U.S. News


The US conducts a census of its oldest trees

The Forest Service has developed formal definitions for its oldest forests as part of an effort to preserve forests and mitigate climate change.
An old-growth forest.
Posted at 6:21 PM, Apr 21, 2023

The U.S. Forest Service just finished its first ever count of mature and old-growth forests that sit on national land — and it found that combined, they cover an area larger than the state of California.

Across U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land, there are more than 80 million acres of mature forests, and more than 32 million acres of old-growth forests. 

This report is the first of its kind to distinguish the two types of common forests, and to give technical definitions. 

Old-growth forests are made up of the tallest, oldest trees, that host established ecosystems and, the Forest Service found, can hold important social and cultural meaning.

Mature forests are those that are just about to become old-growth forests. Their trees may still be growing, and their canopies might not be as thick. They might not have the same cultural impact as their older cousins.

Old growth Douglas fir trees stand along the Salmon river Trail on the Mt. Hood National Forest outside Zigzag, Ore.

Why do we celebrate Earth Day?

Earth Day was first recognized in 1970 as a joint initiative between a Republican and Democrat in Congress.


An executive order signed by President Joe Biden on April 22, 2022 — last Earth Day — calls for the conservation of U.S. forest resources, which store climate-changing carbon, mitigate the effects of wildfires, conserve biodiversity and are particularly important to tribal nations and for outdoor recreation. This report is part of those efforts.

Now that the census is complete, the Forest Service plans to use its new definitions to help measure how U.S. forest coverage has changed, and how it can be best protected going forward.

Biden administration officials said they plan to soon update rules and policies that protect forests and grasslands from climate change effects. The exact timing of those changes was unknown.

In the meantime, the administration has continued its push to conserve forests and spread the benefits of trees. The Inflation Reduction Act earmarks an unprecedented $1.5 billion for urban tree planting projects.