On Earth Day, Biden will sign an ordinance to protect ancient forests from wildfires

SEATTLE (AP) — President Joe Biden is taking action to restore national forests that have been devastated by wildfires, drought and blight, using an Earth Day visit to Seattle to sign an executive order protecting some of the tallest and oldest trees in the country.

Ancient trees are key buffers against climate change and provide crucial carbon sinks that absorb significant amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Biden’s order directs federal land managers to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within one year. The order requires the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service to identify threats to older trees, such as wildfires and climate change, and develop policies to protect them. .
The ordinance does not prohibit the logging of mature or old trees, the White House said.

By signing the order on Friday, Biden can publicly reaffirm his environmental credentials at a time when his administration is concerned about high oil and gasoline prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas costs have weighed on Biden’s popularity and created short-term political pressure ahead of this year’s midterm elections, but the Democratic president has focused on the escalating wildfires due to the climate change.

The measure is intended to protect national forests that have been severely damaged by wildfires, drought and scorch, including recent fires that killed thousands of giant sequoias in California. Redwood forests are among the most efficient in the world at removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provide critical habitat for native wildlife and watersheds that feed farms and communities in the West.

Fires so intense they are killing trees once considered virtually non-combustible have alarmed land managers, conservationists and tree lovers around the world – and demonstrated the severe impacts of climate change. A warming planet that created longer and hotter droughts, combined with a century of fire suppression that choked forests with thick undergrowth, fueled the flames that extinguished trees dating back to ancient civilizations.

A senior administration official noted that forests absorb more than 10% of the United States’ annual greenhouse gases, while also providing flood control, clean water, clean air and a refuge for wildlife. The official insisted on anonymity to discuss details of Biden’s order before it was made public.

Biden’s ambitious climate agenda has been marred by setbacks, a year after he took office amid a flurry of climate-related pledges. The president hosted a virtual summit on global warming at the White House on the final Earth Day. He used the opportunity to nearly double the United States’ target for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, propelling the country to the forefront in the fight against climate change.

A year later, his most radical proposals remain stuck on Capitol Hill despite renewed warnings from scientists that the world is hurtling towards a dangerous future marked by extreme heat, drought and weather.

In addition, Russia’s war in Ukraine has reshuffled climate change policy, leading Biden to release oil from the country’s strategic reserve and encourage more domestic drilling in hopes of bringing down exorbitant gas prices that empty American wallets.

As Biden raises fuel economy standards for vehicles and included green policies in last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law, the lack of bigger progress casts a shadow over his second Earth Day. as president.

Timber industry representative Nick Smith said before the order was made public that loggers feared it would add more bureaucracy to a forest management framework already unable to cope with the blazes of growing forest due to climate change.

It would undermine the Biden administration’s goal of doubling the amount of logging and controlled burns over the next decade to thin out forests in the Dry West, said American Forest spokesperson Smith. Resource Council, an Oregon-based industry group.

“There is an urgent need for the federal government to reduce massive greenhouse gas emissions from severe wildfires, which can only be accomplished by actively managing our unhealthy and overgrown federal forests,” he said. declared.

But former US Forest Service deputy chief Jim Furnish said wildfire risks and climate change would be best addressed by removing small trees that can fuel out-of-control fires, while leaving mature trees in square.

For many years, the Forest Service allowed the felling of older trees that are worth more, to bring in money for the removal of smaller trees, Furnish said. But that’s no longer necessary after Congress approved more than $5 billion to reduce wildfire risk in last year’s infrastructure bill, he said. The law includes money to hire 1,500 firefighters and ensure they earn at least $15 an hour.

Sales of lumber from federal forests nationwide have more than doubled in the past 20 years as Republicans and Democrats have pushed for more aggressive stand thinning to reduce small trees and vegetation that sustain forest fires.

Critics, including many forestry scientists, say authorities are allowing the removal of too many older trees that can withstand the fire.

A letter signed by 135 scientists called on Biden to protect mature and old-growth forests as an essential climate solution.

“Older forests offer the greatest potential for above-ground carbon storage on Earth, with mature forests and tall trees leading to the greatest accumulation of forest carbon over the next critical decades. Left vulnerable to logging, however, they cannot perform these vital functions,” the scientists wrote Thursday. Former Forest Service chief Mike Dombeck and Norman Christensen, founding dean and professor emeritus of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, were among the signatories to the letter.

Protecting mature forests “would also set an important and highly visible example for other major forest-holding countries to follow in tackling the threats of climate change,” the scientists wrote.


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