Pew Supports Forest Service Initiative to Conserve Old-Growth Forests

Climate-informed management will secure benefits for people and nature

WASHINGTON—The Pew Charitable Trusts expressed its support for the U.S. Forest Service’s announcement today that it is initiating a process to amend how it manages the 193 million-acre National Forest System to conserve old-growth forests.

In the Forest Service’s notice of intent (NOI), the agency affirmed the value of, and threats to, this important forest type, highlighting the need for action. The NOI initiates a 45-day public comment period on the agency’s proposal.

Old-growth forests—distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes, such as a multilayered canopy with canopy gaps, and standing dead and downed trees—store significant amounts of carbon, are home to numerous wildlife species, and contribute to clean drinking water. But despite the many benefits these forests provide to people and to nature, their prevalence and health has diminished because of intensive logging practices and aggressive wildfire suppression. Remaining old-growth stands face continued threats from logging and growing threats from the effects of climate change, such as severe wildfires and insect infestations.

Marcia Argust, a director in Pew’s U.S. conservation program, issued the following statement:

“Our national forests support abundant habitat for fish and wildlife, robust local economies, and fresh drinking water sources. Old-growth forests are a critical component of healthy and climate-resilient forest landscapes. Previous management choices, and changes in temperature and precipitation patterns, are stressing many forest ecosystems, challenging the ability of forests to continue providing these important ecosystem services.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts supports the Forest Service’s pursuit of this generational opportunity to improve our treasured national forests. This proposal adopts a climate-informed approach that will sustain forest health and resilience into the future by aligning management with a modern scientific understanding of forest dynamics and the benefits derived from a robust network of healthy old-growth forests.

“Work remains to ensure that regionally tailored plans support the development of mature forests into old-growth forests—replacing old forests lost to disturbance events, such as wildfire, and other climate change-induced stressors.

“We urge the Forest Service to listen to Tribes, local governments, stakeholders, and the public to ensure that the amended plans retain existing old-growth forests, restore the health of degraded old-growth forests, and grow future generations of old-growth forests.” 

Celebrating its 75th anniversary, The Pew Charitable Trusts uses data to make a difference. Pew addresses the challenges of a changing world by illuminating issues, creating common ground, and advancing ambitious projects that lead to tangible progress.

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On Feb. 2, The Pew Charitable Trusts submitted recommendations to the U.S. Forest Service regarding the conservation and restoration of old-growth forests. After centuries of logging and, more recently, a spate of large and severe wildfires, these ecologically important forests account for less than 17% of the forested lands that the agency manages.

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