Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies: Text of “Mature and Old-Growth Forest” EO

It’s interesting that the EO was leaked to “five individuals” who gave it to the WaPo.  So those news stories had certain spins.  After reading it, there are other items of interest. Note the actual title mentions both communities and local economies.

Here’s the link.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) I signed into law provides generational investments in ecosystem restoration and wildfire risk reduction.  As we use this funding, we will seek opportunities, consistent with the IIJA, to conserve our mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands and restore the health and vibrancy of our Nation’s forests by reducing the threat of catastrophic wildfires through ecological treatments that create resilient forest conditions using active, science-based forest management and prescribed fires; by incorporating indigenous traditional ecological knowledge; and by scaling up and optimizing climate-smart reforestation.

I could interpret that to mean.. where sections of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill say “do treatments for restoration and to protect communities” the agencies will also take into account old forests. Note that this says forests, not individual trees.  So if you need to thin individual old trees to ultimately protect the old forests, then you will.  This seems pretty innocuous.

In section 2, the EO starts to mention reforestation.  Actions are intended to

further conserve mature and old-growth forests and foster long-term United States forest health through climate-smart reforestation

I don’t exactly see how reforestation directly conserves mature and old-growth forests (more like develops replacements) but OK. And here’s the guts of the domestic land management actions:

(a)  The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretaries) — the Federal Government’s primary land managers — shall continue to jointly pursue wildfire mitigation strategies, which are already driving important actions to confront a pressing threat to mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands:  catastrophic wildfires driven by decades of fire exclusion and climate change.

(b)  The Secretary of the Interior, with respect to public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management, and the Secretary of Agriculture, with respect to National Forest System lands, shall, within 1 year of the date of this order, define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on Federal lands, accounting for regional and ecological variations, as appropriate, and shall make such inventory publicly available.

(c)  Following completion of the inventory, the Secretaries shall:

(i)    coordinate conservation and wildfire risk reduction activities, including consideration of climate-smart stewardship of mature and old-growth forests, with other executive departments and agencies (agencies), States, Tribal Nations, and any private landowners who volunteer to participate;

(ii)   analyze the threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands, including from wildfires and climate change; and

(iii)  develop policies, with robust opportunity for public comment, to institutionalize climate-smart management and conservation strategies that address threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands.

(d)  The Secretaries, in coordination with the heads of other agencies as appropriate, shall within 1 year of the date of this order:

(i)    develop a Federal goal that charges agencies to meet agency-specific reforestation targets by 2030, including an assessment of reforestation opportunities on Federal lands and through existing Federal programs and partnerships;

(ii)   develop, in collaboration with Federal, State, Tribal, and private-sector partners, a climate-informed plan (building on existing efforts) to increase Federal cone and seed collection and to ensure seed and seedling nursery capacity is sufficient to meet anticipated reforestation demand; and

(iii)  develop, in coordination with the Secretary of Commerce, with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments, and with the private sector, nonprofit organizations, labor unions, and the scientific community, recommendations for community-led local and regional economic development opportunities to create and sustain jobs in the sustainable forest product sector, including innovative materials, and in outdoor recreation, while supporting healthy, sustainably managed forests in timber communities.

I can’t comment on the international parts of the EO, but there are some “nature-based solutions to tackle climate change and enhance resilience” actions as well.  “Nature-based solutions” seem to be doing good things for climate without them counting as offsets.

(a)  The Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy, and the Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor shall, in consultation with the Secretary of Defense (through the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works), the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Commerce (through the Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, the Secretary of Transportation, the Secretary of Energy, the Secretary of Homeland Security (through the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency), the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Administrator of the Small Business Administration, and the heads of other agencies as appropriate, submit a report to the National Climate Task Force to identify key opportunities for greater deployment of nature-based solutions across the Federal Government, including through potential policy, guidance, and program changes.

