The 21″ Screens: Updates and Resources

In the final days of the Trump administration, the Forest Service rolled back protections for large trees on National Forests in Eastern Oregon.

This decision, issued in the final days of the Trump administration, was rushed through illegally, without adequate public process.

The Forest Service does not have any evidence that increased logging of large trees will benefit wildlife or mimic the natural processes that forests depend upon, or result in the forest conditions the agency claims. There is, however, considerable and well-documented evidence that increased logging of large trees will result in long-term and irreparable harm to wildlife, ecosystem processes, biodiversity, and water quality

The decision to roll back protections for large trees needs to be withdrawn immediately. The Forest Service needs to consider a holistic ecosystems plan that prioritizes protecting old and mature forests, wildlife habitat and connectivity, roadless areas, and water quality. The rollback of the Screens poses immense threats to big and old trees and mature forests on six National Forests, as well as the threat of exacerbating the global climate crisis. The US Forest Service is not looking at the big picture of forest ecology, choosing to ignore science and public input in the pursuit of increasing timber sales.

While most federal projects have three public comment periods, the agency provided only one opportunity for the public to submit written comments on this massive decision affecting millions of acres. The agency claims that because the decision was signed by the Undersecretary for Natural Resources and Environment, it is not subject to the objection process. However, only plans proposed by the Under Secretary are not subject to objections, per 36 CFR 219.51(b). This project was not proposed by the Under Secretary, the Responsible Official listed is Ochoco Forest Supervisor Shane Jefferies. Furthermore, the agency’s own early pre-decision notices state directly and repeatedly that the action would be subject to an objection process.

This illegal decision is a fusion of longstanding Forest Service goals and the forest policies of the Trump administration. For the last four years, the Forest Service has pursued increasingly aggressive logging practices that ignore both the law and science. The ecological realities on the ground have not changed since the 21” Screens were implemented. There is still a deficit of large trees on the landscape in eastern Oregon. The 21” Screens have only been in place for 25 years, and so trees across the landscape have had very limited time in which to become larger and begin to ameliorate this deficit. Many species of wildlife, such as Pileated woodpeckers and American martens, depend on large trees for their survival. Logging large trees will further threaten old-growth dependent and imperiled species. Furthermore, it is imperative that we increase carbon sequestration and retain large trees and mature forests, which store the most carbon. The agency’s decision to roll back protections for large trees is exactly the wrong direction for addressing climate change.

The decision to cancel the objection period for the amendment decision is a blow against the protection of our public lands. The large, old trees protected by the Eastside Screens are the backbone of iconic Old Growth habitats, essential to wildlife, recreationists, and our climate.  Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project condemns this action and is committed to opposing this illegal amendment, the timber grabs it will foster, and the ecological destruction that will result.

Take action to defend large trees and old forests! 
Call or email Senator Jeff Merkley’s office to ask that he takes a stand and fights for the protection of large trees in Oregon.

Ask Senator Merkley to work with the Biden administration to reinstate the 21″ Screens protections for large and old trees. Large trees and old growth forests need more protection, not more logging!

Email Senator Jeff Merkley at:
Merkley’s Portland Office #: (503) 326-3386
Merkley’s Eugene Office #: (541) 465-6750

Logging large trees will further threaten old-growth forests, and the species that depend on them. Also, the agency’s decision to roll back protections for large trees is exactly the wrong direction for addressing climate change.

Some suggested talking points:

  • There is still a deficit of large trees on the landscape across eastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. 
  • Many species of wildlife depend on large trees, snags (standing dead trees), and large logs in order to survive. The 21” Wildlife Screens were meant to protect this crucial wildlife habitat. 
  • Species such as Pileated woodpeckers, American martens, White-headed woodpeckers, numerous owls and bats, Black bears, and numerous others very much depend on large trees. Logging large trees will further threaten old-growth dependent species, especially species which are already imperiled or at-risk or depend on fir trees, complex canopies, and mature forests.
  • Large wood structure is essential for streams and riparian areas, and is key for providing necessary habitat for salmon and other aquatic species.
  • Large trees make up only 3% of the trees in these forests, yet store approximately 42% of the carbon.

Here are additional resources on the 21″ Screens and the Trump administration’s decision to rollback protections for large trees:

  • A panel presentation on the Screens can be found here. Panelists Veronica Warnock (Greater Hells Canyon Council), Rob Klavins (Oregon Wild), Paula Hood (Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project), and Rory Isbel (Central Oregon Landwatch) discussed the outgoing Trump administration’s decision to roll back protections for large and old trees under the 21” Screens, and the importance of eastside forests in statewide efforts to protect wildlife, biodiversity, connectivity, and carbon.
  • Dr. David Mildrexler’s presentation on his research on the importance of large trees in carbon storage east of the Cascade Crest in Oregon and Washington can be found here. Dr. Mildrexler’s research found that large trees (those 21” in diameter or larger) only make up 3% of the trees, yet account for 42% of the above-ground carbon in these forests.
  • Blue Mountains Biodiversity Project has been working closely with Earthrise Law Center, Greater Hells Canyon Council, Oregon Wild, and Central Oregon Landwatch to oppose the rollback of protections for large trees on eastside forests. In addition, 29 conservation groups and 115 scientists have joined in voicing their unified opposition to the Trump administration’s rollback of the 21″ Screens.
  • For a more in-depth look at some of the ecological issues and science behind why protecting large and old trees in eastern Oregon is important, please check out this expert report by Dr. Dominick DellaSala and Dr. Bill Baker.
  • This letter from local, placed-based conservation groups in Eastern Oregon requesting that the Biden administration review the decision to roll back the 21″ Screens under the Climate Executive Order. 
  • A video about the big trees in eastern Oregon and Washington can be found here. 
  • You can also see the Green Oregon action alert page on the 21″ Screens here.
  • Oregon Wild’s ‘Forever 21?’ blog on the 21″ Screens contains extensive background information and history on the 21″ Screens.

Thank you for speaking up for large trees and old forests in eastern Oregon!