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115 Scientists Weigh in on Large Tree & Old Growth Protections

October 13, 2020

Our chief scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, spearheaded an effort involving 115 scientists that asked the US Forest Service to scrap plans to log large trees in national forests of eastern Oregon and Washington.

October 13, 2020

Contact: Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D, 541-621-7223 (cell),

115 Scientists Weigh in on Large Tree & Old Growth Protections

Region’s Heritage and Future Are at Risk If We Log Large, Old Trees Scientists Say

TALENT, OREGON — Citing an urgent imperative to forestall the “environmental emergencies” of climate change and biodiversity loss, 115 scientists submitted an open letter to the U.S. Forest Service today urging them to retain protections for larger and older trees in Eastern Oregon and portions of Eastern Washington. The scientists include academics from multiple disciplines, including forestry and climate experts.

Six Oregon National Forests east of the Cascade Mountains, spanning more than 9 million acres, are currently covered under a 1994 rule that prohibits logging of large trees greater than 21 inches in diameter. That rule was put in place following decades of industrial logging of public lands in order to protect the last remnants of older forests east of the Cascades.

Now, the Forest Service is rushing to remove this clear requirement to retain these legacy trees and replace the enforceable “standard” with a discretionary  “guideline,” opening the door to old forest  logging at the discretion of local forest managers who are under pressure to “get the cut out.” The “guideline” allows logging of all tree species below 30 inches in diameter and up to 150 years old. To put this in perspective, that’s about as wide as a standard home cooking range and trees this old can tower to over 15 stories. Many of the remaining large trees cannot be accurately aged by the Forest Service using just visual characteristics, which means they are highly vulnerable to discretionary logging decisions.

According to Dominick A. DellaSala, Ph. D, Chief Scientist, Wild Heritage, a lead signatory of the letter, “the Forest Service is pulling the rug out from under large tree protections at a time when the recovery of the ecosystem is far from complete and logging large trees will raise fire and climate risks when scientists are calling for more large-tree protections.”

The 115 signatories of the scientists’ letter, who hail from all over the region and the world, call this rushed plan “misguided” given the “environmental crises” currently unfolding in the region and across the planet. Their letter emphasizes the myriad social and ecological benefits of conserving large and old trees, with a strong focus on carbon storage, which the USFS did not address in its initial Environmental Assessment of the proposed rule change.

Large trees, the scientists say, are the keystone for carbon drawdown—in fact, “half of all carbon in living above-ground biomass is stored in the largest 1% diameter trees.” Large trees are an essential and cost-effective “natural solution” to climate change that must be protected.

And protecting large trees provides for clean, cold water, intact soils, and other necessary components of a functional forest ecosystem. Large trees and standing dead trees (snags), and the mature forests where these trees thrive, shelter unique plants and wildlife that make these forests so biodiverse. Large trees embody “the natural inheritance” of the Pacific Northwest.

At a time when the planet is reeling from catastrophic biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change, it would be both wrong and short-sighted to undermine this inheritance.

Read the scientist’s open letter.

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