Owls? Let’s Talk About Fish

Owls? Let’s Talk About Fish

(Fourth in an eight-part series on Pacific Rivers’ history and successes)

The year was 1991. Gordon Reeves and Jim Sedell were driving in a sedan on I-5 north, through the rain, from Corvallis to Portland. And during those two hours, Jim and Gordon laid it out: how to protect fish on Northwest federal forests.

The timber wars are sometimes referred to as the spotted owl wars. Northern spotted owl were declining in the Northwest due to a loss of large old trees. But no one was talking about fish, water, or rivers.

Until 1991, when three scientists published a paper called Salmon at the Crossroads. Gordon was holding it in his hands during that car ride. They had been invited to present to the Gang of Four – the four men in charge of drafting a regional plan for Northwest federal forests that intended to prevent the spotted owl from going extinct. The Gang of Four hadn’t been talking much, if at all, about fish.

Jim and Gordon presented numerous reasons why fish should be including in the Northwest Forest Plan. The Gang of Four listened politely. And then John Gordon, one of the Gang of Four, said, “This is going to change the debate about old growth.” He was right.

Later, Jim and Gordon, along with Jack Ward Thomas (another of the Gang of Four), presented the idea to members of Congress in a closed-door session.

“It made their heads bounce off the table,” says Gordon. “One staffer said, ‘Woah, we got fish issues too?’”

The Northwest definitely had fish issues.

Congressional members and staffers chastised Jim, Gordon and Jack for not representing the Forest Service. But they stayed true to their message because they knew the science, and they knew we were right.

The Pacific Rivers Council also knew the science, and without help from the Council, Gordon says he and Jim never would have been invited to meet with the Gang of Four. “And without that meeting, I don’t think there would be anything about fish in the Northwest Forest Plan, and fish stocks would be much worse off than they are today,” says Gordon.

So what did Gordon and Jim say to the Gang of Four during that first fateful meeting? According to Gordon, they said current logging practices and levels are wreaking havoc on aquatic habitat and fish. The science proves it. And this is what should be done about it:

1) Identify and protect key watersheds that are still functional.
2) Protect more riparian areas next to streams and rivers.
3) Establish a monitoring program to measure fish populations.

Later they added the idea of doing watershed analyses to determine the health of different watersheds. And all together, these pillars became the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan. The ACS has been held up as a model worldwide for protecting aquatic habitat.

People will always differ about how to manage the woods. But Gordon credits the Pacific Rivers Council with bringing aquatic science into the Northwest Forest Plan. “No one was talking about fish before then,” he says. Gordon and Jim joined the Gang of Four – which then became known as the Gang of Four Plus Two – and watershed science entered the discussion of how much wood to cut and where.

Click here to learn more about how the Pacific Rivers Council is working now to defend and maintain the aquatic protections Gordon and Jim worked so hard to include in the Northwest Forest Plan.

Questions or comments? Find us on Facebook or Twitter, or email info@pacificrivers.org

by Natalie Henry Bennon

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