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Protecting Old Growth Forests

Sara Giretto

Old growth forests are forests made up primarily of large, old trees which are both living and dead. There are different ways of determining what qualifies as an old growth forest, such as forests with a lack of human disturbance (pre-colonization) or by a minimum tree age of around 150 years. These forests take an incredibly long time to develop, meaning their disturbance or clear cutting destroys hundreds of years of work for the trees to grow and for ecosystems to develop. Furthermore, old growth forests play essential roles in nature, such as providing habitat for diverse species, participating in hydrological and nutrient cycling systems, and storing large amounts of carbon. Despite this, old growth forests have been drastically cut down, which is still occurring to this day. However, there is now a U.S. executive order that may help to protect these important forests.

On Earth Day April 22nd, 2022, President Joe Biden made Executive Order 14072, which updates the administration's forestry policies in order to conserve, protect, and strengthen remaining U.S old growth and mature forests, especially on federal lands. Section 1 of this order outlines the important ecosystem services that old growth forests provide, and identifies some of the major natural threats to them, which are: climate impacts, catastrophic wildfires, insect infestation, and disease. With these in mind, the order established a need for sustainable and science-based forest management, conservation efforts, investments in forest health and restoration, support of indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and practices, honoring of Tribal treaty rights, and deploying climate-smart forestry practices to improve the resilience of old growth and mature forests. Indigenous acknowledgment in this section is noteworthy since forests have much significance to many indigenous communities and historically they have employed successful forest management techniques that help conserve and strengthen forests. Section 2 of the order addresses conserving and restoring old growth forests, particularly by ordering wildfire mitigation strategies, performing an inventory of remaining old growth forests, seed and cone collection plans for sustainable reforestation, and job development for the sustainable forest management job sector.

Section 3 addresses the major issue of deforestation and logging, which is important since this is the largest threat to old growth and mature forests today. Actions proposed to combat illegal deforestation include limiting or removing commodities grown on deforested lands to discourage land clearing, discouraging purchases of these commodities and incentivizing sustainably produced agricultural commodities, addressing international deforestation encouraged by trade agreements, and assessing options of foreign assistance to help threatened forest communities transition to more sustainable and economically feasible practices. Finally, Section 4 emphasizes nature-based solutions moving forward regarding old growth forest management. Nature-based solutions include sustainable planning, design, environmental management, and engineering practices that incorporate natural processes into development. Overall, this order gave many a sense of hope that old growth forest loss would finally be addressed at the federal level.

Since this order was issued, there have been some noteworthy updates on the protection of old growth forests. To start, the first-ever national inventory of old growth forests on federal land identified 175,000 square miles of old growth and mature forests on U.S. government land, which was more than originally estimated by experts. Furthermore, the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management began working on developing policies to protect old growth forests and promote resiliency of threats, which started in a rulemaking process with a public comment period to gather input on future policies. This public comment period ended for the U.S. Forest Service in the beginning of July, with more than 330,000 members of the public demanding the protection of old growth forests and supporting President Biden’s order. Overall, this executive order has added momentum in the fight to protect old growth forests in the United States, and as more attention is being paid to this cause, more policies and research can be dedicated to conserving these incredibly vital ecosystems.


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  4. Biden, Joseph, “Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies.” The White House, 4/22/22,

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  9. Brown, Matthew, “US Inventory: Old Forests Cover Area Larger Than California.” The Associated Press, 4/20/23,

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  11. Chiappinelli, Jackson, “More Than 330,000 People Call on the Bureau of Land Management to Protect Mature and Old Growth Forests.” EarthJustice, 7/5/23,

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