Call for public input on Northwest Forest Plan Science Synthesis

The NWFP science synthesis is part of the pre-assessment phase of forest plan revisions for R5 and R6. Credit, /research/science-synthesis/USDA Forest Service

The Northwest Forest Plan science synthesis is part of the pre-assessment phase of forest plan revisions for California, Oregon, and Washington (Forest Service regions 5 and 6). Credit, USDA Forest Service.

The U.S. Forest Service is revising the policies and guidelines governing the management of federal forests in the Pacific Northwest. Two decades of ecological research and monitoring data have accumulated since the adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan in 1994.

To inform revisions, the Pacific Northwest (which includes Oregon and Washington) and Pacific Southwest (which includes California) Research Stations instigated a review of the best available science, drawing on monitoring data and peer reviewed studies. Thomas Spies, a senior scientist at the PNW station, and Peter Stine, recently retired from the PSW station, led a team of 45 coauthors from the Forest Service, universities, tribes, and other agencies.

At the request of the Forest Service, the Ecological Society of America is coordinating a peer review of the synthesis by 30 independent ecologists.

The Forest Service posted a draft of the scientific synthesis online on Thursday, 10 November 2016, and invites public input. A public forum will be held in Portland, Oregon on the morning of 6 December 2016.

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest Wild Sky Wilderness. Credit, USDA Forest Service

The Wild Sky Wilderness, part of Washington State’s Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, is managed under the Northwest Forest Plan. Credit, USDA Forest Service.

Legal actions on behalf of the northern spotted owl triggered the development of a federal strategy to protect critical habitat for the territorial bird. The owl, which requires old growth forest to thrive, was listed as threatened in 1990 under the Endangered Species Act.

The resulting Northwest Forest Plan, shaped by a series of key ecological studies published in the early nineties, developed into a comprehensive realignment of goals balancing the conservation of our forests with usage. It guides management of forested lands in 19 National Forests, 7 Bureau of Land Management districts, 6 National Parks, and National Wildlife Refuges and military lands, encompassing 10 million hectares from Washington to California.

The plan instigated a paradigm shift in federal forestry management. Timber harvests, once the primary management focus for federal forest lands, were curtailed by the new focus on conservation, generating great disruption and controversy in timber communities. Jerry Franklin and Norman Johnson,  senior ecologists involved in the development and implementation of the plan,  have observed that the plan  has been more successful at protecting old growth forests and waterways than meeting social, economic, and restoration goals.

The 2016 science synthesis addresses:

  • Old growth forest ecosystems
  • Listed species including the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet
  • Other species associated with older forests
  • Aquatic and riparian species and ecosystems
  • Socio-economic well-being, community stability, timber harvest
  • Collaboration
  • Stakeholder attitudes
  • Tribal values and resources
  • Role and effects of disturbance agents
  • Early successional and other developmental vegetation stages
  • Climate change
  • Conservation strategies and effectiveness
  • Restoration strategies and effects
  • Uncertainties and scientific disagreement
  • Geographic variation within the NWFP area
  • Integration and tradeoffs
  • Considerations for management

Peer reviewers will provide their reviews to the synthesis authors in the spring of 2017. The draft will be revised and published in late 2017. To learn more about the science synthesis and revision process, visit the Pacific Northwest Research Station website.