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On Earth Day, Biden signs ordinance to catalog and conserve ancient forests

President Joe Biden on Friday signed an executive order to establish a federal old-growth forest protection strategy, a move the administration says will help curb destructive wildfires and fight climate change.

The Earth Day ordinance directs the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture to create a federal definition of old-growth and mature forests. These forests are generally considered to be areas where the trees are at least 60 years old and have not been significantly affected by humans.

Agencies would build a database of forests on federal lands within a year, then create “climate-smart management” strategies to protect the forests. The decree also orders the departments to establish reforestation objectives for 2030.

Speaking Friday from Seattle’s Seward Park, Biden said he’s seen wildfires that have destroyed ancient forests in recent years and the results are “absolutely devastating.”

“So we will work with state, local and tribal governments to map, catalog and then conserve old-growth forests and our public lands,” he said.

“It’s the forests that store and sequester incredible amounts of carbon and help us fight climate change, the forests that are home to majestic trees like the ones here in the beautiful forest in this park.”

The $1.9 trillion infrastructure law signed into law last year provided billions for wildfire management and required the Interior and USDA to prioritize old-growth forests. But the federal government had no inventory of the location of these forests.

Friday’s decision aims to help tackle both a cause and an effect of climate change by protecting carbon-storing forests and reducing catastrophic wildfires. Forests absorb more than 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions each year, White House says fact sheet.

The ordinance is part of a broader administrative strategy to use nature for climate purposes, according to the fact sheet. It calls for a report from the White House on how to use “nature-based solutions,” including restoring wetlands and planting shade trees, to tackle climate change.

The order complies with a promise made by Biden at the United Nations climate conference last year to join a global effort to conserve forests.

In his comments in Seattle, Biden floated the idea of ​​subsidizing the Brazilian government to preserve the Amazon rainforest.

“We should be paying Brazilians not to cut down their forests,” he said.

The order directs the State Department to reduce U.S. purchases of agricultural products grown on recently deforested land.

The environmental community has widely welcomed the order.

“We have no time to waste when it comes to protecting our forests in the United States and around the world,” Ellen Montgomery, director of public lands at advocacy group Environment America, said in a statement. “This announcement is a critical step not only for the United States, but also for our role as an international leader in the fight against climate change.”

U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon, said the order “addresses the climate crisis looming in Oregon and complements the fire reduction investments I have worked for.”

U.S. Representative from Arkansas Bruce Westerman, the top Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, also applauded the decision and called for passage. a bill he sponsored to speed up tree planting while reducing regulations on forest management.

“I am thrilled to see President Biden finally acknowledging something that congressional Republicans have promoted for years,” Westerman said in a statement. “That well-managed forests play a key role in reducing atmospheric carbon and also provide clean air, clean water, quality wildlife habitat, excellent recreational opportunities and magnificent vistas.

“Continuing to mismanage federal lands or lock them up and throw away the key is not an option.”

The executive order comes at the end of a week in which the White House has sought to shine a light on its climate efforts after a tough time for Biden’s climate agenda.

Although he won some climate provisions in the Infrastructure Act, court rulings, opposition from members of Congress and administration attention to other crises have blocked other priorities.

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