Since 1994, the Northwest Forest Plan has been providing protections for millions of acres of old-growth forests, imperiled spotted owls, hundreds of rare species, and wild salmon on federal lands in Washington, Oregon, and California. Without the Plan’s protections, all old-growth forests, aside from remote areas, would likely have been destroyed sometime this decade by unsustainable logging. This is why hundreds of scientists and conservation groups have worked hard to uphold the protections afforded these forests for over two decades.
Protecting ~1 Million Acres At-Risk in the Pacific Northwest
For decades, the Pacific Northwest has been ground zero for battles over logging old-growth forests that reached a zenith with the federal listing of the Northern Spotted Owl as “threatened” in 1990.
Protections afforded by the Endangered Species Act and other laws and regulations ushered in game-changing forest management policies and the birth of the landmark Northwest Forest Plan that lowered logging levels by 80 percent on ~25 million acres of federal lands from Washington’s Olympic Peninsula to California’s Coast Redwoods. In 2014, Geos Institute celebrated the twenty-year anniversary of the plan hailing it as a global model for ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation. But the plan would have collapsed in the Bush-administration years if not for efforts by Geos Institute and our partners.
In 2008, we were part of a team of scientists that exposed political interference in the Endangered Species Act uncovered during our participation on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s spotted owl recovery team. Our work was featured in breaking news stories from CNN to the Jim Lehr News Hour. When President Obama took office in 2008, he overturned the Bush administration’s efforts to rollback old-growth forest protections, citing political interference and scientific integrity issues that we worked to expose. And while old-growth logging on federal lands in the region is now at historical lows, the threats to overturn the plan are ongoing and have become more localized to ~2.5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands in western Oregon undergoing forest plan revisions.
Facing mounting pressures from the timber industry (lawsuits) and from the so-called 18 O&C counties in western Oregon in search of tax revenues from federal logging receipts, Senator Ron Wyden and Congressman Peter DeFazio each introduced legislation that would increase levels on BLM lands, moving away from some of the key protections of the Northwest Forest Plan.
On October 14, 2016 Senator Jeff Merkely held a public hearing on the proposed expansion of the approximately 62,000 acres Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, which includes the Pilot Rock area. It was designated by President Clinton in 2000 as the nation’s first monument to biodiversity and contains extraordinary plant and animal diversity. The region is considered a unique biological crossroads for wildlife and plants dispersing across the Cascades, Siskiyous, and Coast Range. It is the nation’s only monument to biodiversity.
Scientists, including Geos Institute, have been calling for expansion of the monument to enable wildlife migrations facing unprecedented climate change and development in the surroundings.
- Read comments in support of expansion submitted to President Obama by Geos Institute Chief Scientist and Forest Legacies Program Director Dominick DellaSala Ph.D.
- Ashland Daily Tidings coverage of the hearing
Long known for its old-growth haunts, the spotted owl is quite resilient to forest fires. Check out the new blog by Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick DellaSala, where he comments about how owls teach us what it means to be a “forest.”
Forest health is a concept widely used in management of federal lands in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Geos Institute’s Chief Scientist, Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, presents his thoughts on forest health perspectives and consequences.
Download a PDF of his presentation [6.76MB]
The Northwest Forest Plan is considered a global model for ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation on 24.5 million acres of federal lands from California to Washington (mainly west of the crest of the Cascade Mountains). Since the plan’s inception in 1993, forest ecosystems have been recovering from unsustainable logging, streams are improving, and atmospheric carbon is being stored in forests as they mature. This landmark plan is up for renewal in 2017 and a science synthesis is being conducted by the Forest Service as a pre-requisite. Scientists have called on the Forest Service to expand protections afforded to forest ecosystems and imperiled species as a means of preparing for unprecedented climate impacts and ongoing land-use disturbances mainly on nonfederal lands.Read the scientist comments
Learn about its history and how the spotted owl is doing from a new article “Evidence Of Absence: Northern Spotted Owls Are Still Vanishing From The Northwest” By Sarah Gilman in the Spring 2016 issue of Living Bird Magazine.
By Dominick DellaSala
(Originally published in the Medford Mail Tribune, April 17, 2016)
This week, more than 193 nations will celebrate Earth Day. The annual event is a marker for the environmental movement begun on April 22, 1970, when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson organized a peaceful teach-in. At the time, rivers were on fire, oil spills fouled Santa Barbara’s coastline, spaceships were headed to the moon, and the nation was at war.
Rachael Carson warned in the 1960s of a “Silent Spring” caused by toxic pesticides that were bad for songbirds and people. Hydro-fluorocarbons, a byproduct of refrigerants and other uses, were ripping holes in the ozone, triggering skin cancers.
Forests in the Pacific Northwest were being clearcut at an alarming rate of 2 square miles every week, which nearly wiped out the spotted owl and salmon.
Clearly, something had to be done. And, thankfully, millions of Americans demanded that Congress pass new laws to give us a healthy environment.
Over the past four decades, political activism has led to hard-fought gains in civil rights, gender rights, social justice, and environmental policies, from the Clean Air Act to the Northwest Forest Plan.
So, why do we need Earth Day even more now?
- Managing an Ancient Ecosystem for the Modern World: Coast Redwoods and Climate Change
- Draft Workshop Summary
The North Pacific Landscape Conservation Cooperative, California Landscape Cooperative, Geos Institute, Society for Conservation Biology (Humboldt State Chapter), and the Environmental Protection Information Center hosted a workshop and field trip entitled: “Managing Coast Redwoods for Resilience in a Changing Climate,” which took place on September 6 and 7, 2013 at Humboldt State University and Redwood National Park.
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.
Shared Responsibility: The Conservation Community’s Recommendations to Equitably Resolve the O&C County Funding Controversy
Reports and Info:
- Report and Executive Summary
- Feb. 1, 2012 Press Release from local, state, and national groups, describing their new plan to replace federal subsidies without resorting to clear-cutting public lands.
- Critique of Active Management in Spotted Owl Habitat
- 4-page summary and critique of their proposed “O&C Trust, Conservation, and Jobs Act.
As Oregon county governments receive their last checks from federal taxpayers under the expired county payments program, a coalition of seven local, state, and national conservation organizations has unveiled a balanced strategy to resolve the county funding conundrum. Given the growing trend in Congress to end Oregon’s county payments program, the groups are promoting a shared responsibility approach, where county governments, the State of Oregon, and the federal government would each take responsibility for resolving a portion of the problem.