Wednesday, July 5, 2006

The NW Forest Plan

For those of you teaching natural resources, the Society on Conservation Biology did a special section of Conservation Biology on 10th anniversary of the Northwest Forest Plan.  The key findings of the papers are recounted here:


    Conservation    Biology cover photo
    by K. Schaffer

    The         Northwest         Forest Plan:  origins, components, implementation     experience, and suggestions for change - Jack Ward Thomas (         University of         Montana),     Jerry Franklin (         University of         Washington), John Gordon (Interforest),     and Norm Johnson (             Oregon         State         University):

    • The Northwest Forest Plan has proven to be more       successful in achieving restoration goals for old-growth and aquatic       ecosystems than in achieving economic and social goals.
    • Three recommendations are made: 1) recognize that       the Plan has evolved into an integrative conservation strategy, 2)       conserve old-growth trees and forests wherever they occur, and 3) manage       federal forests as dynamic ecosystems.

    Effectiveness of the         Northwest     Forest Plan in conserving the Northern Spotted Owl -

    Barry         Noon     and Jennifer Blakesley (             Colorado         State         University):

    • Monitoring of Northern Spotted Owls has shown a       continuing decline in the species despite a dramatic drop off in timber       harvest on federal lands.
    • Since enactment of the Plan, new threats have       emerged, including movement of Barred Owls into the range of the spotted       owl and loss of owl habitat from fire and logging on private lands. 

    Conservation of the Marbled Murrelet under the         Northwest         Forest     Plan - Martin Raphael (US         Forest Service):

    • Most of the higher suitability habitat for the       Marbled Murrelet, a coastal seabird that nests in old-growth forests, was       included in forest reserves called "late-successional reserves."
    • Nonetheless, monitoring ten years after       implementation shows mostly stationary populations with predictions of       4-6% annual declines in the near future as a result of timber harvest on       private lands and changing ocean conditions that are not favorable for the       birds.

    The Aquatic Conservation     Strategy of the         Northwest         Forest Plan - Gordon Reeves (US Forest Service),         Jack Williams (Trout Unlimited), Kelly Burnett (US     Forest Service) and Kirsten Gallo (US         Forest     Service):

    • Ten years after implementation, the aquatic       conservation strategy, designed to protect key watersheds and streamside       areas from logging, appears to have halted most declines in stream and       riparian conditions, resulting in measurable improvements to 64% of       watersheds examined.
    • Most improvements were in riparian (streamside)       conditions, critical to stream health and a focal point for protections in       the Northwest Forest Plan.

    Protecting rare, old-growth,     forest-associated species under the Survey and Manage Program guidelines of the     Northwest Forest Plan - Randy Molina, Bruce Marcot, Robin Lesher (US Forest Service):

    • The Survey and Manage Program sought to protect       approximately 400 little known species (e.g., amphibians, fungi, mollusks,       plants, small mammals) found mainly in older forests by creating the need       to survey for these species before logging and then protecting if found.
    • The program gained valuable information about       these species but created conflicts with other timber objectives of the       plan, which ultimately resulted in program changes.

    Status of mature and old-growth     forests in the Pacific Northwest,         USA     - James Strittholt     (Conservation Biology Institute),             Dominick DellaSala (World Wildlife     Fund) and Hong Jiang (Conservation Biology Institute):

    • Since European settlement of the              Pacific Northwest, approximately 72% of old-growth conifer forests have been lost to       logging and development, most of remaining old-growth is on public       lands.
    • Of the remaining old growth, nearly half is found       in the Central and Southern Cascades (Washington and              Oregon)       and Klamath-Siskiyou Region (northern California/southwest                     Oregon) but less than 1/3 of older forests is       protected in parks and wilderness areas
    • Strengthening protections for older forests in       the late-successional reserves (by eliminating post-fire logging) and       roadless areas (by reinstating the roadless rule) would protect nearly 60%       of the remaining older forests on public lands.

    The Northwest Forest Plan as a model for broad-scale     ecosystem management: a social perspective - Susan Charnley (US         Forest Service):

    • The Plan’s socioeconomic goals met with mixed       success and the plan never delivered on its timber harvest assumptions.
    • The reasons behind the mixed results were that       some key agency assumptions on socioeconomics were flawed and, secondly,       that agencies had reduced institutional capacity to achieve the goals.

    Public timber supply, market adjustments, and local     economies: economic assumptions of the         Northwest         Forest Plan – Thomas Powers (             University of         Montana):

    • Contemporary economics indicate that the economic       links between forests and local communities are much broader than simply       the flow of commercially valuable logs.
    • The flow of environmental services from forests       has increasingly become an amenity that has drawn people and economic       activity to forested areas and these amenities have traditionally been       undervalued by federal land managers.

    Conserving old-growth forest diversity in     disturbance-prone landscapes - Thomas     A. Spies, Miles A. Hemstrom, Andrew Youngblood, and Susan Hummel (US     Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station)

    • A decade after its creation, the Northwest Forest       Plan is contributing to the conservation of old-growth forests on federal       land.  However, the success and       outlook for the plan are questionable in the dry provinces (east of the              Cascade Range). 
    • Losses of old growth to       wildfire have been relatively high (ranging from 1.4 to over 14% on       a decadal basis) and risks of further loss remain.  Consequently, new landscape-level       strategies are needed to meet the goals of the plan in these complex and       dynamic landscapes.



