Timber Wars part deux

Timber Wars part deux

Administration rewriting landmark Northwest Forest Plan – 

You may remember it or you may not, but in the early 1990s, there was a timber war in the Pacific Northwest. The region was at the center of domestic news and policy debates when the northern spotted owl was listed as threatened and logging operations on federal forests in the Northwest slowed significantly after decades of overcutting. The debate was finally suspended in 1994 when the Clinton Administration unveiled the Northwest Forest Plan, which was meant to balance timber harvests with environmental concerns like outdoor recreation, fish, wildlife, and clean water.

That was 22 years ago. Now, Pandora’s box is being opened again as the Forest Service begins revising the Northwest Forest Plan. While we sincerely hope this next round does not result in any warring, Pacific Rivers is concerned about the future of the Northwest Forest Plan – and particularly the protections in the plan for clean water and healthy rivers.

Take me back to 1994

The spotted owl was protected as a threatened species in 1990 under the federal Endangered Species Act years. By 1994, owl-related bumper stickers were common in the Northwest, saying things like, “Save a logger. Eat an owl.” And one of my favorites, “No toilet paper. Wipe your ass with a spotted owl.” On the flip side, there were bumper stickers that said, “Save an owl. Educate a logger.” Radical environmentalists were camping out in trees. Moderate environmentalists were talking to the administration and members of Congress. President Clinton came himself to the Oregon Convention Center, and a parade of logging trucks drove past.

The Northwest Forest Plan was unveiled in 1994 as the Clinton administration’s compromise between timber and the environment. Part of the plan included the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, thanks in large part to Pacific Rivers’ staff and supporters, who realized that the forest plan couldn’t be just about protecting owls. It also had to protect clean water and aquatic habitat, particularly for salmon.

The Northwest Forest Plan covers 24 million acres of federal forest in northern California, Oregon and Washington. It set up a system for protecting remaining old-growth forests – which many species rely on – and other forests that were old enough that soon they would have old-growth features, such as trees wide enough for owl and marbled murrelet nests, and tall enough to shade streams for fish. The aquatic portion of the plan – the Aquatic Conservation Strategy – protects key watersheds and requires a buffer of standing trees along rivers and streams. It includes strategies for watershed restoration, monitoring, and analysis. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy is the first and best example in the nation of an ecologically based approach to managing watersheds and streamside forests on federal lands.

The Northwest Forest Plan was supposed to stay in place for 100 years. However, administrative forest plans must be reviewed every 10-20 years. So now, in 2016, Pacific Rivers welcomes a robust debate about the Northwest Forest Plan and its Aquatic Conservation Strategy.

Keep it Whole

The Northwest Forest Plan could be entirely dismantled in this upcoming review – and that would be a travesty. If each forest develops separate plans piece by piece, it would be the death of the Northwest Forest Plan. Pacific Rivers is advocating that the Northwest Forest Plan stay in place as one guiding, regional document.

Protect our water

Moreover, if the special interests pushing for increased timber harvests get their way, they will open up the riparian reserves to more logging. There is no other place to cut. Spotted owl habitat is, by law, off limits. That leaves the strips of trees along our rivers and streams very vulnerable to more logging.

We know the Aquatic Conservation Strategy is on the chopping block. We saw it over the last three years when industry pushed to increase logging on the Bureau of Land Management’s 2.5 million acres of forests in western Oregon (so-called O&C Lands). Industry proposed reducing streamside tree buffers within the riparian reserves by more than half, and completely eliminating key watersheds and watershed analysis. The Forest Service could follow suit, and our goal is to ensure the Aquatic Conservation Strategy is maintained.

Stay tuned, as we plan to have ways for our supporters to get involved and make their voices heard on this important issue to Northwest rivers and wildlife.

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Article by Natalie Henry Bennon. Cartoon courtesy of Springer Creative.

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