New data shows improved watershed health in Pacific Northwest forests

Jun 10, 2015
Photo of the Three Sisters Wilderness in Oregon by Randy Traynor.
New data from 20 years of monitoring by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management shows watershed health and habitats are improving in the majority of Pacific Northwest forests, thanks to the Northwest Forest Plan.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management released reports summarizing 20 years of monitoring data in Pacific Northwest forests and presented the results at a meeting in Vancouver, Wash., yesterday. The data shows watershed health and habitats are improving in the majority of forests in the region, providing cool water for salmon and steelhead and clean drinking water for millions of people.

Since the Northwest Forest Plan was implemented in 1994 to balance protecting habitat with supporting local economies from the Cascade Crest to the Pacific, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management have used a regional strategy to monitor and assess the status and trends of watershed condition, late-successional and old-growth forests, socioeconomic conditions, and population and habitat for old growth forest dependent species such as marbled murrelets and northern spotted owls. The Forest Service has published results of this monitoring every five years since 2005.

Under the Northwest Forest Plan, many forests have been allowed to mature, improving watershed health and lowering water temperatures for species that depend on cool, clean water like salmon and steelhead. The number of watersheds improved outnumbers those that have declined two to one, especially in areas where the Forest Service has focused on road decommissioning and stabilization projects that improve fish habitat. Many of the healthiest watersheds are in designated wilderness areas in Washington and Oregon.

“The Northwest Forest Plan has done an excellent job of protecting old-growth forests, improving watershed health and increasing and protecting habitat of threatened and endangered wild salmon and steelhead,” said Ben Greuel, Washington State Director for The Wilderness Society. “Clean water is one of the major demonstrated benefits of the Northwest Forest Plan and is critical to people and wildlife throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Numerous scientific studies have found that since the plan was adopted, drinking water quality has improved and imperiled salmon and steelhead runs have either stabilized or improved. Millions of people—including more than half of all Oregonians—receive their drinking water from lands and waters protected by the Northwest Forest Plan.

The Northwest Forest Plan covers more than 24 million acres of public land across Washington, Oregon, and northern California and includes 19 national forests and seven BLM districts. The Forest Service is beginning the process of revising all of the management plans for individual national forests that are guided by the Northwest Forest Plan, which will determine how resources are managed for the next 15-20 years. The Forest Service has not yet decided how it will address potential changes to the Northwest Forest Plan itself. Plan revisions will be governed by regulations adopted by the Obama Administration in 2012 that require the Forest Service to use the best available science and to focus on protecting healthy forests and watersheds.

“We have an opportunity to update and strengthen the Northwest Forest Plan based on new science and issues like climate change that have emerged over the past 20 years,” Greuel said. “We look forward to collaborating with diverse groups and communities across the Pacific Northwest and building on the plan’s solid foundation with sound science.”

The full reports and summaries are available online.

20 Year Reports for the Northwest Forest Plan:


The Wilderness Society is the leading conservation organization working to protect wilderness and inspire Americans to care for our wild places. Founded in 1935, and now with more than 700,000 members and supporters, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect 109 million acres of wilderness and to ensure sound management of our shared national lands.   

Ben Greuel
(360) 670-2938