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Biden unveils protection plan for old-growth forests during Seattle visit

On Friday, President Joe Biden marked Earth Day at Seattle’s Seward Park — home to some of the oldest stands of trees left in the city — where he announced and signed an executive order meant to protect old-growth forests on federal lands.

“We’re going to work with state and local and tribal governments to map, catalog and conserve old-growth forests on our public lands,” Biden said. “These are the forests that store and sequester incredible amounts of carbon that help us fight climate change.”

It's unclear how the new inventory will differ from what federal land managers have already produced. For Oregon and Washington at least, the U.S. Forest Service completed an inventory of older forests on federal lands in 2015.

After producing the new inventory, the departments of Agriculture and the Interior are supposed to "coordinate... wildfire risk reduction activities" as well as "develop policies" for "climate-smart management and conservation" of the country's mature forests.

"The key will be in the implementation," said Seth Zuckerman, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Natural Resource Group, a nonprofit that promotes ecological forestry in Western Washington and Oregon. "There has been a tendency to try to co-opt the message of wildfire risk reduction into a justification for big-tree logging."

While Biden was speaking, several dozen protesters gathered just beyond the police line closing the park with signs like, “Put an end to fossil fuels!”

Climate activists have criticized the Biden administration because, just last week, it authorized expanded oil and gas development on other federal lands. Biden did that to address gasoline prices, which have risen following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“Every time the federal government makes plans to drill for more oil and burn more oil, or gas or coal, we’re just digging ourselves deeper into a hole, and we have very, very little time to turn our energy system around,” said Seattle activist Thomas Meyer, with the group Food and Water Watch. “We cannot continue to dig up and burn new reserves of fossil fuels.”

Biden’s executive order also calls for supporting rural economies by helping them develop outdoor recreation as a source of income, as well as markets for wood products and wood energy harvested from reforested lands.

The order also requires the federal government to develop reforestation targets for 2030 and to expand the government's seed and nursery capacity. And it directs the Office of Management and Budget to better account for the value of services like water filtration and carbon sequestration, which are provided by preserved ecosystems.

The president did not take any questions after his announcement.