Pacific Northwest

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.

Tall and old or dense and young: Which kind of forest is better for the climate?

  • Scientists say reforestation and better forest management can provide 18 percent of climate change mitigation through 2030. But studies appear to be divided about whether it’s better to prioritize the conservation of old forests or the replanting of young ones.
  • A closer look, however, reconciles these two viewpoints. While young forests tend to absorb more carbon overall because trees can be crowded together when they’re small, a tree’s carbon absorption rate accelerates as it ages. This means that forests comprised of tall, old trees – like the temperate rainforests of North America’s Pacific coast – are some of the planet’s biggest carbon storehouses.
  • But when forests are logged, their immense stores of carbon are quickly released. A study found the logging of forests in the U.S. state of Oregon emitted 33 million tons of CO2 – almost as much as the world’s dirtiest coal plant.
  • Researchers are calling on industry to help buffer climate change by doubling tree harvest rotations to 80 years, and urge government agencies managing forests to impose their own harvest restrictions

Read the full article by Paul Koberstein & Jessica Applegate at Mongabay

Keepers of the spotted owl

pnw northern spotted owl USFWSAt the world’s first breeding centre in Langley, B.C., spotted owls are hatched in incubators, given around the clock medical care and hand fed euthanized rodents in a last-ditch effort to save the species from Canadian extinction. All the while scientists warn that the province has yet to recognize the endangered raptor as a symbol of our escalating failure to protect old-growth forests. Read the entire in-dept piece by Sarah Cox at The Narwhal.

DellaSala likened the spotted owl to the quintessential canary in a coal mine. The owl is an indicator of a “whole complex ecosystem with all the parts that are in jeopardy,” he said. “This is just one of the parts and it’s telling us we have not done a responsible job of maintaining the old-growth ecosystems upon which the owl and thousands of other species depend.”

Summary of Oregon's forest carbon findings

Geos Institute partnered with the Center for Sustainable Economy in 2015 on a ground-breaking report that identified Oregon's forestry practices as among the top global warming polluters in the state. That report triggered the formation of a task force on carbon appointed by Governor Kate Brown to which our Chief Scientist sits on. The task force recently released its forest carbon findings and Geos Institute sent a summary to Oregon state legislatures. Read it here.

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