President Joe Biden spent Earth Day 2022 on the wildfire-torn West Coast signing an executive order to protect some of the nation’s largest and oldest forests. The order directs federal land managers to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests nationwide within a year. It also requires the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service to identify threats to older trees and develop policies to safeguard them.
“America’s forests are a key climate solution, absorbing carbon dioxide equivalent to more than 10% of U.S. annual greenhouse gas emissions,” the White House said in a fact sheet on the executive order. “However, these magnificent ecosystems are threatened by the climate impacts that are already here, with intensifying wildfires demanding urgent action to protect our forests and the economies that depend on them.”
According to the White House, the order stops short of banning the logging of mature or old-growth trees.
The trend of worsening wildfire seasons on the West Coast appears to be continuing into 2022. An historically dry spring has led to 13 large fires burning at the same time Friday, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. But according to remarks President Biden gave before signing the order, deforestation in the United States is far from a recent phenomenon.
“If you compare the map of North America in 1620… with America today, you’ll see how much we devastated our forest,” Biden said. “It used to be if you look from the Atlantic coast almost to the Mississippi River was heavy forest. We took it all down over those years.”
In issuing the executive order protecting wildfire-torn forests, Biden is trying to toe a fine line. The goal is to preserve forests, which absorb more than 10% of the U.S.’ greenhouse gases, according to the fact sheet. However, Biden also doesn’t want to get in the way of ongoing efforts to thin out forests in order to help stop wildfires from spreading so easily.