Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, January 14, 2021


Joe Trudeau, (928) 800-2472,

Letter to Forest Service: Stop Cutting Down Centuries-old Trees on Grand Canyon’s North Rim

Fire-resilient, Carbon-storing Ponderosa Pines Among Last Remaining

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity called on the U.S. Forest Service today to stop cutting down old-growth trees on northern Arizona’s Kaibab Plateau, an antiquated practice that worsens climate change, increases wildfire risk and damages forest ecosystems. In recent months commercial logging companies have felled hundreds of ancient, yellow-barked ponderosa pines on the Grand Canyon’s North Rim.

“The Forest Service has been whittling away at old trees on the North Kaibab for too long,” said the letter to the agency’s top regional officials. “This is a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ situation, cynically justified by claiming that cutting old trees and leaving the small ones reduces the threat of fire.”

The Center included photos and video of trees more than 300 years old and nearly three feet in diameter that have been cut down as part of the 26,000-acre Jacob Ryan logging project above the Canyon’s North Rim. When it approved the project in 2012, Kaibab National Forest officials said it would “focus on thinning smaller trees.” Field surveys in December found widespread commercial logging of old and large trees in the area.

“The Forest Service is cutting down some of the largest, oldest trees left in the American Southwest,” said Joe Trudeau, the Center’s Southwest conservation advocate. “These old, fire-resistant ponderosa pines are champions at absorbing greenhouse gas emissions. The last thing we need in a climate emergency is to whack these giants down.”

The Center sued the Forest Service to stop the Jacob Ryan project, saying it would destroy old forests and harm wildlife like the northern goshawk. The Kaibab Plateau holds most of what’s left of the Southwest’s old ponderosa pines, towering trees that provide essential habitat for the highest density of northern goshawks on the continent.

The Center’s recent field surveys affirmed those fears.

These exceptionally large and old trees store significant amounts of carbon, and recent research shows old trees sequester carbon at rates far higher than small, young trees. Logging and processing the wood releases most of that carbon to the atmosphere.

“Old-growth logging flies in the face of decades of science showing that old, fire-resistant trees are the backbone of dry forest ecosystems like the Kaibab,” said Trudeau. “If the Forest Service is serious about addressing climate change and reducing the risk of wildfires, it needs to start by leaving these ancient giants where they stand, not trucking them off to become two-by-fours.”

The letter also highlighted the agency’s failure to account for the combined effects of logging old forests across six massive overlapping logging projects on the Kaibab Plateau covering a half-million acres. In addition to the Jacob Ryan Project, the agency is near completion of a plan to expand logging into thousands of acres of old forest in the Burnt Corral area, near the famed Rainbow Rim Trail. Four other projects also allow logging old trees.

Old-growth logging on Arizona's Kaibab Plateau. Photo credit: Joe Trudeau, Center for Biological Diversity Images and video are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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