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Forest Service announces plan to amend all forest land management plans to protect old growth trees

A view of the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest as seen from St. Peter's Dome.
Katie Thoresen
A view of the Chequamegon Nicolet National Forest as seen from St. Peter's Dome.

Last week, the USDA Forest Service announced a proposal to amend all 128 forest land management plans across the country.

In keeping with the Biden administration’s April 2022 executive order, each forest plan is going to be amended to conserve and steward old and mature growth national forests and grasslands.

WXPR spoke with people who work in these national forests to gauge reactions to the proposal.

The first ever nationwide inventory in the Forest Service in 2022 found that the organization manages nearly 25 million acres of old growth forest and more than 68 million acres of mature forests on national forests and grasslands.

On Tuesday, theUSDA Forest Service announced a proposal to amend all 128 forest land management plans to protect and manage old growth forest conditions on national lands.

Andy Olsen is Senior Policy Advocate at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.

“It's really good to see this plan. And we should all be grateful that President Biden has taken this initiative to protect mature and old growth trees and forest and that the Forest Service has largely responded in a positive way. Unfortunately, for northern Wisconsin, the benefits won't be as large as it will be in Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. So we need protections for our mature forests so we can continue to recover the North Woods from the big cut,” said Olsen.

He explained that the impacts will be largely muted in Wisconsin, due to the fact our state has relatively fewer old growth forests in comparison to others.

Olsen wants to see more protections for maturing trees so that Wisconsin can develop more old-growth forests.

Olsen says that there are still more stands that should be designated as old growth.

Olsen is concerned about logging in the Fourmile Project in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.

“We're concerned that the current plans for logging and from my firsthand experience that would include a lot of trees that might be old growth,” said Olsen.

Travis Joseph is the President of American Forest Resource Council, a regional trade association advocating for sustainable yield timber harvest based in Oregon.

“The idea that we're going to be able to amend quickly, substantively, thoughtfully, scientifically 128 plans and make them consistent across the country and protect old growth, while we're addressing this forest health and welfare crisis, I think is problematic,” he said

He says that on a national level, logging isn’t a major threat to old growth trees nowadays.

“We know why we lost 3.2 million acres, almost 3.3 million acres to wildfire and catastrophic wildfire events. And we lost over 2 million acres from insects and disease. So 96% of the losses to mature and old growth on national forest lands have come from burning up, wildfires, or dying from insects and disease, infestations,” said Joseph.

Joseph says that amending Forest Plans diverts limited time and resources from addressing the risk of wildfires, insects, and disease.

Hannah Davis-Reid is a WXPR Reporter.
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