Archived Outdoors

Forest Service enhances 128 plans with old growth protections

Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres. Pisgah National Forest covers more than 500,000 acres. File photo

The U.S. Forest Service has issued a proposal that would amend all 128 forest land management plans in its jurisdiction with language aimed at better maintaining, improving and expanding old-growth forests. 

The proposal, which stems from an April 2022 executive order issued by President Joe Biden, would have a significant impact on the Pisgah and Nantahala national forests if enacted. After a decade of work, new management plans for these forests were adopted Feb. 17. Many stakeholders had voiced concern that the plan didn’t do enough to protect old-growth forest.

“Our old-growth forests provide a straightforward way to fight climate change, safeguard clean water and air, create unmatched recreation experiences and are habitat for rare species. We are excited about the Forest Service’s critical step toward protecting these remarkable ecosystems,” said Sam Evans, a senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center and leader of the organization’s National Forests and Parks Program.

SELC represented five conservation groups who this summer told the Forest Service they would sue over the new Pisgah-Nantahala forest plan if the Forest Service didn’t fix alleged flaws that the groups claimed violated the Endangered Species Act. These issues were partially related to old growth management. SELC Senior Communications Manager Eric Hilt said the Forest Service has not fixed these alleged problems, leaving conservation groups with “few other options” besides a lawsuit.

Trout Unlimited has joined SELC in applauding the Forest Service proposal to amend all 128 management plans.

“Bully for the Forest Service! As one of the nation’s preeminent land managers, they know well the importance of older forests for combating climate change,” said Chris Wood, president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. “Our national forests not only store carbon, they also provide clean water for tens of millions of American families and healthy habitat for wild and native trout and salmon. This kind of conservation leadership would make [the first Forest Service chief] Gifford Pinchot proud, and gives the agency the opportunity to create stronger, more resilient forests that will benefit generations.”

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The Dec. 19 announcement kicked off a months-long process to update the forest plans, and a 45-day window for public comment ending Feb. 2. For project documents and a comment portal, visit Hard copy letters can be sent to: Director, Ecosystem Management Coordination, 201 14th Street SW, Mailstop 1108, Washington, D.C. 20250–1124.

— Holly Kays, Outdoors Editor

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