In response to President Biden’s “Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies” announced today, American Forests president and chief executive officer Jad Daley released the following statement:
President Biden’s “Executive Order on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies,” announced on Earth Day, delivers on the administration’s continued whole-of-government commitment to forest-climate solutions while affirming what we’ve been emphasizing: our forests already provide tremendous carbon solutions and are poised to be one of our most powerful tools for action on climate change.
“I’m signing this order to conserve our forests that do so much to protect us…to strengthen our forests on federal lands and make them and the local economies they support more resilient in the face of wildfires,” said President Biden. “With this Executive Order, we’re showing on Earth Day that this moment of maximum threat and urgency can also be a moment of hope.”
Our forests are powerhouses for efficient carbon storage, as are the soils underneath them. Today’s Executive Order recognizes the unique qualities of ancient forest landscapes and the critical role they play in removing carbon from our atmosphere and helping to slow climate change. By conducting the first-ever federal assessment of the current locations, conditions, protections and management practices ascribed to old growth and mature forests on U.S. Department of Agriculture and Department of Interior lands, we’ll be able to better apply science-based decision making to future policies.
Our old growth trees, like all forests, are under direct threat from the climate crisis. With catastrophic wildfire and other climate change-induced threats such as drought, pests and diseases on the rise, these forests need a mix of management approaches to continue to provide clean air and water, wildlife habitat, recreation opportunities and diverse forest products. The United States lost thousands of old growth trees in the 2020 and 2021 wildfire seasons, including almost 20 percent of the iconic, ancient giant sequoia trees in existence.
But today’s Executive Order is not just about old growth forests, it also pursues complementary strategies to maximize climate benefits from our national forests and other federal lands and takes valuable steps to help facilitate climate-smart forestry across all of America’s forests. Building resilience across public and private landscapes is critical to maintaining the capacity of all forests to combat climate change.
The Executive Order includes goals for reforestation and a much needed strategy for seedling and nursery capacity. Following the catastrophic wildfires of 2020 and 2021, forests on federal and private lands have needed significant reforestation efforts, but have been hindered by the limited capacity of the nation’s eight federal nurseries. Climate change is also affecting nursery strategy, with demand for climate-adapted seeds and seedlings on the rise, and nursery capacity is further stressed by catastrophic wildfires and other climate-change related events. By investing in a more aggressive nursery and seedling capacity strategy, the administration is further delivering on the down payments made through the 2021 REPLANT Act in the infrastructure bill to reforest America’s landscapes.
With a fire season that’s now year-round, aggressive policies on wildfire risk reduction are needed more urgently than ever. The U.S. Forest Service released a study earlier this month that found catastrophic wildfires on federal lands are expected to triple in the next 80 years in the face of climate change. By investing in wildfire risk reduction now and doubling down on the administration’s commitment to an all-lands wildfire resilience approach, we will not only save money from future fire suppression efforts, we’ll save lives.
This administration considered all aspects of nature-based solutions when approaching the climate crisis, including harnessing the power of harvested wood products and urban and community forestry in carbon storage capacity. Our most vulnerable communities are often on the front lines of climate change, hit first and worst by higher temperatures amplified by the urban heat island effect, and are more likely to experience significant flooding brought on by extreme storms. Communities with low tree cover can experience nighttime temperatures as much as 22 degrees higher and daytime temperatures as much as five degrees higher than neighborhoods with trees. By expanding urban tree cover, we can cool our communities, reducing household energy bills alongside greenhouse gas emissions, all while creating jobs, bolstering local economies, and improving the health and wellbeing of countless residents.
Our forests offer numerous pathways to achieving action on climate change, and we’re heartened to see the administration’s Executive Order embracing that approach. Our climate crisis is dire and requires bold solutions, and today’s Executive Order represents one of the boldest commitments to the power of nature-based solutions we’ve ever seen. This Earth Day, we’re reminded that America is a global leader on forestry, and through the efforts of this administration, our forests are poised to strengthen the nation’s stance as leaders in taking climate action.
Jad Daley is the president and chief executive officer of American Forests and attended today’s announcement.