What will a Biden Administration mean for forests?

Color photograph showing a cloudless blue sky behind Mt. Hood completely blanketed with snow. Snow dusted conifers stretch before the mountain, looking grayer in the distance and deep green in the foreground

When Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were inaugurated last week, many of us breathed a sigh of relief. For the past four years, we have been playing constant defense from the barrage of Trump Administration tactics to further their agenda of industrial profit and disregard for people and the planet. Now with the incoming administration, there are things to be hopeful about and also things that hearken back to the not so good ol’ days of the Obama era (I’m talking about you, Tom “Mr. Monsanto” Vilsack).

As we know, getting back to “normal” should not be the goal, as normal harmed most people and the planet. We need to take this moment of transition to press for sweeping changes to policies and the economy that create a more just future for all. One simple act is to sign this petition encouraging President Biden to pass an Executive Order permanently protecting mature and old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, which is one of the most significant near-term climate solutions available.

Now let’s dig into Biden’s appointee nominations and the executive orders most relevant to Bark’s work pushing for policies that respect communities, forests, water and climate. 

Key Environmental Cabinet(ish) Appointees: 

Secretary of Interior, Deb Halaand The Department of the Interior handles the management and conservation of most federal land and natural resources, leading such agencies as the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Park Service, and Fish & Wildlife Service. Rep. Haaland is a 35th generation New Mexican, and an enrolled member of the Pueblo of Laguna. When confirmed, Rep. Haaland will be the first Indigenous person to run any Cabinet-level Department in the nation’s history. Bark joined a large coalition of environmental organizations encouraging President Biden to appoint Rep. Haaland and we’re thrilled that he did.  

Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack The Department of Agriculture includes most federal agencies focused on food and farming, and of course, U.S. Forest Service. In stark contrast to many of President Biden’s nominations that bring new, diverse identities and experiences to the Cabinet, Tom Vilsack is the recycled Sec. of Agriculture from Pres. Obama’s cabinet. His appointment has been widely criticized by progressive agriculture and environmental groups. During Sec. Vilsack’s first tenure, the Forest Service increased its timber targets, promoted burning biomass as “carbon neutral”, kept logging old growth, and failed to make climate change an agency priority.  

Special Envoy for Climate, a Cabinet level position: John Kerry The Biden administration resurrected and elevated this position, absent for the last four years. The Biden administration recognized that climate change is a national security issue, by including the special envoy on the National Security Council, and an inherently international one, by selecting former Secretary of State Mr. Kerry. This position complements the role of National Climate Advisor, to which Pres. Biden appointed Gina McCarthy, current head of the Natural Resources Defense Counsel.  

Chair of the Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ), Brenda Mallory Created by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the CEQ advises the President and develops policies on environmental justice, federal sustainability, public lands, oceans, and wildlife conservation. Ms. Mallory served as general counsel for the CEQ under Obama, supporting the administration’s efforts to bolster clean energy, combat climate change and expand the nation’s public lands. She is currently the director of regulatory policy at Southern Environmental Law Center, and we’re excited to have someone who understands and appreciates NEPA leading the agency that implements NEPA!

Executive Orders: 

Almost immediately after his inauguration, President Biden signed many Executive Orders focused on undoing the legacy of the outgoing Trump Administration. I will admit I was initially excited about these, until a colleague reminded me that it just gets us back to the pre-Trump times—which is what got us into the climate crisis in the first place. Still, we need to celebrate where we can!   

I am particularly encouraged about re-joining 200 countries in the Paris Climate Agreement, and by the comprehensive Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. This executive order begins a broad reversal of Trump-era policies and includes: 

  1. Directing all agencies to review 103 federal regulations and executive actions from the past four years to determine whether they were harmful to public health, damaging to the environment or unsupported by science;  
  2. Restoring protections for national monuments;  
  3. Revoking the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would have carried crude from the Alberta oil fields to Gulf of Mexico refineries;  
  4. Re-establishing the Obama-era interagency process to develop and maintain the social cost of carbon and methane, and including a new metric of environmental justice; 
  5. Placing a temporary moratorium on all oil and natural gas leasing activities in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge;  
  6. Instructing federal agencies to recommit to a suite of Obama-era regulations addressing climate adaptation and resilience; and  
  7. Re-instating the CEQ’s guidance that require federal agency NEPA analyses to include discussion of a project’s impacts on climate change, as well as the impacts of climate change on a project.  We’re glad that is back!

And just yesterday, President Biden signed an Executive Order ushering in another broad sweep of climate policies including halting oil & gas leasing on federal lands and weaving climate change into every facet of government. While it may take years to undo the damage wrought by the Trump administration, Biden is wasting no time getting started!

Sign this petition encouraging President Biden to pass an Executive Order permanently protecting mature and old growth forests in the Pacific Northwest!

Friends, we made it through these last four stormy years together. Let’s take a deep breath, celebrate what we can, and then move on to the next fight and keep bending that long arc of history towards justice.  

Yours in struggle,  

     Brenna Bell, Bark Policy Coordinator and Staff Attorney