Huffman, Matsui, Sarbanes Lead Effort to Protect Old Growth Forests

April 12, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Representatives Jared Huffman (CA-02), Doris Matsui (CA-07), and John Sarbanes (MD-03) led a group of 28 lawmakers in sending a letter to Secretaries Tom Vilsack and Deb Haaland, urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of the Interior (DOI) to undertake a formal rulemaking to protect mature and old-growth forests.

“Mature and old-growth trees play an outsized role in carbon sequestration and storage and provide a host of related benefits, including water quality, recreation, and overall ecosystem integrity,” wrote the lawmakers. 

In April 2022, President Biden issued Executive Order 14072, recognizing mature and old-growth forests as vital to the health, prosperity, and resilience of communities across the nation. Mature and old-growth trees absorb and store more greenhouse gases than younger trees and are home to greater biodiversity, making them essential to our climate and conservation goals.

In light of this, Executive Order 14072 directed USDA and DOI to define, identify, and complete an inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands by April 22, 2023. However, the Executive Order did not direct USDA and DOI to initiate a formal rulemaking to provide durable protections. 

“We strongly urge you to initiate a formal rulemaking to ensure these crucial actions are not easily overturned in the future.” the lawmakers continued. “And while your agencies work to implement E.O. 14072 and finalize the rulemaking process, we ask that you issue interim guidance as soon as possible to protect against the further loss of existing mature and old-growth forests. These actions are key to accomplishing the Administration’s commitments to protecting our climate and biodiversity and to position the U.S. as an international leader in nature-based solutions.”

The letter has the support of environmental leaders and stakeholders:

“Ecologically intact older forests have a myriad of benefits, with one being increased resilience to climate stressors like wildfire and drought,” said Josh Hicks, Senior Campaign Manager, National Forests Campaign, The Wilderness Society. “Therefore, a policy that retains, restores, and recruits increased old-growth forests is one of the best ways to fight against the increased, uncharacteristic wildfires we’ve seen over the past several years. We are so appreciative of Representatives Matsui, Huffman, and Sarbanes for elevating this important issue.”

“From coast to coast, a diverse coalition of stakeholders is calling on the federal government to protect mature and old growths forests from the myriad threats they face, including wildfires, climate change, and reckless logging,” said Blaine Miller-McFeeley, Senior Legislative Representative, Earthjustice. “Protecting and restoring these ecosystems is one of the best nature-based solutions we have for fighting climate change and should be a cornerstone of U.S. climate policy. We thank Reps. Matsui, Huffman, Sarbanes, and dozens of other Congressional members whose districts include forests across the country for recognizing this important issue and leading efforts to urge the federal government to protect our climate forests.” 

A copy of the letter can be found here.