuses on banning the economic-driven logging of old-growth trees, which are typically over 100 years old and crucial for carbon storage, wildlife habitat, and wildfire resilience.

Vilsack emphasized the significance of this move in safeguarding not only the forests but also the cultural and heritage values they represent. The proposal also includes ongoing monitoring of old-growth forests across the nation and tracking protection efforts. Stemming from an executive order by President Biden, this plan responds to the discovery that over 32 million acres of old-growth forests remain on public lands, constituting about 18% of forests managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

While the proposal is a significant stride in conservation, it does not completely prohibit logging in old-growth areas. The Forest Service, led by Deputy Chief Chris French, clarified that certain forest treatments like thinning of understory trees will continue in these regions to mitigate wildfire risks. In the Southeast, efforts to restore longleaf pine forests may involve cutting down large, older loblolly pines.

“We think this will allow us to respond effectively and strategically to the biggest threats that face old growth,” Vilsack said, listing wildfire, disease and pests as challenges. “At the end of the day it will protect not just the forests, but also the culture and heritage connected to the forests.”

The conservation community has largely praised the proposal, viewing it as a critical step in preserving old-growth forests amidst threats from climate change, wildfires, and logging. However, there were calls for further protections, particularly for mature trees that could evolve into old-growth forests. The Forest Service acknowledged this concern but indicated that such policies might be years away.

The timber industry, represented by voices like Bill Imbergamo of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, criticized the plan. They argue that logging is vital for economic reasons and for reducing fire danger. Imbergamo described the proposal as counterproductive to forest management and fire prevention efforts.

According to The Washington Post, environmental advocates also express concerns about the longevity of this policy, which is subject to change by future administrations. The finalization of the policy, pending an environmental-impact statement due in early 2025, leaves its ultimate impact uncertain. Chris Wood, president of Trout Unlimited, acknowledged the significance of the proposal but wished for an earlier and more robust rulemaking process.

The new policy's effect on planned timber sales, some involving mature and old-growth forests, remains unclear. French's directive to forest managers indicates that any activities planned for old-growth areas will now require additional review and approval, signaling a shift in forest management practices.

Eunice is a sustainability writer whose passion is sharing accessible eco-friendly practices with GreenCitizen's global readership. She enjoys birdwatching during her downtime, often deriving inspiration from nature's resilience. An enthusiastic cyclist, she is also an ardent advocate of eco-friendly transport.

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