Pacific Northwest forests depend on feds making smart decisions for entire region

Mt. Hood National Forest (Oregon) and other national forests in the Pacific Northwest depend on a revised management plan to keep habitat healthy and water clean.

Credit: mthoodterritory.com, flickr.

Millions of acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest depend on federal agencies working together on plans that protect water quality, wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

In the Pacific Northwest, roughly 24 million acres of forest are protected from destructive clear-cut logging and managed as part of a vast, intertwined ecosystem that stretches from Northern California to the Canadian border. But after more than 20 years, the plan that maintains this balance is up for revision--and the health of these precious public lands rides on the new plans.

Logging prioritized in new plan to manage forests

In April 2016, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a proposal to guide logging, water quality and habitat protection in the forests of Western Oregon. This plan is the beginning of a region-by-region overhaul of the Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP), which was released in 1994, partly to protect and restore the old-growth habitat of salmon and threatened northern spotted owls.

But there’s a problem with the Resource Management Plan the BLM just announced: it prioritizes logging over conservation, estimating that the forests it covers in Western Oregon will “provide” 37 percent more timber than they did under the old plan. At the same time, it does not give enough attention to conserving wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation opportunities, or to protecting drinking water for nearby communities—values which will be especially critical in a world whose ecosystems and natural resources shift with the changing climate.

The U.S. Forest Service is supposed to follow up with its own plan for the region, and there is no telling whether its proposal will follow the BLM’s bad example. If the two agencies continue on this path—favoring logging over conservation and refusing to coordinate with the health of the broader ecosystem in mind—it could spell disaster for forests and rivers in the Pacific Northwest.

BLM and Forest Service must work together to build on conservation successes

The original Northwest Forest Plan emerged from an acrimonious battle between conservationists and the logging industry, but it was in many ways a successful compromise, and remains the best guide for managing these lands. It helped preserve and set a road map for the restoration of the larger ecosystem, while eliminating destructive clear-cut logging practices and making sure the industry steered clear of the remaining old-growth forests.

Fish in Deschutes National Forest (Oregon). The original Northwest Forest Plan has been credited with helping to lower stream temperatures. Credit: Doug Kerr, flickr.

Among the positive effects of this plan: protected forest cover has helped keep streams in the region cooler (PDF), which can in turn help fish populations. Research even suggests that the Northwest Forest Plan served an important role in sequestering carbon and combating climate change.

Now that the plan is up for revision, we have to be sure the land management agencies don’t abandon what made it work. The BLM and Forest Service must collaborate on a set of new plans that builds upon on the framework of the old, recognizing the value of the entire region. These new plans must protect rivers, ancient forests, wildlife habitat and the recreational opportunities that millions enjoy.

Stay tuned for more on this important process. As various national forests in the Pacific Northwest introduce their plans, your help will be needed to make sure these lands will be healthy for future generations to enjoy.

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