Climate Activists Condemn Forest Service Report

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Climate activists are condemning a recent U.S. Forest Service report to Congress, saying one of its conclusions supports a policy that would worsen climate change by allowing the removal of old trees that absorb large amounts of carbon.

Some climate scientists and environmental groups say the Forest Service report inaccurately states that older trees remove less carbon than younger trees — a conclusion they fear will encourage a policy of logging older forests.

The report is “a camel’s nose in the door” that could lead to more logging, said Norman Christensen, a professor at Duke University.

The Forest Service wrote in July that U.S. forests will rapidly lose their ability to soak up carbon and could become net carbon emitters by 2070 instead of carbon sinks. The report says development along with worsening wildfires and tornadoes will destroy large chunks of U.S. forests and disrupt their carbon absorption.

The report also says aging forests absorb less carbon than younger forests as tree growth slows.

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However, some climate scientists and environmental groups consider the conclusion misleading and largely inaccurate.

“The idea of cutting trees to let small trees come in is problematic,” Christensen said. “Anything you cut is … going to be turning into carbon dioxide.”

The debate around the ability of older forests to offset emissions could influence the Biden administration’s forest conservation policy. The Forest Service is drafting new federal rules to better manage forests and grasslands for climate resiliency. President Joe Biden issued an executive order in April 2022 directing the agency to define and protect mature forests to reach his climate goals.

Climate groups and the Forest Service agree that forests are crucial in storing carbon and countering greenhouse gas emissions. They differ in how the government should manage the millions of acres of forests it oversees.