During a visit to Seattle, President Joe Biden signed Executive Order 14072 on Earth Day, April 22, 2022, mandating that the government categorize and monitor old-growth trees on federal lands. Executive Order 14072 consists of five sections. Section 1 is a statement of the new federal policy regarding the protection of old-growth forests. Section 2 details how the federal government plans to restore and conserve the nation’s forests. Section 3 was written to stop international deforestation. Section 4 deals with nature-based solutions to mitigate climate change and enhance the nation’s resilience facing the ecological crisis. Finally, section 5 establishes general provisions for the executive order. Executive Order 14072 differs from current laws governing the protection of old-growth forests in several respects. The recent presidential decree is unique because it explicitly addresses climate change and makes a commitment to restore forests in foreign countries, contemplating the impact that foreign assistance can make for incentivizing sustainable forestry and agricultural practices abroad. The scope of Executive Order 14072 is broad, taking into account wildfire mitigation, indigenous practices, international trade, and preservation of domestic mature and old-growth forests.
Section 1 sets forth a policy to preserve biodiversity, mitigate the risks of catastrophic wildfires, and protect public lands for recreational activities. The policy section also notes the economic significance the sustainable forest product sector has for local communities. The executive order speaks to the irreplaceable role forests play in reaching net-zero gas emissions, stating that in the United States, more than 10 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions are stored in forests. The Biden administration also notes the special importance forests hold for tribal nations, vows to honor tribal treaty rights, and plans to use prescribed burns to reduce the occurrence of large-scale wildfires by incorporating indigenous ecological knowledge.
Section 2 lays out actions that the federal government will take to restore and conserve the nation’s forests, especially mature and old-growth forests. Pursuant to the order, the secretary of the interior and the secretary of agriculture will continue to jointly pursue wildfire mitigation strategies (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(a)). Within the next year, the secretary of the interior and the secretary of agriculture shall define, identify, and complete an inventory of old-growth and mature forests on federal lands (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(b)). The executive order mandates this inventory for both Bureau of Land Management lands and National Forest System lands.
After the inventory is complete, the two secretaries shall consider stewardship of mature and old-growth forests in light of climate change and with other executive departments, states, tribal nations, and voluntary private landowners (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(c)(i)). The secretaries will analyze threats to mature and old-growth forests on federal lands from wildfires and climate change (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(c)(ii)). The secretaries shall also develop policies, with robust opportunity for public comment, to institutionalize climate change management and conservation strategies to address threats to mature and old-growth forests on federal lands (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(c)(iii)).
The secretaries shall coordinate with the heads of other agencies within the next year to develop a federal goal that tasks agencies to achieve reforestation targets by 2030; collaborate with federal, state, tribal, and private-sector partners to develop a plan informed by climate science to increase federal cone and seed collection and to ensure seed and seedling nursery capacity is sufficient to meet reforestation demands; and coordinate with the secretary of commerce, local governments, nonprofit organizations, and the scientific community to develop recommendations for community led economic opportunities to create jobs in the sustainable forest product sector (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 2(d)(i-iii)).
The Biden administration declared its commitment to the collective global goals to end natural forest loss and to restore at least an additional 200 million hectares of forests and other ecosystems by the year 2030 (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 3). The Biden administration is also committed to employing the Lacey Act to combat illegal logging and the illegal timber trade. The executive order mandates that within one year of the order’s date, the secretary of state must consult with the secretary of the treasury, the secretary of agriculture, the secretary of commerce, the secretary of homeland security, and several agency administrators to submit a report to the president weighing options for proposed legislation to combat international deforestation that includes an analysis of limiting or removing products grown on deforested lands and an analysis of a potential public-private partnership with the agricultural business sector (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 3(a)(i, ii)). Also by April of 2023, the secretary of state must submit a report to the president detailing how relevant agencies can incorporate the assessment of deforestation risk into guidance on foreign assistance and investment programs, address deforestation and land conversion risk pursuant to trade agreements, identify international processes to combat deforestation and enhance sustainable land use, engage major commodity importers in addressing deforestation, and assess options to direct foreign assistance to help threatened forest communities transition to an economically sustainable future (Exec. Order No.14072 § 3(b)(i-v)).
Protecting coasts and marine ecosystems is another component of Executive Order 14072. Section 4 requires the chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the secretary of state (through the administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) meet with several other agency heads to submit a report to the National Climate Task Force to identify opportunities for deploying nature-based solutions across the federal government (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 4(a)). The director of the Office of Management and Budget will issue guidance related to the valuation of ecosystem and environment services and natural assets in federal regulatory decision-making (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 4(b)). Additionally, the implementation of the U.S. Global Change Research Program will include an assessment of natural conditions in the United States pursuant to section 102 of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 (Exec. Order No. 14072 § 4(c)). Section 5 of Executive Order 14072 states that the order does not affect the authority granted to an executive department or agency or the functions of the director of the Office of Management and Budget (Exec. Order 14072 § 5(i, ii)).
The administrative implementation of Executive Order 14072 will occur over the course of the next year. In April of 2023, the various plans mandated by the order will be finalized and the legal dimensions of the executive order will be established. Executive Order 14072 has a wide scope impacting the trade of forest and agricultural products, how foreign assistance is spent, and how forestry practices in the United States are conducted. The inventory and protection of mature and old-growth trees on federal lands is the most central component of the presidential decree. However, there are many other aspects of Executive Order 14072 that are overlooked in the headlines. The Biden administration has taken a bold stand for a scientifically informed approach to climate change and wildfire mitigation as well as assuming a leadership position for the restoration of forest lands in foreign countries.