This story was originally published by The Guardian and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Joe Biden’s administration on Tuesday announced a new proposal aimed at banning logging in old-growth forests, a move meant to protect millions of trees that play a key role in fighting the climate crisis.

The proposal comes from an executive order signed by the president on Earth Day in 2022 that directed the US Forest Service and the land management bureau to conduct an inventory of old-growth and mature forest groves as well as to develop policies that protect them.

“We think this will allow us to respond effectively and strategically to the biggest threats that face old growth,” the US agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, told the Washington Post. “At the end of the day, it will protect not just the forests but also the culture and heritage connected to the forests.”

The US Forest Service oversees 193m acres of forests and grasslands, 144m of which are forests. In its inventory conducted after Biden’s executive order, the agency found that the vast majority of forests it oversees, about 80%, are either old-growth or mature forests. It found more than 32m acres of old-growth forests and 80m acres of mature forests on federal land.

The land management bureau defines old-growth forests as those with trees that are in later stages of stand development, which typically means at least 120 years of growth, depending on species. The giant sequoias in California, for example, are old-growth trees. Mature forests, meanwhile, have trees that are in the development stage immediately before old growth.

Advocates for years have been pushing the Biden administration to explicitly ban logging in old-growth and mature forests. Trees that are in their old-growth stage are able to store more carbon than younger trees, making them a natural solution to fighting the climate crisis.

In 2022, shortly before Biden announced his executive order, a group of more than 130 scientists wrote a letter to Biden advocating a ban on logging in old-growth forests.

“Older forests provide the most above-ground carbon storage potential on Earth, with mature forests and larger trees driving most accumulation of forest carbon in the critical next few decades,” the letter read. “Left vulnerable to logging, though, they cannot fulfill these vital functions.”

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The ban will come into effect in early 2025, allowing time for the Forest Service to finalize rules that will protect old-growth forests from logging. Because it comes under an executive order, its existence depends on the outcome of the 2024 presidential election, making advocates worried about the protections’ vulnerability to the country’s political climate.

But federal agencies have also been under pressure from the timber industry, which argues that logging creates economic activity and helps to fight wildfires. The proposal focuses on most old-growth forests, leaving mature forests still vulnerable to logging, which is a middle ground between environmentalists and the timber industry.

Chris Wood, the president of Trout Unlimited and a former official with the US Forest Service, told the Associated Press the policy “is a step in the right direction”.

“This is the first time the Forest Service has said its national policy will be to protect old growth,” Wood said.

Other advocates are emphasizing that this is just Biden’s first step toward fulfilling his executive order.

“Protecting our old-growth trees from logging is an important first step to ensure these giants continue to store vast amounts of carbon, but other older forests also need protection,” Randi Spivak, public lands policy director with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a press release. “To fulfill President Biden’s executive order and address the magnitude of the climate crisis, the Forest Service also needs to protect our mature forests, which if allowed to grow will become the old growth of tomorrow.”

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Guess how much illegal logging in old growth will be done before 2025?

Why not 2024? catch the timber interests off guard and make them vacate these forests before they can do more irreparable damage