SAF Responds to Mature & Old-Growth Forest Report

April 20, 2023

The Society of American Foresters respects the immense work that our colleagues at the USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) put into this complex project.

Today, the two agencies released a report on their efforts under Executive Order 14072 to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests on Forest Service and BLM lands. As the report explains, EO 14072 is about “fostering resilience in our forests in an era of rapidly changing climate.” The next phase of the directive calls for an analysis of threats to these forests, and as forestry professionals, we know that the greatest threats to old-growth and mature forests are climate-amplified disturbances like wildfire, drought, insects, and disease.

Mature and old-growth forests provide an invaluable and diverse suite of benefits to society. If we want to protect, maintain, enhance, and cultivate old-growth and mature forests—as well as sequester and store more carbon—we must embrace science-based management.

The inventory released today does not provide information on the health of our mature and old-growth forests. However, we know from tracking climate-amplified disturbances that our older forests are not safe from catastrophic losses. In fact, the unprecedented rate of mortality from these disturbances means that many forests in western states are now emitting more carbon than they sequester annually. Though it is commonly assumed that mature and old-growth forests are stable, resilient systems, they are often the forests most at risk of severe wildfire.

A 10-year national strategy for combatting the wildfire crisis was unveiled last year by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and USDA Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. The strategy calls for implementing science-based management at a dramatically increased pace and scale over the next decade to reduce wildfire risk to communities, critical infrastructure, watersheds, habitats, and recreational areas. As Secretary Vilsack has noted, restoring the resilience of old-growth forests is an explicit goal within this effort.

Based on definitions released today, mature and old-growth forests make up a combined 63% of inventoried Forest Service and BLM forestlands. At that scale, the effort to manage the wildfire crisis and conserve our older forests are inseparable and have important co-benefits.

Under the Wildfire Crisis Strategy, the Forest Service has already invested in 21 landscape projects across nine western states. Through the application of science-based management that restores ecosystems and fosters the resilience of forests, these projects have already invested in long-term carbon management and the conservation of older forests.

Accordingly, we urge the Administration to use this new mature and old-growth inventory as another tool to address the wildfire crisis and improve forest health and resilience across our national forests and grasslands. We look forward to working with the Administration, the Forest Service, and BLM to advance science-based management that protects our forests and our communities.


SAF Contact: Whitney Forman-Cook, Chief Operations Officer, [email protected]