Primary Forest Initiatives

Primary Forest Conservation – North America

Kids protecting old growth

Protecting Mature and Old-growth Forests in the USA

In the United States, most primary, old-growth forests were logged decades-centuries ago as forests were cleared and degraded as the country expanded. We must protect the old-growth forests we have left while working to recover these endangered ecosystems over time by also protecting mature forests that are the building blocks to restore old growth. This also means that when older forests experience natural disturbances such as wildfires and insect outbreaks they should be allowed to rejuvenate and reset forest successional processes without logging them. 

On Earth Day 2022, President Biden initiated a public process to define and inventory mature and old-growth forests for possible protections. Wild Heritage and our partners Griffith University (Australia), NatureServe, and Woodwell Climate Research Center (Massachusetts) published the first-ever inventory of mature and old-growth forests in the continental US that compliments our old-growth forest mapping publication for the Tongass rainforest in Alaska. We are delivering all our science products to the Biden administration during the public review of mature forest policy options and in support of the coalition and that have requested the federal government act by conducting national rulemaking similar to what was done for the roadless conservation rule in 2000.  


Regional Mature and Old-growth Forest (MOG) Maps for the Lower 48 States

Regional MOG maps are based on a publication by DellaSala et al. 2022 and were prepared by Wild Earth Guardians

Watch MOG Presentation Video

Photo: Taylor Roades / The Narwhal

British Columbia’s Forgotten Inland Rainforest

One of the world’s rarest and most imperiled rainforests is pressed against the windward toe-slopes of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, the nearest town is Prince George, BC, a 90 minute flight east of Vancouver.

Since 2018, Wild Heritage has been partnering with regional scientists and local activists ( in calling attention to this “forgotten rainforest.” And while Canada’s coastal Great Bear Rainforest has 84% of the region in some form of protection, its inland rainforest has been exposed to rampant logging that threatens to unravel the ecosystem within a decade or so based on analysis we did using the IUCN’s Red-listed Ecosystem Status assessment. Together with our partners at the University of Northern BC, Griffith University in Australia, the Conservation Biology Institute in Corvallis, and Conservation North, we have been spotlighting the region’s precarious plight in science journals, the press, and with the BC government.

An emerging regional threat is logging within primary forests to produce wood pellets for shipping overseas to the UK where it is being marketed by Drax (biomass pellet plant) as “clean, renewable, energy.” This tragic waste of a world-class rainforest for “clean energy” along with ongoing logging in general  may trigger ecosystem collapse within a decade if these forests are not protected in collaboration with First Nations. 


Photo: Fraser River, inland temperate rainforest, BC (D. DellaSala)

Biodiverse and Carbon Dense Forests from the Sierra to the Tongass rainforest

Wild Heritage’s focuses on four regions known for extraordinary biodiversity and carbon storage as natural climate solutions: (1) Greater Pacific Northwest, (2) Sierra, (3) Klamath-Siskiyou, and (4) Tongass (rainforest).

Greater Pacific Northwest Bioregion

This expansive bioregion extends from northern California to Washington, spanning both wet forests west of the Cascade Crest, and dry, fire-dependent forests east of the Cascade Crest. Several smaller ecoregions are nested within, some of which are recognized as WWF Global 200 ecoregions (Klamath-Siskiyou) for their world-class biodiversity. The amount of carbon stored in Pacific Northwest forests (coastal) is significant on a global scale and needs to be protected from logging for climate and biodiversity benefits. Importantly, the Northwest Forest Plan is a global model of biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management on 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of federal lands with roughly one-third of the forests in forest reserves (i.e., late-successional reserves – LSRs) anchored on recovery of the federally threatened Northern Spotted Owl, Marbled Murrelet, and Coho Salmon. The plan may soon be revised by the USDA Forest Service and there are efforts underway to undermine protections that we have been pushing back on. 

Wild Heritage has an extensive track record of working in this region dating back decades of conservation via Dr. DellaSala’s lead science role. We are currently providing technical expertise to local conservation groups pushing back on logging in mature forests and fighting to restore protection of large trees in dry forest forests in eastern Oregon and Washington. Under the Trump Administration, the so-called “Eastside Screens” that protected large trees for over two decades were removed and trees up to 150 yrs old can now be logged. We are working with local and regional groups to restore them. 


Photo: Tongass rainforest, Alaska (D. DellaSala)

Tongass National Forest

This nearly 7 million hectare (16.8 M ac) national forest is the crown-jewel of the USDA National Forest system. Ancient cedars and hemlocks tower to its Alaska skyline. Prolific salmon line up to spawn in pristine streams that resemble rush hour traffic jams. Brown bears, wolves, and bald eagles feed on spawned out salmon carcasses that also supply critical nutrients to rainforest trees via decomposition and absorption of minerals. This single national forest contains the largest concentration of old-growth forests (~2 million ha, 5 million acres) in the nation, the largest concentration of Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs, 3.72 M ha, 9.3M ac), representing 16% of the nation’s total IRAs, and contains the equivalent of 20% of all the carbon stored across the entire national forest system, mostly within old-growth forests and IRAs. It is truly a remarkable forest and one of the world’s last remaining intact temperate rainforests. 

