Strengthening BLM Management Considerations in Old-Growth And Mature Forests
On April 22, 2022, the President signed Executive Order 14072 Strengthening the Nation's Forests, Communities, and Local Economies (87 FR 24851). Executive Order 14072 (EO 14072) generally provides that forest on Federal lands, which include many mature and old-growth forests, be managed “to promote their continued health and resilience; retain and enhance carbon storage; conserve biodiversity; mitigate the risk of wildfires; enhance climate resilience; enable subsistence and cultural uses; provide outdoor recreational opportunities; and promote sustainable local economic development.” It also provides specific actions[i] the BLM must implement “in consultation with State, local, Tribal, and territorial governments and the public, and to the extent consistent with applicable law” in furtherance of the policy set out in the Executive Order to “conserve America’s mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands.”
As the BLM and other agencies implement EO 14072, the BLM anticipates the development of definitions of old-growth and mature forests on Federal land; this will inform our land management, and through meeting the other direction in the Executive Order, may result in updates in our current practices and policy. It is important to acknowledge however, that many BLM Resource Management Plans already provide regionally appropriate definitions of old-growth and mature forest and include management direction to conserve old-growth and mature forest attributes. These existing definitions are excellent starting points that may need to be updated as a result of the definitions developed pursuant to EO 14072.
Other aspects of the BLM’s ongoing management of forest and woodlands that contain old-growth trees and forest structures are also already consistent with the goals of EO 14072. For example, the BLM has set aside old-growth forest in reserves and some wilderness study areas; and the BLM reserves individual old trees, snags, and downed wood when planning treatments intended to protect against drought and high severity wildfire or improve forest health. As reforestation targets are developed under EO 14072, these targets will also need to be incorporated into BLM’s planning and implementation processes.
For example, in 2003, the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) was enacted to provide management direction for forest treatments for HFRA projects that “maintain, or contribute toward the restoration of, the structure and composition of old-growth stands...” (16 U.S.C. 6512). The BLM’s Land Use Planning Handbook H-1601-1, Appendix 4 Program/Resource-Specific Decision Guidance, builds upon this direction and applies it more broadly to all forest management implementation decisions by directing offices to “identify old-growth stands and management practices to achieve old-growth management direction where applicable.” Old-growth forests store large amounts of accumulated carbon and contain unique features important for wildlife, and the BLM will continue to consider old-growth forest attributes during project planning and analysis. The BLM will also continue to consider potential risks to old-growth forests and individual old trees while planning project and landscape activities to promote their continued health and resiliency.
The BLM Headquarters is working with the U.S. Forest Service and other DOI agencies to develop the deliverables in EO 14072, and have engaged the public and stakeholders for input on these actions through a Federal Register notice issued on July 15, 2022 (87 FR 42493).
Signed by: Authenticated by:
Nada Wolff Culver Ambyr Fowler
Principal Deputy Director Division of Regulatory Affairs and Directives (HQ-630)
[i] Actions from Sec. 2. Restoring and Conserving the Nation's Forests, Including Mature and Old-Growth Forests.
- The Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture (Secretaries) … 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.
- 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.
- Following completion of the inventory, the Secretaries shall: 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, analyze the threats to mature and old-growth forests on Federal lands, including from wildfires and climate change; and 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.
- The Secretaries, in coordination with the heads of other agencies as appropriate, shall within 1 year of the date of this order: 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, 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 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.