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U.S. Forest Service proposes plan to conserve old-growth forests, limit logging practices

This is an image of a forest with tall, brown old-growth trees.
U.S. Forest Service
Stands of old-growth Ponderosa Pine trees in the Fremont-Winema National Forest in southern Oregon.

The federal government recently proposed changes to the way it manages forestlands – a plan that would elevate conservation of old and mature forests facing increasing threats.

Mature and old-growth forests make up more than 60% of forestlands managed by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Under the new proposal, the agencies would partner with Indigenous communities to develop strategies to conserve old-growth forests, which account for 18% of the forestlands managed. They also would place limits on logging in these lands.

Old-growth forests not only provide habitat for many wildlife species, they support people, too, said Blake Busse, an officer of federal policy with Pew Charitable Trusts’ conservation program.

They’re “helping clean our air, providing clean water, drawing carbon out of the atmosphere and storing that,” Busse said. Old-growth forests are also a setting for recreation, he added.

But forest health nationwide has been affected by years of aggressive logging practices and wildfire suppression, as well as the growing effects of climate change.

“In some places, the kind of climate envelope that these forests originally grew up in no longer exist,” Busse said. That changing climate stresses trees and makes them less resistant to insects, disease, drought, and severe wildfires, he added.

The government’s proposed changes to forest management are open for public comment through Feb. 2.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Corrected: January 5, 2024 at 10:36 AM PST
Kaleb is an award-winning journalist and KUNR’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter. His reporting covers issues related to the environment, wildlife and water in Nevada and the region.