Wild Heritage Chief Scientist Dominick DellaSala has a three-decade history of working in the Tongass from some of the first wildlife surveys to forest carbon accounting. The Tongass also has a long political history of massive logging ushered in during the 1950s logging for pulp that continued for half a century. In 2016, at the urging of Wild Heritage staff and partners, the Obama Administration announced a transition out of old-growth logging and into naturally reforested sites now commercially available for supporting timber needs without cutting old-growth forests. At the time, the administration believed it would take decades to facilitate a transition, so we showed them how to do it within years. Unfortunately, the Trump Administration reversed course, pulling the plug on transition, and removing protections for old-growth forests and IRAs. They faced stiff opposition from scientists, conservation groups, and Alaskan tribes. 

The Biden Administration announced in 2021 that it would restore IRA protections and put the transition to young forests back on track as part of its southeast Alaska sustainability initiative. And while most logging has currently shifted out of old-growth forests, the roadless policy has yet to be fully reinstated, which we anticipate will happen in 2022. 

Chief scientist Dominick DellaSala explains the importance of one of the world’s rarest temperate rainforests in this live Facebook event.

Read letter from Wild Heritage


Primary Forests and International Policy

We need to change forest policies – both international and domestic – so that we can protect primary forests and also provide the large-scale funding needed to support long-term protection, to Indigenous Peoples and local communities and protected areas. Wild Heritage and the many partners we work with via IntAct have made exceptional progress in driving strong policies in support of primary forests, including advocating successfully in the Convention on Biological Diversity, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Sustainable Development Goals, the European Union and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  


Primary Forest Alliance

Wild Heritage is proud to serve as the secretariat for the Primary Forest Alliance, a coalition of over 100 organizations that have signed the PFA Statement of Principes and are working to prioritize primary forest conservation around the world. Please visit the Primary Forest Alliance website for more information and please watch our video!

Wild Heritage partners with World Resources Institute, Australian Rainforest Conservation Society and Griffith University on a major new report!

See: The Nexus Report: Nature Based Solutions to the Biodiversity and Climate Crisis commissioned by the Wyss Campaign for Nature (US) and the Society of Entrepreneurs and Ecology (China), which strongly emphasizes the importance of primary forests.

The European Union’s New Biodiversity Strategy Calls for Protection of Europe’s Remaining Primary Forests!

Our close working partner Wild Europe (Cyril Kormos sits on the Wild Europe Executive Committee) was instrumental in bringing about a new policy in Europe calling for protection of remaining primary forests in Europe. Sadly little primary forest remains – the goal now is to ensure that the little that remains is strictly protected, and that ecological restoration occurs around these remaining fragments to buffer and reconnect them and rebuild larger and more robust forest ecosystems.

IUCN Primary Forest Policy

Wild Heritage Executive Director Cyril Kormos is a member of the IUCN Primary Forest Task Team which drafted an IUCN primary forest policy that will guide IUCN’s 1,300 organizational members and 13,000 volunteer IUCN Commission experts in their work. Cyril is now leading the process to develop a guidance document to supplement the new policy. See IUCN’s Crossroads blog, IUCN’s Primary Forest Policy and IUCN’s Story Map 

Convention on Biological Diversity

Wild Heritage advocates for making primary forests a key focus area in the work of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

WE MADE MAJOR BREAKTHROUGHS AT CBD COP14 in December 2018! Never before has the CBD recognized the critical importance of primary forests and ecosystem integrity in its decisions. But it does now!

Read decisions 14/5 and 14/30 or see excerpts below:

Decision 14/5 calls for strengthening “ecosystem integrity for the conservation of natural ecosystems” and encourages Parties “to integrate climate change issues and related national priorities into national biodiversity strategies and action plans and to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem integrity considerations into national policies, strategies and plans on climate change, such as nationally determined contributions, as appropriate, and national climate change adaptation planning, in their capacity as national instruments for the prioritization of actions for mitigation and adaptation. Decision 14/5 also calls on the Executive Secretary of the Convention “to develop targeted messaging on how biodiversity and ecosystem integrity, functions and services contribute to tackle the challenges of climate change”.

Decision 14/30 recognizes “the efforts made to improve the consistency of reporting on national data on primary forest area reported under the Global Forest Resources Assessment of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, considering the exceptional importance of primary forest for biodiversity conservation,” and the need achieve forest-related Aichi Biodiversity Targets, “in a mutually supportive manner, primarily with regard to (a) the reduction of deforestation and forest degradation, (b) forest restoration and (c) the urgent necessity to avoid major fragmentation, damage and loss of primary forests of the planet.

UNFCCC and Ecosystem Integrity

 Wild Heritage is working with partners (in particular the Australian Rainforest Conservation Society) to raise awareness of the importance of primary forests in the climate convention. The latest breakthrough came last year via a UNFCCC decision at COP 25 with language endorsing the need to address biodiversity and climate change together:

1/CP.25 para 15. “ Underlines the essential contribution of nature to addressing climate change and its impacts and the need to address biodiversity loss and climate change in an integrated manner;”


Help restore degraded lands and manage wildland fires safely!

Help restore degraded lands and manage wildland fires safely!