by Nicole Rivard
Read the online version of Spring 2023 Action Line here.
During my first visit to Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont last November, I found myself lying on a bed of fragrant pine needles in Ripton where Robert Frost drew inspiration, looking out and seeing white birch as far as the eye can see while hiking the nearby Water Tower Trails and relishing the roar of Texas Falls in Hancock, considered one of the state’s most stunning waterfalls.
I felt the healing power of the forest —just walking in the woods can offer stress relief, reduced blood pressure and a stronger immune system.
Green Mountain’s restorative power extends to wildlife and the entire planet, too. Large, mature forests like it are increasingly recognized for the crucial role they play in sequestering the carbon dioxide that is causing dangerous global warming.
GMNF is a significant carbon sink, with carbon stocks increasing 48 percent between 1990 and 2013, according to the Worth More Standing report released last summer by the Climate Forests Coalition, which Friends of Animals recently joined. Not to mention one of Vermont’s two remaining pine marten populations is found there, as well as northern long-eared bats, which U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently reclassified as endangered.
The martens, bats and other wildlife rely on old forests for their survival. During summer, northern long-eared bats roost alone or in small colonies underneath bark or in cavities or crevices of both live and dead trees. They emerge at dusk to fly primarily through the understory of forested areas, feeding on insects.
All this underscores why it’s a crime against nature that the U.S. Forest Service has proposed logging up to 11,000 acres of mostly old trees in GMNF and why FoA, which places wildlife and critical habitat protection at the core of our mission, stood with Standing Trees, Climate Forests Coalition and Save Public Forests Coalition on Nov. 12 to protest the massive timber sale.
More than a hundred of us rallied outside the Rochester Ranger Station to show elected officials and Forest Service staff that we want a ban on commercial logging and permanent protections for mature and old-growth forests on federal public lands.
Eighty-five percent of the trees targeted in GMNF—known as the Telephone Gap Integrated Resource Project—are likely to be more than 80 years old, and 55% older than 100. “In a climate and biodiversity emergency, we can’t keep doing the same thing and expect something different. We must put our public forests on a different path,” said Zack Porter, executive director of Standing Trees, a Vermont-based environmental advocacy group.
Porter pointed out that New England has a carbon store today that is greater than any other part of the U.S. outside of the Pacific Northwest. The Telephone Gap proposal relies heavily on a 2006 Forest Plan, which is out of touch with our current climate and ecological crises.
“Some people have this Puritanical drive that forces them into this ‘you must log it to save it’ and ‘it has to be used or what good is it’ mentality. That’s not good enough anymore,” Porter said.
BIDEN’S MIXED MESSAGES
Logging has increased considerably in GMNF the last seven years. And now the proposed Telephone Gap Project blatantly defies President Biden, who has pledged billions of dollars to help restore at least 500 million acres of forests around the world. On Earth Day 2022, Biden issued an executive order to protect mature forests on federal lands.
The order requires federal regulators to identify all the nation’s mature and old-growth forests within a year, and “institutionalize climate-smart management” policies to protect them. There are currently no existing federal rules to exclusively protect those older forests.
“It’s the boldest step we’ve seen from any president in the past 20 years, even though he does leave out key language,” said Will Harlan, executive director of Forest Keepers, a conservation organization focused on protecting Eastern U.S. national forests. “He doesn’t mention logging as a threat to national forests, and of course it’s one of its primary threats.”
Biden’s overall mixed messages on old-growth forests is frustrating for forest ecologists, climate scientists and conservationists.
A 2021 long-term strategy for slashing greenhouse gas emissions included eyebrow-raising language about carbon removal, reported the Huffington Post. The document seemed to suggest logging as a solution to climate change and climate-fueled wildfires.
In fall 2021, more than 200 climate scientists from around the country sent Biden a letter underscoring the consequences if timber harvesting continues in national forests. They wrote that “greenhouse gas emissions from logging in U.S. forests are now comparable to the annual carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal burning.” Protecting federal forestlands from logging, on the other hand, would remove 84 million tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year.
Nevertheless, Biden signed the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure law that significantly increased funding for forest thinning, including commercial logging on 30 million acres of federal land.
HELP SHAPE THE FUTURE OF NATIONAL FORESTS
Harlan, like FoA, chooses to take action. “Biden initiated a process where the Forest Service must inventory all the mature and old-growth forests to initiate a rulemaking process to protect those areas in some way. For an agency that doesn’t want to do anything, it’s good to push them to do their job,” Harlan said.
Unfortunately, the Forest Service acts as if its job is maximizing timber production, when in fact, national forests are mandated to balance recreation, wildlife, timber, range and water. National forests supply drinking water for more than 20% of Americans.
What the Forest Service doesn’t want people to know is there is no need for commercial logging in national forests. More than 95% or our national wood supply comes from non-federal lands, and almost all of this wood is small diameter logs.
“National forests are under the Dept. of Agriculture, not the Dept. of Interior like all other public lands. The USDA sees national forests as tree crops. And that is at the root of the problem,” Harlan said. “When people realize commercial logging is being prioritized and decimating wildlife, it’s really shocking. They assumed national forests are protected.”
Harlan wants people to turn that shock into action.
“What Forest Keepers is trying to do is get the public back into public lands,” he said.
He has seen firsthand how public backlash matters. The National Forest Management Act requires the Forest Service to revise its forest plans for each of the 154 national forests at least every 15 years. Throughout the process, the agency is required to solicit public input.
The Forest Service received a record setting 36,000 public comments relating to its new 30-year forest plan for the Pisgah-Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. More than 92% of the comments supported protected areas in Pisgah.
“What emerged is a campaign to create the Craggy Wilderness and National Scenic Area, which will permanently protect 16,000 acres of ancient forests less than 15 miles from downtown Asheville,” Harlan said.
What started out as a logging proposal may turn into Wilderness and National Scenic Area designation because it got so much pushback from locals who said, ‘No you aren’t going to log our national forest in our backyard.’ ”
Harlan explained residents are working with their members of Congress, and the campaign has a lot of momentum. He believes an upshot of the COVID-19 pandemic is more people exploring public lands and a willingness to steward them.
“Across the political spectrum, people are deeply connected to these lands and will come together to protect these lands if given the opportunity,” he said.
Trail running is what established Harlan’s own connection to national forests.
“They have nourished me and sustained me for many miles on many adventures, and the least I can do is give something back to them. We should all try to help protect the places where we play and help safeguard these national treasures,” Harlan said.
FoA couldn’t agree more.
The Forest Service also maintains email lists to provide information about some national forests to anyone who would like to be kept informed.
It can be difficult to untangle the laws and rules that guide public lands. You can upload A Citizen’s Guide to National Forest Planning here.
• When there is proposed logging project in a national forest near you, send emails and make phone calls to the Supervisor’s office opposing the plan.
• Submit letters to the editor opposing logging in your local newspaper.
• Share this article on your own social media feeds.