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Scientists Applaud Northwest Forest Plan Anniversary While Calling for More Forest Protections

For Immediate Release on September 28, 2015

Contacts: Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Geos Institute, Chief Scientist; 541-482-4459 x 302; 541-621-7223 (cell);; Dr. James Karr 360-681-3163;; and Dr. Barry R. Noon 970-491-7905;

Ashland, OR – Two decades of monitoring and recent scientific studies show that the integrity of old-growth forests and the viability of salmon and spotted owl populations would be far worse today if not for the Northwest Forest Plan. Published in a special feature on forests and biodiversity in the open access journal Forests, “Building on two decades of ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation under the Northwest Forest Plan, USA” is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the plan’s effectiveness in halting the long-term decline in the region’s federal forests.

According to the lead author, Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, “in the 1980s federal agencies were clear-cutting 2 square miles of old-growth forests every week, an area equivalent to over 1160 football fields. If that rate of logging continued unchecked, it would have eliminated most old-growth forests along with their clean water, climate regulation, and fish and wildlife benefits sometime this decade.”

The Northwest Forest Plan adopted by President Bill Clinton in 1994 shifted federal lands management from timber production to ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation within the range of the federally threatened Northern Spotted Owl. The Forest Service is considering revising the plan while the Bureau of Land Management recently proposed to back away from protections for streams and imperiled species.

The published study relied on peer-reviewed literature and agency monitoring reports demonstrating the Northwest Forest Plan had:

  • Improved stream conditions and water quality for 214 watersheds due to streamside protections from logging and restoration of failing roads;
  • Provided ecosystem benefits in the form of long-term carbon storage (important in climate regulation) and high quality drinking water for millions of people; 
  • Slowed declines of the Northern Spotted Owl and Marbled Murrelet;
  • Protected hundreds of imperiled plants and wildlife species from logging;
  • Supported a shift toward restoration thinning of plantations and fuel reduction;
  • Decoupled Oregon counties from reliance on unsustainable timber receipts; and
  • Sustained quality of life benefits that facilitated regional economic diversification.

Dr. Barry Noon, who led development of the plan’s monitoring program, stated: “The Northwest Forest Plan remains grounded in the best available science.  It is essential that its protections not only be maintained but extended to compensate for much increased logging impacts on State and private lands.”

One of the plan’s greatest accomplishments is how it improved water resources, including stream habitat, health of stream communities (salmon and other species), and water quality for fish and people. Dr. Jim Karr, University of Washington, has monitored stream conditions in the region and across the Nation for decades. “Given climate change and continued logging on nonfederal lands, the science is compelling to expand stream protections rather than reduce them, as recently proposed by BLM. Now is not the time to backpedal on the plan’s success.”

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