Biden executive order seeks protection of old-growth forests against wildfire

SEATTLE - President Biden is taking action to restore national forests damaged by drought, wildfires and blight. He visited Seattle on Earth Day to sign an executive order to protect some of the country's oldest and largest trees.

Biden executive order seeks protection of old-growth forests against wildfire

Old-growth trees provide important carbon sinks and are critical buffers against climate change. They absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide, as well as other greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming.

Biden's order requires federal land managers to identify and inventory old-growth and mature forests across the country within one year. The Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service are required to identify and inventory threats to older trees such as wildfires and climate change and to develop policies to protect them.

According to the White House, the order does not prohibit the logging of old-growth or mature trees.

Biden signed the order Friday to reaffirm his environmentalist credentials. This comes at a time in which his administration has been preoccupied high gasoline and oil prices after Russia's invasion. While gas costs have been a problem for Biden's popularity, and put pressure on his political standing going into the midterm elections this year, the Democratic president has been focusing on wildfires that are increasing because of climate change.

This measure will protect national forests that have been severely affected by drought, wildfires and blight. It also includes recent fires that decimated thousands of California's giant sequoias. Redwood forests are one of the most efficient in removing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. They also provide habitat for native wildlife, as well as watersheds that provide water to West-based communities and farms.

Earth scientists, tree lovers and land managers around the globe have been alarmed by intense firestorms that can kill trees. These storms are a result of climate change. A warming planet has caused longer and hotter droughts. This combined with centuries of fire suppression has fuelled flames that have extinguished trees from ancient civilizations.

Senior administration officials noted that forests absorb more US annual greenhouse gasses than 10%, and provide flood control, clean air, and habitat for wildlife. Before the order was made public, the official requested anonymity so that details about Biden's order could be discussed.

Biden's ambitious climate agenda was marred by setbacks a year after his election amid a flood of climate-related promises. Last Earth Day, the president hosted a virtual summit about global warming at his White House. The president used this moment to almost double the United States' goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and elevate the country to the forefront of the fight against climate change.

One year later, his most ambitious proposals are still stalled at Capitol Hill, despite repeated warnings by scientists about a dangerous future marked with extreme heat, drought, and weather.

Additionally, Russia's war against Ukraine has reshaped the politics of climate change. This led Biden to open oil from the nation’s strategic reserve and encourage domestic drilling in the hopes of lowering the sky-high gas prices, which are threatening American wallets.

Biden has been raising vehicle fuel economy standards and including green policies in the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year, but his second Earth Day as President casts doubt on his progress.

Nick Smith, a representative of the timber industry, stated that before the order was published, loggers were concerned it would add bureaucracy and complexity to an already complicated forest management system that is unable to cope with climate change-related wildfires.

Smith, a spokesperson for the American Forest Resource Council (an Oregon-based industry group), said that this would undermine the Biden administration’s goal to double the amount of logging.

He stated that the federal government must urgently reduce greenhouse gas emissions from severe wildfires. This can only be done by actively managing federal forests that are unhealthy and overstocked.

Jim Furnish, former U.S. Forest Service Chief said that wildfire risk and climate change could be addressed by removing small trees that can ignite uncontrolled fires while keeping mature trees in place.

Furnish stated that for many years, the Forest Service allowed older trees with higher value to be logged to raise money to remove smaller trees. He said that Congress has approved $5 billion to reduce wildfire risk in the infrastructure bill. The law provides money for 1,500 firefighters to be hired and guarantees that they make at least $15 an hour.

National timber sales have more than doubled in the last 20 years as Republicans and Democrats pushed for more aggressive thinning to reduce small trees and vegetation which fuel wildfires.

Many forest scientists and critics claim that officials allow the removal of older trees that are strong enough to withstand fire.

135 scientists signed a letter requesting that Biden protect old-growth and mature forests as part of a crucial climate solution.

"Older forests have the greatest above-ground carbon storage capacity on Earth. Mature forests and larger trees drive the highest accumulation of forest carbon over the next few decades. The scientists wrote that they are unable to fulfill their vital functions if they are left vulnerable to logging. The letter was signed by Norman Christensen (founding dean and professor emeritus of Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment) and Mike Dombeck, former Forest Service Chief.

The scientists stated that protecting mature forests would also be "an important, highly visible example" for other countries holding large forests to follow in their efforts to address climate change threats.


 

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