Standing beneath especially tall trees in a forest and looking up can invoke a feeling of awe. Large trees — especially those that are 21 inches in diameter or more — offer valuable benefits to forests, as well as outsized help with the biodiversity and climate crises. They provide unique habitat for wildlife, as well as disproportionate absorption and storage of atmospheric carbon dioxide, a major driver of climate change.

A new study explores the connection between protecting mature trees in national forests and objectives related to habitat conservation, forest resilience and climate change mitigation.

“These are public lands that are providing a natural climate solution and performing multiple additional services at no cost,” said systems ecologist with Eastern Oregon Legacy Lands David Mildrexler, who was the lead author of the study, as reported. “We suggest policy to keep existing forest carbon stores out of the… atmosphere and accumulate additional amounts while protecting habitat and biodiversity.”

The study, “Protect large trees for climate mitigation, biodiversity, and forest resilience,” was published in the journal Conservation Science and Practice.

A previous study found that trees protected by a rule that prohibits the logging of trees 21 inches or wider at breast height — known as the “21-inch rule” — only make up three percent of forest stems, but account for 42 percent of aboveground carbon storage, reported

However, the U.S. Forest Service recently relaxed this vital rule, which means these essential, majestic carbon stores can now be felled on millions of national forest lands in Washington and Oregon.

“Forests account for 92% of all terrestrial biomass globally, store about 45% of the total organic carbon on land in their biomass and soils, and removed the equivalent of about 30% of fossil fuel emissions annually from 2009 to 2018, of which 44% was by temperate forests,” the study’s authors wrote, as reported.

Some ancient trees can live as long as 5,000 years and accumulate and store a massive amount of carbon in that time.

“There is no action required from us but to leave these large trees standing so they can continue to store and accumulate carbon for climate mitigation and provide critical habitat,” said co-author of the study Beverly E. Law, a professor of global change biology and terrestrial systems science in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, as reported by

Read the full article about tree and wildlife conservation by Cristen Hemingway Jaynes at EcoWatch.