(b)  The Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall issue guidance related to the valuation of ecosystem and environmental services and natural assets in Federal regulatory decision-making, consistent with the efforts to modernize regulatory review required by my Presidential Memorandum of January 20, 2021 (Modernizing Regulatory Review).

The stated reason to “Modernize” in the PM is:

As we do so, it is important that we evaluate the processes and principles that govern regulatory review to ensure swift and effective Federal action.  Regulations that promote the public interest are vital for tackling national priorities.

It doesn’t seem to me that adding more things to calculate would necessarily lead to increasing swiftness or effectiveness. It could simply deepen the regulatory word-swamp;.

(c)  Implementation of the United States Global Change Research Program shall include an assessment of the condition of nature within the United States in a report carrying out section 102 of the Global Change Research Act of 1990, 15 U.S.C. 2932.

An assessment of the “condition of nature within the US” sounds like it could be duplicative.

All in all, it seems like any regulatory changes would be further down the road after the inventory, and with lots of public involvement. All that is good.  More work for the poor FS and BLM who are trying to spend Infrastructure $ and do fire suppression; and start hundreds or thousands of NEPA processes.  But they might not get to the end of rulemaking before 2024, and politicians tend to be sensitive to making controversial decisions in an election year (with some notable exceptions).  So we’ll see how it all plays out.

32 thoughts on “Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies: Text of “Mature and Old-Growth Forest” EO”

  1. Looks like more busy work on an Agency that needs to be concentrating on treating haz fuels. This “survey” should be able to be completed in a GIS shop, using existing VSS layer. However, looks like the first task is to reduce what an “old Forest” is; how about Wilderness, does it get a pass?

    Almost 3 thousand million dollars (3 billion $) setting there ready to work while the Southwest burns. It looks like it is going to be a disastrous fire year given the precip cycles and fluctuation, with Colorado already in fire restrictions in parts of that State.

    The best nugget I took away was an emphasis on reforestation! It used to be “backlog”, then it became normal operating to forget reforestation. I know it wasn’t the same everywhere, but some of the mega-fires I had the privilege of experience only planted less than 5% of the burned area. Older timber sales lacking stocking were written off, the “super tree” program lapsed, etc. Let’s see how the reforestation piece pans out – color me hopeful!

    Oh well, it was Earth Day…..

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    • My life memory of “old growth forests” was the numerous “prairies, meadows, fens, areas that are now young timber missing 16,000 or more prior years of indigenous maintenance and protection using set fire to keep and maintain meadows. Maybe the Tribes have influence enough to ask the Federal land managers to give “old growth meadows, prairies” recovery priority, and seasonally burn them now the encroaching trees are fire killed, little danger of conflagration, to re-establish “meadows” as tree free as they were on century old maps. Edge trees use water enough to dry soil in which conifer seeds can germinate and flourish, and the meadows gradually are lost to tree encroachment that dries up the spring snow melt residual water and summer precipitation. Studies show indigenous use of myriad plants and assembled animals attracted to sun energized surface food, the surrounding old growth forests used as security and thermal cover. A mile of line around a 40 and 4 miles around a section. More edge effect from smaller meadows. More security by distance from seen threats with large prairies. Trees you cannot suppress. They must be removed, with fire being the most benign way. And trees kill meadows. Use the stand removal fires as opportunity to recreate historical meadows. Use fire for resource use to keep them as meadows. And, fire breaks, fire direction change by limited fuel, are also a benefit. A helicopter personnel extraction site. I thought the introduction of landscape architects in timber sale layout, introduced 50 years ago, was about planned diversity to mimic nature in unit planning. I assumed at the time indigenous peoples’ burning regimes were the prior random mosaic of post fire vegetation patterns of varied level of fire intensity that overhead teams and incident command tried to protect. Now the President wants to plant trees?

