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Our long-term goal: Older forests on federal lands are managed for carbon storage, intact areas are managed for resilience to climate change as climate sanctuaries, and wildfire is maintained for its beneficial role in forest renewal.

Forest Legacies applies a mixture of cutting-edge science and strategic partnerships that influence climate and natural resource policies on public lands. We make use of on an 18-member nationally recognized advisory board of scientists and an online network of over 1,500 scientists that routinely extend our science reach to decision makers in Congress and the White House. We publish in leading scientific journals, play a lead role in scientific societies like the Society for Conservation Biology, and serve as a spokesperson for translating the latest conservation science to the public and media.

When viewed from the window of an airplane, an intact landscape is a living legacy, particularly when it is embedded in a sea of clearcuts and developed lands. Inside an individual forest, its legacies are the sum-of-the ecosystem parts that uniquely define the quality of the forest: large snags (dead trees), downed logs, and flowering plants persist for centuries in the old-growth stage. Ancient trees readily absorb (sequester) and store massive amounts of carbon, helping to stabilize the climate. They anchor soils and prevent erosion, purify drinking water by filtering and slowly releasing it during dry summer months, and provide habitat for imperiled species like spotted owls and hunt-able wildlife like elk that seek sanctuary in dense forests during winter months. When disturbed by a fire, these core elements (surviving or dead) are the building blocks (legacies) for the new forest that literally rises from the ashes as nature’s phoenix.

While much of our Forest Legacy work is focused on protecting temperate rainforests, dry forests provide important and underappreciated ecosystem benefits as well. In western North America, dry forests are born out of fire. With urban sprawl resulting in 46 million homes in fire-prone areas, wildfire-fighting costs have spiraled out of control pitting the needs of fire-dependent forests against the needs and safety of people. Fire is also increasing in places due to climate change, although before Europeans arrived, Native people experienced much more fire than we do today. The Forest Legacies program is working to direct fire fighting and fire risk reduction to where they are needed most – nearest homes – while allowing managing fires for their ecosystem benefits in the backcountry. We are also working to bring the latest science to decision makers in order to support rationale fire legislation that does not replace critical protections for newly fire-created forests with increased and unsustainable logging.


Old-growth Forests Hold Keys to Adapting to Climate Change

Scientists released new findings on the importance of mature and old-growth forests in preparing the Klamath-Siskiyou region of southwest Oregon and northern California for global climate disruptions. Published in the January edition of The Natural Areas Journal (Volume 32: 65-74) by the Natural Areas Association, the study calls on regional land managers to protect mature and old-growth forests as an insurance policy for fish and wildlife facing mounting climate change pressures from rising temperatures, declining snow levels, and reductions in fog along the coast.

Old-growth forests, clean water and climate benefiting from two decades of protections under the northwest forest plan

For Immediate Release on May 11, 2015

Contact: Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, Chief Scientist; 541-482-4459 x 302; 541-621-7223 (cell);;

Ashland, OR – Two decades of monitoring and scientific studies have shown that the Northwest Forest Plan is meeting its ecosystem management objectives across nearly 25 million acres of forests from Coast Redwoods to Olympic rainforest as managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service. The Northwest Forest Plan: Still the Best Science of the Day, a report issued by the Ashland-based Geos Institute reviews extensive government monitoring reports and scientific assessments of the Plan’s effectiveness overtime.

According to the report’s author, Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, “the protective elements of the Northwest Forest Plan have been rehabilitating forests that were once a net source of carbon dioxide pollution from logging to forests that are now re-growing and absorbing vast amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide. We also have seen marked improvements to drinking water for millions of people, protection of habitat for endangered species, and the beginnings of ecosystem restoration that wouldn’t be possible without the Plan’s protections.”

Northwest Forest Plan

The Northwest Forest Plan: Still the Best Science of the Day

Executive Summary

Northwest Forest Plan

The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) shifted federal lands management from timber dominance to ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation on nearly 25 million acres within the range of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl. Several assessments have demonstrated that the scientific underpinnings of the plan remain sound and that it has met most of its ecosystem management goals, including:

  • Greatly reduced logging of old-growth forests on federal lands;
  • Slowed declines of the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet that would have been much worse;
  • Provided a “safety net” for rare species outside the reserve network (so called “survey and manage” species);
  • Vastly improved watershed conditions across over two-third of 193 watersheds managed under the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS);
  • Provided indirect climate benefits in the form of carbon sequestration and carbon storage and high quality water;
  • Provided a “soft landing” for the timber industry as it continues to consolidate and shift toward smaller logs;
  • Decoupled Oregon counties from reliance on uncertain and unsustainable timber receipts; and
  • Sustained quality of life benefits for regional economic diversification.

About Forest Legacies

The Forest Legacies initiative focuses on forests as a “carbon bank” for helping to offset some of the nation’s dangerous global warming pollutions. Nation-wide there are approximately 27 million acres of “high-biomass” older forests that store massive amounts of atmospheric carbon, the equivalent of ~7 times U.S. global warming emissions (Derived from the work of Krankina, O., D.A. DellaSala et al. 2014. High biomass forests of the Pacific Northwest: who manages them and how much is protected?).

The Forest Legacies program calls attention to a subset of regions of national or global biodiversity and climate change importance with exceptional carbon stores, biodiversity, and clean water. Based on our published research, the Pacific Northwest (mostly coastal areas) and southeast Alaska are globally significant in storing carbon long-term. Intact areas in these regions also serve as a refuge for wildlife seeking more stable climates (Olson, D.M., D.A. DellaSala, R.F. Noss, et al. 2012. Climate change refugia for biodiversity in the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion. Natural Areas Journal 32:65–74).

Thus, most of our work is concentrated in these two areas. However, because keystone processes like fire, which is increasing in places, are associated with high levels of biodiversity in dry forests of the western United States, we also work to ensure land management responses do not threaten fire-dependent plant and wildlife communities or preclude options for wildlife to adapt to a changing climate.

In sum, the Forest Legacies initiative applies a mix of cutting-edge science, partnering with conservation groups on forest campaigns, and forming strategic alliances with policy experts to bring science to decision-makers on issues affecting millions of acres of public lands. We also draw on an 18-member nationally recognized advisory board of scientists and a network of over 1,500 scientists that extends our science reach to decision makers in Congress and the White House.

We routinely publish in leading scientific journals, play a lead role in scientific societies like the Society for Conservation Biology, and serve as a spokesperson for translating the latest conservation science to the public and media. In 2014, donors contributed ~$580,000 to this program, roughly half of our total organization budget, of which over $220,000 was invested in partnerships.

Program Goals

Forest degradation and deforestation contribute more greenhouse gas pollution globally than the entire transportation network. Conversely, protecting and responsibly managing forests for their capacity to store carbon for long periods (centuries) along with their associated biodiversity and clean water is pivotal to stemming serious global warming problems. Thus, we seek to elevate the importance of intact forests and watersheds in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska nationally and globally in climate change and land-use policies.


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Geos Institute