No legislation has had such sweeping impacts on Federal forest management in Oregon as the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP). Put in place by the Clinton Administration in response to the overharvesting of old-growth and the subsequent negative impacts to species such as the Northern Spotted Owl, the NWFP attempted to balance the ecological needs of threatened and endangered species while simultaneously providing a sustainable source of timber. It remains controversial to many, with some clamoring for greater protections for wildlife habitat, and others advocating for increased timber harvesting to support rural communities and local jobs.
On June 26th, several Trout Mountain foresters attended a livestream webinar sponsored by the Forest Service which unveiled a peer-reviewed synthesis of research and monitoring reports spanning the last 20 years. This synthesis will inform upcoming forest plan revisions for 17 national forests, which combined with 7 Bureau of Land Management districts encompasses approximately 24-million acres in Western Washington, Western Oregon, and Northern California. Most of the Forest Service plans have not been revised since the NWFP was enacted over twenty years ago.
A wide range of topics were covered, addressing such issues as climate change, threatened and endangered species, late-successional habitat, and environmental justice. Some of the key points made by the presenting scientists included the need for more active management of Late Successional Reserves (LSR’s), as well as potentially reclassifying some LSR designations. Concerning salmonid species, it was recognized that most of the productive salmonid habitat was located downstream from national forest lands, emphasizing the need for public/private partnerships. Despite the fact that late-successional habitat has been conserved within the NWFP area, Northern Spotted Owl populations have declined over the past 20 years by ~30-70%. This has been largely due to competition from barred owls, loss of habitat from fire, and past or current (private lands) logging practices. Marbled Murrelets, another endangered species linked to the NWFP have retained a stable population [in Oregon and California, see more information here]. Finally, the synthesis recognized the dramatic uptick of people using the national forest system for recreation, as well as various northwestern tribes, minorities, and low-income populations.
A link to the Forest Service Science Synthesis containing the report as well as other useful information can be found at https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/research/science-synthesis/