      Real life in Oregon, a half century ago. Bob Straub was running for governor and spoke to the need to get 5 million acres of “un reforested private land growing trees again.” He said “I will upon election put the unemployed to work planting trees.” An aide had to tell him that the State had the tree nursery but no seed, site selected for each of many areas, to have viable trees for that site. It takes two growing seasons once you have the sites identified, cones gathered and processed, and seed to produce seedlings to plant. You will be running for a second term with no accomplishment due to time constraints. Never mention the subject again. Hopefully Joe is listening.

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    • You must have missed the REPLANT Act that was included in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill – it requires the FS to take care of the existing reforestation backlog that is due to unplanned events by 2030. And provides additional funds to do that as well.

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      • Actually, tens of millions were paid into K/V Fund, deposits for slash disposal and site prep. Those disappeared into the ether of D.C. and the Chief’s office 25 years ago. All of which makes me believe there is no different end result for infrastructure funds. No different than the “fire for resource use” implemented, and then overhead team has Hot Shots “doing a burn out of residual fuels within the fire perimeter.”

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  2. There will also continue to be people who want to preserve the controversy, above all things. Donations are still a very important funding mechanism for preservationist NGOs. Controversy is needed for those groups to keep their funding levels. They have to continue to oppose most commercial activities on Federal Forests, while still claiming that “wildfires are natural and beneficial”.

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    • As a former Oregon resident, I was surprised that this was a news story and not opinion..

      “The order centers on of some of the most fraught politics in Oregon. It is laden with language about reducing wildfire risks – packaging perhaps designed to make it more palatable to rural communities and the timber industry, which have long pushed the federal government to more aggressively “manage” forests by stepping up logging.”

      Only “rural” residents care about wildfire risks? Seems to me that towns all around Oregon care about wildfire. It’s weird to me that something that most people get behind.. are characterized in a news story as “us” vs. “them.”

      Also this 80 year old thing…
      “It’s not enough to just protect the remnant ancient forests,” said Steve Pedery, conservation director at Oregon Wild. “It’s the trees that are growing, these 80-plus year-old stands, that are a big deal. We’re thrilled to see them include these mature forests in the order.””

      I wonder if they mean no trees should be cut in 80 year old stands..even to protect older trees. All very confusing.

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      • The Northwest Forest plan generally prohibits the harvest in Late Successional Reserves for stands that are more than 80 years old, so it sounds like they have equated 80 years with “mature”. But the NFMA regulations define maturity as having reached at least 95% culmination of mean annual increment….should be interesting to see how maturity is defined in this case…

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  3. It would be interesting to see the probabilities of an 80 year old stand of trees surviving until it is 150 years old, which seems to be the ‘target age’ some people want, for ALL of our forests.

    Also, who will be the one to implement these ideas, as prescribed by our President? How can that person avoid lawsuits, based upon a shaky Executive Order? Will the courts have to decide what the order meant to do?

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  4. Sharon: “Note that this says forests, not individual trees. So if you need to thin individual old trees to ultimately protect the old forests, then you will. This seems pretty innocuous.”

    Given the arguments that removing large/old trees does not protect old forests, I see this as something that will be problematic if the best science is not rounded up and resolved as part of this process. (I also wouldn’t assume that this sanctions logging of residual old trees in an otherwise younger forest. That is not addressed here, and would have nothing to do with “ecosystem restoration and wildfire risk reduction,” but it would be inconsistent with the overarching goal to “enhance carbon storage.”)

    Regarding Jim Z’s suggestion that this is a GIS exercise with existing data, that may be all that can be done in a year, but many (including FS folks) have argued that “old growth” is not defined just by structural stages, and does not lend itself to the existing inventory and data conventions of the agency. One argument against establishing old-growth management areas in forest plans was that locations of existing old growth were not known.

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    • Hi Jon: The idea that “old-growth” was defined by “structure” rather than by actual age of individual trees was mostly introduced by Jerry Franklin, Tom Spies and a few other academics in the 1980s: the “non-declining, even-flow, naturally functioning ecosystem” definition that has yet to be replicated in real life.