WASHINGTON, D.C./Ashland, OR - A 1994 plan intended to protect hundreds of species     associated with old-growth forests and diffuse gridlock over timber management     of America’s northwestern forests is getting a fresh look by nineteen     nationally-renowned scientists, including several of the Northwest Forest     Plan’s original architects. In the April special feature edition of the     international journal, Conservation     Biology, scientists offer their analyses of the Northwest Forest Plan’s     effectiveness in achieving its ambitious goal to balance logging with forest     protections on nearly 25 millions of acres of federal land. Advance copies of     journal articles are available online at


According to Jerry Franklin, University of Washington professor and principle architect of the plan, "the Northwest Forest Plan was the first attempt anywhere to address the many factors that contribute to forest ecosystem health and sustainability on such a large scale. Not surprisingly with a plan this complex, success has been mixed but has resulted in a great deal of learning. Ecological values have certainly been protected by the plan but there has been inadequate attention to restoration, especially on eastside forests with uncharacteristic fuel loadings. Timber harvest levels have been less than projected, partially because of efforts to log old-growth stands outside of reserves, something which is no longer socially acceptable."

Franklin added, "the Northwest Forest Plan has missed the mark on timber outputs for many reasons, including continuing efforts to log in old-growth forests and the need for extensive species surveys prior to timber harvesting activities."


"We should all be proud of     what this plan has accomplished," said         Jack Williams,     a former Forest Service supervisor and senior scientist with Trout Unlimited     who helped edit the special feature. "We’ve seen real progress in protecting     old-growth species and watersheds across millions of acres of         America     ’s forests. Stream     conditions have improved steadily, particularly where communities work     side-by-side with restoration ecologists."


Adoption of the Northwest     Forest Plan in 1994 followed years of conflict over timber harvesting on the     one hand, and protection of old-growth forests, watersheds, and wildlife on the     other.


Covering 25 million acres of     federally-managed land in the         Pacific Northwest,     the plan marked a transition from timber-focused planning to forest-wide     ecosystem management. Incorporating input from numerous stakeholders, the plan     sought to balance logging of the nation’s forests with conservation of salmon     runs and other wildlife, old-growth forests, and northwestern watersheds.


While the plan has been     successful on many fronts, many scientists decry the Bush Administration’s     efforts to strip protections for millions of acres of old-growth forests in     Oregon, loosen protections for endangered salmon, and log in old-growth     reserves following fires.


"Recent attempts by the Bush     administration threaten to unravel the ecological fabric of the Northwest     Forest Plan," said         Dominick DellaSala,     forest ecologist with the World Wildlife Fund and guest editor for the special     feature.


DellaSala added that "the Plan is working best in places where     federal managers are working with local communities to thin overly stocked     plantations for fuels reduction and restoration, such as the Gifford Pinchot     and             Suislaw         National Forests, rather     than where the agencies continue to log in older forests."


Journal papers and abstracts     are available at


(click on Latest News) or contact Society for Conservation Biology, 703-276-2384 x101


Journal Contents and Authors     (all papers were peer reviewed):

  • The              Northwest              Forest Plan: A Global Model Of              Forest Management In Contentious Times –                     Dominick DellaSala       (WWF) and              Jack Williams (Trout       Unlimited)
  • The              Northwest              Forest Plan:  Origins, components, implementation       experience, and suggestions for change - Jack Ward Thomas (              University of              Montana),       Jerry Franklin (              University of              Washington), John Gordon (Interforest),       and Norm Johnson (                     Oregon              State              University):
  • Effectiveness of the Northwest Forest Plan in       conserving the Northern Spotted Owl - Barry              Noon and Jennifer Blakesley (                     Colorado              State              University)
  • Conservation of the Marbled Murrelet under the              Northwest              Forest       Plan - Martin Raphael (US              Forest Service)
  • Aquatic Conservation       Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan - Gordon Reeves (US Forest Service),              Jack       Williams (Trout Unlimited), Kelly Burnett (US Forest       Service) and Kirsten Gallo (US              Forest       Service)
  • Protecting rare, old-growth, forest-associated       species under the Survey and Manage Program guidelines of the Northwest       Forest Plan - Randy Molina (US Forest Service), Bruce Marcot (US Forest       Service), Robin Lesher (US Forest Service)
  • Status of mature and old-growth forests in the       Pacific Northwest,              USA       - James Strittholt (Conservation Biology Institute),                     Dominick DellaSala       (World Wildlife Fund) and Hong Jiang (Conservation Biology Institute)
  • The Northwest Forest Plan as a model for       broad-scale ecosystem management: a social perspective - Susan Charnley (US Forest Service)
  • Public timber supply, market adjustments, and       local economies: economic assumptions of the Northwest Forest Plan –       Thomas Powers (                     University       of              Montana)
  • Conserving old-growth forest diversity in       disturbance-prone landscapes - Thomas       A. Spies, Miles A. Hemstrom, Andrew Youngblood, and Susan Hummel       (US Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station)


Access to Abstracts

Access to Full Text

    Access to full text pdfs is available to SCB members by logging into your SCB Membership Homepage and to media representative who are not SCB members by calling the SCB Executive Office: 1-703-276-2384 x101

Biodiversity, Economics, Environmental Assessment, Forests/Timber, Governance/Management, Law, Physical Science, Sustainability, US | Permalink

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