Conservation groups collaborate to save old growth trees.

Several dozen conservation groups, among them the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council, are collaborating in a new campaign to protect old growth forests on federal lands, as a means of fighting climate change.

“Keeping old-growth trees in place and mature forests standing is a no-brainer when it comes to mitigating the impacts of climate change,” said Meredith Trainor, executive director of SEACC.

“If the Tongass National Forest is often called the ‘crown jewel’ of the entire national forest system, then our old-growth trees and forests are what make that jewel sparkle, and what brings millions of tourism and recreation dollars to Southeast Alaska each year,” Trainor said. “Protecting old-growth and mature trees is an easy way for the Biden administration to hit its climate goals without sacrificing Southeast Alaska’s most sustainable economic drivers.”

The value of these old growth forests is that they store vast amounts of carbon and continue absorbing carbon as they age. The conservation entities argue that logging trees in these areas releases most of that carbon back into the atmosphere. Even in a best-case scenario, newly planted forests would not re-absorb this carbon for decades or centuries, time scales irrelevant to avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, they said.

Older trees and forests are also naturally more fire-resistant and help limit impacts of climate change by slowing soil erosion and moderating temperatures, they said.

The Roadless rule, enacted during the Clinton administration, was adopted to protect nearly 60 million acres of designated “roadless areas” from logging and road building, safeguarding stands of remaining old-growth. Although these areas act as a critical carbon sink most older trees on federal land lie outside of roadless areas.

February marks the 117th anniversary of the U.S. Forest Service. For over a century the agency has focused much of its resources on logging and timber sales. The conservation campaign is urging the Biden administration to kick off a new era of climate and forest policy that values trees and forests as key pieces of the climate solution.