Land management plans are the backbone of sustainable forestry. Every year Forecon develops new, and updates existing, management plans for forest lands all over the northeast United States. The federal government is proposing the same for old growth forests they manage.

What exactly is an ‘old growth forest’?

Gorgeous woodland scene from a northwestern PA client property. Photo Credit: Beth Ace

Gorgeous woodland scene from a northwestern PA client property. Photo Credit: Beth Ace

Old growth forests are forest ecosystems that have reached a mature and ecologically stable stasis. These forests are unique and require different management than younger forests. Old growth forests contain trees that are over a century old, many having reached their full growth potential, resulting in beautiful large, towering specimens. With its complex multi-layered canopy, standing dead trees and fallen trees, old growth forests support a rich and diverse array of plant and animal life. Old growth forests have minimal human disturbance, and allow a natural ecological process to develop. Due to their age and complex ecological interactions, old-growth forests tend to be more resilient to environmental changes, including climate variations. They play a significant role in carbon sequestration and storage.

Back in December, the US Department of Agriculture, as directed by President Biden’s executive order 14072, have announced a proposal to amend all 128 forest land management plans to oversee the conservation of the nation’s federal protected old growth forests and grasslands. These land management plans will provide the direction for how these ecosystems will be protected in the many years to come.

“Old-growth forests are a vital part of our ecosystems and a special cultural resource. This proposed nationwide forest plan amendment – the first in the agency’s history – is an important step in conserving these national treasures,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Climate change is presenting new threats like historic droughts and catastrophic wildfire. This clear direction will help our old-growth forests thrive across our shared landscape.”

“Our forests absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to more than 10% of our nation’s annual greenhouse gas emissions,” said White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Brenda Mallory. “Under President Biden’s leadership, our Administration is acting to conserve and restore old-growth forests so nature can continue to be a key climate solution.”

What kind of threats do old growth forests face?

  • Climate change poses a significant threat to old-growth forests. Factors such as increased temperatures, altered precipitation patterns, and extreme weather events can impact the health and resilience of these ecosystems. Changes in climate can also make old-growth forests more susceptible to pests and diseases.

  • While some old-growth forests are adapted to periodic natural wildfires, changes in climate patterns and human activities have contributed to an increase in the frequency and intensity of wildfires. These fires can pose a direct threat to the existence of old-growth forests.

  • The introduction of non-native, invasive plant species can disrupt the natural balance of old-growth ecosystems. Invasive species may outcompete native flora, affecting the diversity and composition of the forest.

  • Pollution from industrial activities, agriculture, and other sources can have adverse effects on the air and water quality in old-growth forests. Pollution can harm both plant and animal species, impacting the overall health of the ecosystem.

  • In some regions, old-growth forests may lack proper management and protection measures. Absence of adequate safeguards can make these areas vulnerable to various threats, including illegal logging and unsustainable land use practices.

  • Recreational activities, tourism, and other forms of human disturbance can negatively impact old-growth forests. Trampling, pollution, and habitat disturbance from human activities can have lasting effects on the ecosystem.

So what kind of actions will the USDA be taking?

  • Develop consistent guidelines for conserving and stewarding old growth forest conditions.

  • Management plans will be informed by scientific research.

  • The proposed amendment includes a prohibition on vegetation management within old-growth forest conditions when the primary purpose is economic.

  • The USDA has sought public input through processes like the Advanced Notice for Proposed Rule Making and aims to involve various stakeholders in the amendment process.

  • Defining and conducting the first-ever nationwide inventory of old-growth and mature forests across national forests and grasslands

  • USDA has also released the Climate Risk Viewer, a tool to assess climate risks and vulnerabilities on national forests and grasslands.

  • Finalization of a threat analysis on mature and old-growth forests and a proposed new national policy for monitoring the health of national forests and grasslands

Conserving old-growth forests requires comprehensive strategies that address these threats and balance the needs of human communities with the preservation of these ecologically important areas. The proposed nationwide forest plan amendment by the Biden-Harris Administration aims to provide a clear direction for the conservation and stewardship of old-growth forests in the face of these challenges.

Have thoughts about our content? Let us know.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email