Environmental groups urge Biden administration to stop logging mature forests on national lands

The Telephone Gap project area. Photo courtesy of Zack Porter

Environmental groups across the country are urging the Biden administration to ban logging of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands. The coalition, called Climate Forests, pointed to a Vermont project with thousands of acres of proposed logging as an example of activity they are trying to stop.

Ancient forests are environmental and climate assets, sequestering carbon, providing safe havens for biodiversity, and making natural and human communities more resilient to climate change.

Over the past few years, the “forever wild” movement has gained traction in Vermont. New organizations such as the Northeast Wilderness Trust and Standing Trees have advocated passive regeneration and actively protected thousands of acres, although only about 3% of Vermont’s forests are passively managed.

According to the state Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation, less than 1% of Vermont’s forests have achieved old-growth status.

The coalition, which is made up of 70 groups from across the country, argues that the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service should not only protect the country’s oldest forests, but that protections should also extend to maturing forests so that they can eventually grow old.

So what is a mature forest? Niel Lawrence, senior counsel for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the Biden administration should develop a definition through “a very robust public process, fully informed by environmental review.”

“I think a starting point would be to look at trees 80 years and older,” he said, but the definition would likely change for various ecosystems across the country.

European settlers clearcut large portions of the Vermont landscape during the 18th and 19th centuries for cultivation. Many of those fields were abandoned about 80 years ago, said Jeff Tilley, forestry program manager for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest sections of the US Forest Service.

If a policy covered forests 80 years and older, “it would be most forests in the Northeast,” Tilley said.

“It could be a game-changer, a paradigm shift in public land management here in New England, and put a significant amount of our forests on the path to reclaiming old-growth, the natural forests that were once here,” Zack said. Porter, director of Standing Trees.

Telephone gap

Green Mountain National Forest covers more than 400,000 acres in southwestern and central Vermont. Tilley says logging in those acres is minimal, representing a fraction of 1% of the forests, but the Forest Service has tried to increase the amount of logging after a lull in the early 2000s. logging in the state takes place on private land, according to a U.S. Forest Service calculator.

One of the Forest Service’s proposals, the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project, has drawn protest from environmental activists.

The project, located on 72,253 acres of public and private land located in Chittenden and surrounding towns in Rutland County, will include a number of activities such as an expansion of recreational opportunities and management that will promote biodiversity. More than 32,000 of those acres are within the National Forest System.

But the Forest Service may open up to 11,000 acres of the project area to logging, according to a landscape assessment of the project.

“On suitable land, those available for commercial timber harvesting, 85% of the forest is over 80 years old,” the assessment says. Fifty-five percent of the forest is over 100 years old.

The project is still in its early stages, and Tilley said any proposed logging action would go through an environmental scan with opportunities for public comment.

The United States Forest Service and proponents of the forever wild movement have markedly different views on the impacts of logging. Lawrence of the Natural Resources Defense Council said forests in the northeast are still recovering from the large-scale clear-cutting that took place when Europeans settled Vermont.

“The Telephone Gap project, incredibly, targets several thousand acres of federally owned forests in Vermont that are doing the best job of reclaiming these essential public services and would bring them back decades and possibly centuries,” it said. -he declares.

Tilley said selective logging is used, in part, to make forests more welcoming to species at risk.

He pointed to a 2021 paper by researchers at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources that lists the trade-offs. Forests, according to the paper, “represent an essential natural climate solution, given their formidable ability to sequester and store carbon.”

“And yet, in some forest and woodland ecosystems, including the Northeast and Great Lakes regions of the United States, strategies to keep carbon below ground do not always match the provision of critical habitat. species at risk,” the document says.

For example, some migratory bird species have come to depend on Vermont’s open areas, according to the newspaper. Their decline “can be attributed, in part, to maturing forests across much of the northeast.” Management decisions must be made with empirical data at the tree stand level, the document says.

Meanwhile, environmental activists say forests are generally more resilient when left alone.

“In 2022, the greatest good for the greatest number is to help our society, our country meet the challenges of climate change and extinction,” Porter said. “Recovering New England’s natural forests should be our top priority on our public lands.”

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