Biden order aims to protect old-growth forests as wildfires blaze around US

The administration said it would work with Congress to secure wildfire risk reduction resources

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President Biden is visiting Washington on Friday to sign an executive order that aims to protect against wildfire threats to old-growth forests

The measure – the president's 88th executive order since taking office – builds on bipartisan infrastructure law to safeguard mature and old-growth forests on federal land, strengthen reforestation partnerships and support local economies, combat global deforestation to deliver on COP26 commitments and address the climate crisis using comprehensive efforts to deploy nature-based solutions that reduce emissions and build resilience.

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The nation's old-growth forests serve as critical carbon sinks, absorbing more carbon from the atmosphere than they release. America's forests absorb carbon dioxide equivalent to more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions.

Those emissions contribute to the planet's warming. 

Fox Weather, citing data compiled by independent research group Climate Central, reports that average temperatures across the U.S. are 2.4 degrees warmer than they were on the first Earth Day 52 years ago. 

This photo provided by California State Parks shows the Pioneer Tree one of the few remaining old-growth coastal redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, California, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, after it collapsed from a fire. 

This photo provided by California State Parks shows the Pioneer Tree one of the few remaining old-growth coastal redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, California, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, after it collapsed from a fire.  (California State Parks via AP)

The order does not ban the logging of mature or old-growth trees, according to The Associated Press. Critics, however, say officials are allowing for the removal of too many older trees that can withstand wildfires.

In a fact sheet, the White House wrote that the order advances action on data collection and analysis, directing the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to conduct the first-ever inventory of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands. The inventory will be made publicly available within a year, according to the fact sheet.

Following that, the agencies will develop new policies and partner with other federal agencies, states, Tribal Nations and any interested private landowners to better coordinate conservation and wildfire risk reduction efforts.

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The administration wrote that it would work with Congress to secure additional resources, highlighting a request for $6.1 billion for wildfire risk reduction in the president’s FY 2023 Budget.

The executive order will build on millions in investments made in cooperative forestry programs and the expansion of reforestation projects on National Forest land by advancing economic opportunities in outdoors recreation and sustainable forest products, developing agency-specific 2030 targets for reforestation and expanding seed and nursery capacity.

This photo provided by California State Parks shows the Pioneer Tree one of the few remaining old-growth coastal redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, California, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, after it collapsed from a fire. 

This photo provided by California State Parks shows the Pioneer Tree one of the few remaining old-growth coastal redwoods at Samuel P. Taylor State Park, California, on Thursday, March 24, 2022, after it collapsed from a fire.  (California State Parks via AP)

The State Department will lead the development of a report on whole-of-government approaches to reduce or eliminate U.S. purchases of agricultural commodities grown on illegally or recently deforested lands, as well as coordinate with other agencies to assess the broader use of foreign assistance, trade tools, finance and international partnerships to combat deforestation and support sustainable forest management around the world.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), and Office of Domestic Climate Policy will work with agencies to develop a report to the National Climate Task Force on key opportunities for greater deployment of nature-based solutions.

The Office of Management and Budget will issue valuation guidance to help agencies better account for services provided by ecosystems and the environment. 

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Lastly, the 13-agency U.S. Global Change Research Program will develop the first-ever assessment of the condition of nature within the country.

Scientists say that climate change will make wildfires more frequent and intense, with conditions fueled by a decadeslong, human-driven megadrought. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.