      In that regard, the USFS has had wonderful maps dating to the 1930s showing exactly where these older trees exist. Aerial photos and satellite imagery should verify any such stands. The idea that plantations and afforested meadows and prairies can be transformed to “old-growth habitat” by selective logging and/or neglect is liked getting apple juice from oranges. The whole thing should be common sense, not semantics. And it should be a relatively inexpensive straight-forward process, mostly focused on snags and ground fuels, if the are serious, in my opinion.

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      • This is from Franklin 1981: “Old-growth coniferous forests differ significantly from young-growth forests in species composition, function (rate and paths of energy flow and nutrient and water cycling), and structure. Most differences can be related to four key structural components of old growth: large live trees, large snags, large logs on land, and large logs in streams.” I guess my point should have been that some of these structural components (and composition and function) are probably not part of common GIS data sets that might be used to complete the national inventory.

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        • “…national inventory.”

          Who is going to be the ‘boots on the ground’ who gets this accomplished? Such a person has to have some sort of forest knowledge to understand everything it takes to do a proper inventory. Will the existing timber crews be ‘conscripted’ into doing inventory work all summer, instead of project prep?

          OF COURSE, there will be many ‘scientists’ who want to lump on more and more data collection, because “as long as you are there, you might as well…”. If the deadline for a “national inventory” is one year, the value of such a ‘shallow’ inventory will make the data not very useful.

          The clock is ticking and I don’t think that the Forest Service can do everything they are currently tasked with. Again, they just don’t have the expertise needed to do very much. The extra ‘Ologists’ needed will be key, along with Forestry Techs.

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          • I’m sure it will use existing data. The discussion will be “what counts””what measurements can we use” “does it need to be ground-truthed, if so, how much” .
            Not to be cynical, but if this were a big deal, I think they would have started earlier in the election cycle. It will be a data/discussion exercise and the ultimate rulemaking would be laborious and time-consuming during election season, and possibly a prime partisanal target.. “the Biden Admin wants your town to burn up!” We’ll have to wait and see…

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            • And to be redundant, I think it is a huge mistake to start considering Franklin’s esoteric descriptions of “large snags, large logs on land, and large logs in streams,” as needing protection. That is a fairly precise description of a relatively rare condition to be found across the landscape at any point in time in the past few thousands of years. And why does it require special consideration?

              Jerry Franklin just made this up, and definitions of “old-growth” never contained these elements ever before. It always was a logger’s term for exceptionally large, older trees — often developing distinctive bark appearances. Large snags don’t always develop before a crown fire; beavers used to create ponds within streams, while people used downed wood for fuel and other products; trees often blow down en masse, and rarely a large log here and there over time. Etc. Forests are dynamic, and for many thousands of years they have contained people.

              In my opinion, it has been long past time to continue with these so-called “ideals” of forest management, whether for aesthetics or as “critical habitat” zoning. Franklin’s theoretical descriptions of a desirable — even necessary — forest conditions in the Douglas Fir Region need to be critically considered at some point. I’d think that the Elliott State Forest would be perfect for such a study.

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              • “It always was a logger’s term.” But now it isn’t. Here is the Forest Service in 1994: “Old-growth forests are ecosystems distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes. Old growth encompasses the later stages of stand development that typically differ from earlier stages in a variety of characteristics which may include tree size, accumulations of large dead woody material, number of canopy layers, species composition, and ecosystem function. “https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/741

                In 2003, that definition was considered “widely accepted but too general for forest inventory or planning.”
                “Many forestry textbooks lump all old-growth forests into one stage of forest development. Most scientists now agree, though, that the term “old-growth forests” actually includes forests in many stages of development, and forests that differ widely in character with age, geographic location, and disturbance history. Even within the specified geographic area, no one definition represents the full diversity of old-growth ecosystems.”
                https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/pubs/science-update-4.pdf

                I don’t think the Executive Order wants an inventory using the “logger’s term,” but the current, functional definitions don’t lend themselves to remotely sensed inventories.

