Tree Huggers Applaud Biden Order That Could Protect Vermont Forests | Environment | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

News + Opinion » Environment

Tree Huggers Applaud Biden Order That Could Protect Vermont Forests

By

James Donahey, silviculturist for the Rochester Ranger District, leads a tour last year of timber areas of the Green Mountain National Forest - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • James Donahey, silviculturist for the Rochester Ranger District, leads a tour last year of timber areas of the Green Mountain National Forest
Forest conservation groups on Friday cheered an executive order from President Joe Biden that instructs federal agencies to inventory mature and old-growth forests on federal lands as a step toward protecting their capacity to store carbon and slow climate change.

The order could lead to what the White House called “climate-smart management and conservation strategies” on federal forest lands, including Vermont’s 400,000-acre Green Mountain National Forest.

The practical impacts of those strategies on forest management are far from clear. But they will likely require the forest service to pause its push to log areas of mature woods, said Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees Vermont, which advocates for old forests.
This includes a 32,000-acre area around the town of Chittenden known as Telephone Gap. The forest service plans to allow logging there, but Porter’s group opposes it. Much of the area slated for logging is mature, which for northern hardwood forests is 60 to 119 years, Porter said.



“Mature and old forests are workhorses, providing essential habitat, clean water, and resilience to droughts and floods,” Porter said in a written statement. “And yet, only three percent of New England forests are allowed to grow old. We can do justice for the climate, biodiversity, and our communities by recovering old-growth forests on federal public lands.”

Biden signed the order in Seattle on Friday, the 52nd anniversary of Earth Day, during a trip to Western states to call attention to the impacts of climate change, including more frequent wildfires. National environmental groups that praised the move included the Sierra Club, Earth Justice and the National Resources Defense Council. 

While Standing Trees and others have called for a ban on logging in the Green Mountain National Forest, agency officials have reminded advocates that, along with recreation and wildlife management, timber management is a core part of the service's mission. In Vermont, the forest service has a goal of logging 19.6 million board feet per year, though the rate has been well below that recently.
Whether the order will shift how the agency balances logging and forest conservation is unclear. Green Mountain National Forest officials could not be reached for comment. Porter said his group and others will "hold Biden and the Forest Service accountable" for expanding forest protections.

Porter said his organization wants New England forests "managed passively" to help them recover and "maximize habitat for native species, carbon storage, water purification, and resilience to droughts and floods."

Biden’s order calls for additional conservation to “safeguard mature and old growth forests on federal lands,” as well as to “support local economies and ensure we retain forest ecosystems and sustainable supplies of forest products for years to come.”