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.
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.
At 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.”
Comments submitted on August 1 to the Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) to help inform its legislative mandate (HB 5201) on the development of a statewide carbon policy framework, and to assist in presenting the best available science for forest carbon accounting. Read the full comments.
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.
WESTERN OREGON—Jerry Franklin has spent much of his life in the company of giants. From his childhood in the woods of Washington state to a scientific career that catapulted him to international prominence, the towering trees of the U.S. Pacific Northwest have shaped his world. In the 1980s, the forest ecologist became a hero to many conservationists thanks to research that helped lead to a controversial 1994 plan protecting millions of hectares of old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest from logging.
Today, in the twilight of his life, the 80-year-old scientist has become a champion of this far different landscape, which he sees as vital to supporting a full range of forest species. That change has again thrust Franklin, a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, to the center of a debate over the future of the northwest’s forests—including a potential rewrite of that seminal 1990s Northwest Forest Plan. This time, Franklin is drawing the ire of conservationists for promoting forest management techniques—including targeted logging—designed to create more of the scraggly patches of protoforest that ecologists call “early seral” communities.
Forest ecologist Dominick DellaSala, president of the Ashland-based Geos Institute, is convinced that logging is a poor substitute for natural disturbances, which leave a complex jumble of live and dead trees. DellaSala was Franklin’s co-author on the 2011 paper about the importance of early seral habitat, but he has become Franklin’s chief scientific critic. Franklin, he says, “thinks you can recreate [seral habitat] from nothing. And I think you can’t recreate it from nothing. You’ve got to start with something and just not salvage log it.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has completed his long-awaited review of 21 national monuments and recommending a handful be reduced in size including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in Oregon. Climate change was a main reason to expand the Cascade-Siskiyou, as researchers pressed the Obama administration to protect whole watersheds and reduce habitat fragmentation between the Cascade and Siskiyou mountains.
“It’s the only functional land bridge making that connection,” says Dominick DellaSala, president and chief scientist at the Geos Institute, who was involved with research on the monument’s role in climate resilience. He describes Cascade-Siskiyou, which encompasses a wide variety of habitats including oak woodlands, mixed conifer stands and chaparral, as the first monument to biodiversity. “Traditional uses like logging are land-use stressors that are incompatible with the monument’s biodiversity.”
In fact, researchers pushed for a far larger expansion than the one Obama enacted. “This is the last place any kind of monument reduction should be attempted,” DellaSala says. “Reducing the boundaries is not scientifically defensible.”
The marbled murrelet, a robin-size coastal seabird, is unique in nesting in old-growth rainforests along the Pacific Coast of northern California, Oregon, and Washington. It has been declining mainly from habitat loss due to logging, gill net fisheries, and oil pollution. Geos Institute sent detailed comments to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to up-list the species from threatened to endangered due to ongoing habitat loss and ill-effects of climate change on coastal marine waters.
Interior Secretary Ryan ZInke has begun a controversial and scientifically incredulous review of 25 national monuments for possible reductions in protections, including the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southwest Oregon and northern California. Geos Institute played a supportive science role in designation of the monument (as well as other national monuments) in 2000. We are now defending this monument from possible rollbacks of the Trump administration.
Read the letterRead the letter we sent to Mr. James Cason, Special Assistant, Delegated the Functions, Duties, and Responsibilities of the Deputy Secretary of the Interior.