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                • Jon: I think you are right about what they are trying to do, but I completely disagree that this latest USFS effort to hijack the dictionary is “functional.” Mostly, it is gibberish, so far as I can tell. Job security for bureaucrats.

                  There is a reason the forests being managed by the USFS the past 30 years have been erupting in flames, and this type of political posturing and government double-speak should bear a lot of the responsibility, in my opinion. To speculate that “most scientists agree” seems unlikely, however determined, but irrelevant — voting is a political function and not at all “scientific” in the eyes of many.

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                  • I guess this is what scientists say when they are in the minority. (But it does seem fashionable today to be just plain anti-science.)

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                    • No, Jon, this is what scientists have always said. You could look it up. Not sure what your “anti-science” comment is about, but I’m guessing you still need more practice in that department, too.

            • My guess is that much of the existing data is ‘out of date’. Can litigators sue over the use of old data to generate new projects? It seems like the inventory could be interpreted as ‘fake’ or inappropriate, especially if the data is shown to be (too) old.

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            • The current plan for the inventory is to use FIA data and apply the old forest definitions found in each Forest Plan to that FIA data to develop the inventory.

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              • Thanks, A.! Do you think there will be an effort to harmonize across forests/BLM? Also will that include “mature”? Because I’m not so sure “old forests” in plans and “mature” are the same thing?

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                • The old forest inventory was being planned before the EO due to the Infrastructure Bill, so it will probably take awhile to develop a method for mature forest.

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              • Is the “FIA” the 1994 or 2003 definitions that Jon cites? Other? Certainly data of this nature should be cheap and easy to gather for a first-cut for everyone to publicly consider. BLM and USDA considerations should be easy to consider on an initial basis, too. Three days or one week?

                I would be very interested in four GIS layers for every NF and BLM Forest that has them (which should really be all): 1) 1994 old-growth stands; 2) 1994-2022 clearcut logging; 3) 1994-2022 HCPs; 4) 1994-2022 wildfire boundaries.

                That kind of information — which should be readily available, one would think — would certainly provide some valuable insights regarding the future management of our public forests.

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                • I agree, Bob. If I could, I would establish a FACA committee like FIA has to guide collection and availability of key data from NFs and BLM for the public. I used to call it “The People’s Database” earlier in the history of TSW.

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                • Bob: The Biden speech was a prepared script for campaigning in a deep blue Washington State to hand out his wishes like candy at a pre school. I seriously doubt if he knows anything about what the words he was spouting. Gov. Insley was there and so was Sen Murray. I can’t remember seeing Sen Cantwell in the news snippet I saw. Worse, the Justice Alito draft opinion on the Constitutional viability of Roe v Wade has now taken center stage and will until the second Wednesday in November, 2022. Congress is not much more than playing shuffleboard at the Alpine Tavern: Climate Change has been knocked into the gutter for now.

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                • While I don’t know about HCPs, all of the info you mention should be available. The old growth would not be 1994 – but whatever vintage was used by the FEMAT team to develop the Northwest Forest Plan. The Northwest Forest Plan monitoring plans have also been tracking old growth within the Northwest Forest Plan. The 20 year monitoring plan is the last one published and the 25 year monitoring will be published this year. You can find those on Treesearch.

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                  • Thanks Anonymous: I was directly involved in the FEMAT process and not too happy with how it went, or the predictable results. I do know there were an awful lot of GIS techs involved, but I don’t recall any discrete mapping layers such as I describe being produced. That was pretty much ground zero for the spotted owl HCPs being created on a grand scale, but was in 1993 — just as most the major wildfires were getting started. I’m very interested in the size, number, and location of post-1993 HCPs as they relate to subsequent wildfires. Any help with that? I would think it would be a primary point of interest to both managers and to taxpayers.

