Press Release

USDA elevates protections for old-growth forests in proposed nationwide amendment

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Washington.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, WA

Mason Cummings

The proposed amendment is an important step for climate resilience and forest conservation

 WASHINGTON D.C. (December 19, 2023) — Today, the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a Notice of Intent to adopt a nationwide forest plan amendment to conserve old-growth across U.S. National Forests.  

The agency is inviting the public to participate in shaping how the Forest Service should manage our forests – especially older forests — to ensure they are part of the solution to address the biodiversity crisis, capture and store carbon, ensure clean drinking water, survive stressors from climate change like uncharacteristically severe wildfire and drought, and bolster indigenous co-stewardship of forests.    

Following is a statement from Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society: 

"The Forest Service's proposed nationwide amendment is an important step to proactively conserve old-growth forests so they can do what they do best – store carbon and stabilize ecosystems," said Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society. "The Wilderness Society is encouraged by the administration's efforts to take a science-based approach to safeguard our nation's forests at a time when they are increasingly threatened by climate change. We look forward to working with the administration to secure a durable policy that conserves the forests we all depend on for healthy communities and landscapes." 

On December 20th, the Department is announcing a 45-day public comment for the Notice of Intent which proposes the following reforms to our nation’s forest plans: 

  • Prohibiting management activities that degrade old-growth forest conditions, 

  • Protecting our remaining old-growth forests from industrial logging, 

  • Promoting management that aims to combat climate change impacts, and 

  • Reducing the risk of abnormally severe and destructive wildfires in fire-prone forests. 

Consistent with these proposed reforms, The Wilderness Society recommends that the Forest Service promptly propose and adopt an old-growth forest policy that establishes complementary, durable regulatory direction for conserving and recruiting old-growth forests and promotes tribal co-stewardship and integration of indigenous knowledge in national forest management. The Wilderness Society looks forward to working with the Forest Service to strengthen its proposed plan amendment to achieve the promise of conserving our old-growth forests. 

The news of a proposed nationwide forest plan amendment follows another hugely important step from the Forest Service to protect old-growth forests. On Friday, the Forest Service issued a Notice of Intent to amend the Northwest Forest Plan, which encompasses 19 million acres of federal forest lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California, to better address increasing threats from wildfires, floods, loss of mature and old forests, and the increasing impacts of the climate crisis.   

The proposed nationwide amendment is also one of the latest USDA efforts to implement President Biden’s executive order 14072 on Strengthening the Nation’s Forests, Communities, and Local Economies. In early May, the USDA sought public input on a possible new rulemaking that would enhance resilience in our nation’s forested lands. Nearly half a million people took action during the comment period over the summer, and the vast majority urged protection for our old and mature forests.  

This proposed nationwide amendment provides helpful direction that local forest managers across our 154 national forests must follow for conserving our remaining old growth. This opens the door for collaboration as forests are charged with developing a conservation strategy to protect old-growth. 

Additional information: 

A TWS analysis shows that old-growth forests on national forest land are rare, but that there are a significant number of mature forests that are rapidly approaching old-growth conditions. These findings confirm what has been understood about the deficiency of old-growth on the national forests for decades and underscores the urgency of President Biden’s 2022 executive order to preserve and protect old-growth forests. It is important to adopt a policy that affirmatively helps this older cohort of mature forests reach the old-growth phase. 

Over half of all American voters believe fighting climate change should be a top priority for the president. Updating national forest management plans and wildfire strategies is an opportunity for the Biden Administration to make concerted progress towards mitigating the worst effects of the climate crisis but must include protections for mature and old growth forests from threats posed by logging, wildfire, drought and other climate stressors. Considering the USDA received hundreds of thousands of comments in support of a rulemaking that would protect and restore climate resiliency on National Forest Lands, this is yet another way that the Biden Administration can leave a lasting conservation legacy.  


Emily Denny, Communications Manager, Climate Solutions,, 202-240-1788