The Northwest Forest Plan: Still the Best Science of the Day
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.
Federal agencies are considering revising the NWFP in its entirety or via separate plan revisions (e.g., BLM Western Oregon). We recommend that plan revisions treat the NWFP current protections as a “floor” rather than a “ceiling” and that land managers build on the NWFP by:
- Moving all remaining mature and old-growth “high-biomass” forests from the Matrix where logging can occur to the reserve network (i.e., abolish the need for a “Matrix” while maintaining a fixed reserve system in perpetuity);
- Reducing carbon dioxide releases from logging by choosing alternatives that optimize carbon storage and sequestration and increasing climate resilience by reducing land-use stressors (especially livestock grazing, and post-fire logging);
- Maintaining or increasing stream buffer protections of the ACS in order to benefit both aquatic and terrestrial species;
- Decommissioning and repairing failing roads that pollute streams with sediment runoff;
- Restoring degraded tree plantations that propose significant fire risks; and
- Safely reintroducing wildfire, that performs vital ecosystem benefits, while partnering with landowners to reduce their fire risks.
The plan also needs to be brought into compliance with the ecological integrity and forest carbon management provisions of the 2012 national forest planning rule, President Barack Obama’s November 2013 executive order on climate change, and the White House (CEQ) guidelines on greenhouse gas emissions from land-use (forestry) activities.
With increasing threats from climate change and non-federal logging, ongoing declines of imperiled species, new pressures from invading species, and greatly expanding post-fire logging projects, every acre of mature and old-growth forest on federal lands including when those areas eventually burn or are reset by natural disturbances must be protected in perpetuity for the plan to fully achieve its ecosystem targets and myriad ecosystem benefits provided by intact and recovering ecosystems. In sum, if it was ecologically valuable and protected before a disturbance it is as important (if not more) after a disturbance.