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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); This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.; www.geosinstitute.org

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.”

The Northwest Forest Plan adopted by President Bill Clinton in 1994 shifted federal lands management from an emphasis on timber production to ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation within the range of the threatened Northern Spotted Owl. At the time, old-growth forests were being clearcut at an alarming rate of 2 square miles each week. Aside from a few parks and wilderness areas, logging would have largely eliminated the regions old-growth forests this decade. In 1994, U.S. District Court Judge William Dwyer proclaimed the Northwest Forest Plan the “bare minimum” (emphasis added) needed to meet federal statutes such as the Endangered Species Act and the National Forest Management Act. 

Key findings of the report show the Northwest Forest Plan:

  • Greatly reduced logging of mature and old-growth forests on federal lands from pre-forest Plan levels of 1.5% each year to under 0.5% during the past 15 years;
  • Improved conditions for more than two-third of 193 watersheds due to reduced logging, streamside protections, and restoration of failing roads; 
  • Provided climate benefits in the form of long-term carbon storage and high quality drinking water for millions of people; 
  • Slowed declines of old-growth dependent species such as the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet that would have been much worse; 
  • Provided protections for hundreds of rare species of plants and wildlife; 
  • Supported a shift toward restoration thinning of plantations and fuel reduction;
  • Decoupled Oregon counties from reliance on uncertain and unsustainable timber receipts; and 
  • Sustained quality of life benefits for regional economic diversification.

Scientists involved in the Northwest Forest Plan recognized that even with the Plan’s protective standards in place it would take at least a century to restore the late-successional (mature and old growth) forest ecosystem reduced by logging to a fraction (<20%) of its historical extent. While it is premature to judge the efficacy of a 100-year plan in just two decades, scientific assessments have shown that it has achieved many of its ecosystem management targets. 

Notably, one of the key objectives of the Plan was to reduce fragmentation of forests by roads and clearcuts. This will require not just protecting existing older forests but growing more of them over time, while repairing and decommissioning failing roads that cause sediment runoff to salmon spawning areas.   

DellaSala added, “The Northwest Forest Plan remains the best science of the times for conserving, restoring and managing responsibly our public lands over a vast region. It is essential that its protections be upheld.”

The U.S. Forest Service is considering revisions to the Northwest Forest Plan. The BLM, which manages a portion of federal forests in Oregon has released for public comment its draft resource management plan that marks a significant departure from the Northwest Forest Plan, including reduced streamside protections and removing protections for hundreds of rare species.

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