First National Inventory of Mature and Old-Growth Forests

Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Mt. Hood NF

Dear Friend of the Forest,

On a drizzly November day, in the first year of a pandemic that left me feeling lost and isolated, I took a walk through an old forest. With each step along the twisting trail, with each moment amongst the towering trees, I felt my worries fall away. I no longer felt lost. I no longer felt isolated. I felt rooted, just like those old trees, into the Earth which sustains us all.

This story, though important in my own life, is not unique. For time immemorial, people from cultures all over the globe have assigned special significance to ancient forests. But here in the Northwest, with the arrival of Euro-American settlers and the establishment of market capitalism, ancient forests began to rapidly disappear. Their value, it was thought, could only be measured in board feet.

Maybe, at long last, our values are starting to shift again. Late last week, in fulfillment of President Biden’s Executive Order on Earth Day in 2022, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of the Interior announced the first-ever National inventory of mature and old-growth forests on lands managed by the two federal agencies. The report defined, identified, and inventoried 32 million acres of old-growth and 80 million acres of mature forest across 200 forest types.

The report is an important milestone, especially for two federal agencies that once referred to old forests as “over mature,” implying they were past their prime. Instead, the report recognizes these forests’ importance in storing carbon, providing clean air and water, and sustaining biodiversity. The report also recognizes that old-growth forests have “placed based meanings tied to cultural heritage…traditional and subsistence uses…and Tribal and Indigenous histories, cultures, and practices.” While this represents an essential first step, the work is not done. In the coming months, the results will be further refined. More direction will come from Washington, D.C., and there will be more opportunities for the public to give input on how these agencies should adapt their policies to protect, conserve, and manage federal forests for climate resilience.

Salmon-Huckleberry Wilderness, Mt. Hood NF

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As I sit here writing these words, I can’t help but think back to that cold November day and smile. Perhaps finally, federal agencies will recognize that mature and old-growth forests like the one I walked through are not past their prime but entirely in their prime. That, I think, is something we can all smile about.

For the Forest,

Jordan Latter, Forest Watch Coordinator

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