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              • Maybe I’m remembering a debate between forest ecologists and wildlife biologist from the early ’90s (when Green et al cited here was produced) about whether FIA did not include some important elements need to identify old growth. At least according to this paper, it should work for Region 1. “Each of the five FIA sub-plots in the FIA cluster matches the plot configuration used to develop the definition of old growth forest55; therefore, the scale and extent of each FIA sub-plot is well suited to apply the definition of old growth forest used throughout the Northern Region of the National Forest System.” https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2004_czaplewski_r001.pdf

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              • FIA data aloe would not be a very good inventory. It’s just a single sample every square mile. Hopefully, we will get a more fine-grained inventory than that. GNN (gradient nearest neighbor) might be combined with FIA for a slightly better attempt but still not good enough to capture all the valuable fragments of mature & old-growth forest that need to be comnserved.

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                • Hi 2ndLaw: Even though you don’t consider the FIA data to be “very good,” it’s the best we have at the time. This data cost a lot of money, took a lot of time and skill to develop, and certainly should be readily available to the people that paid for it. As a starting point. Then start worrying about GNN acronyms.

                  Just remember that your own opinions as to what might constitute a “valuable fragment” or what might be “needed” are just somebody’s opinions made public by an anonymous source. Zero weight, or close. Facts are safer.

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  5. The woods products industry has abandoned the undependable Federal sources of timber.

    Mills to cut logs all less than 22″ butt diameter and to a top diameter of 5″ in lengths of 12 feet and longer, can never cut “old growth” of any definition of age or size. Instead, the few mills now cutting a lot of lumber get their logs from industrial timberland owners, in a symbiotic relationship where the timberland grows trees in less than 50 year cycles, and mills are designed to cut the dimension lumber those logs will produce.

    In turn, architects now constrained by small maximum lot sizes zoned for single family homes, design two story homes with a smaller land footprint. The “setback” between houses is 10′. Streets take up more room because garbage trucks and emergency vehicles are larger. The whole process does not need any old growth timber produced lumber.

    20% of all Sequoias 4 feet dbh and larger died in 2021 fires, and 2% of all ages of Sequoias died that year. Mortally wounded, in a drought, more will be lost even with no fire this year. Old growth protection defined as no logging is how to NOT protect older trees on public land with all its Wilderness and Roadless Areas. “Progressives” continue create situations to remove green, live trees yet still fight logging dead trees. Don’t mug the burn victim. Oregon removed single family home zoning to encourage “infill and affordable housing.” An old home is bought, and the 50+ year old trees are removed, house demolished, and a four plex built on the lot, quadrupling the revenue from that space. So much for the urban tree canopy to mitigate asphalt and air pollution. Infill is removing mature trees. In many cases, their canopy larger than the roof area of the demolished house. Claims of “Logging old growth” is a straw man for creating more NGO funding from California residents. USFS timber sales EAST of the Mississippi River generate the majority of all USFS timber volume sold and revenue gained. No fires there. Little Federal logging and continual litigation brought by Green NGOs are the norm WEST of the Mississippi River. Conflagrations are now annual events and now underway in NM and AZ. Coincidence? Climate change? Or age old survival strategy to have far fewer surviving trees using cyclicly less water and thus species survival until a wet cycle arrives? Lightning here forever. Humans for at least 16,000 years by best estimates gained from Paisley caves organic origin tools, human created and now carbon dated . Maybe patience is the missing element. No pronghorns or sage hens wearing watches. Geese migrating at night flying over at this moment. No altimeters or night vision goggles. Over is the operative word. They are leaving before fire season and will return in fall to feast on the new grass in the burned meadows. Or grass seed fields disked, plowed, harrowed, rotovated into seed beds and planted in September are new grass when the cacklers, Aleutians, Duskies arrive in the coming fall.

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