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Unpacking The Science Behind The Northwest Forest Plan


Old growth forest in the Oregon Cascades

Old growth forest in the Oregon Cascades

Matt Betts/Oregon State University

Federal land managers are getting their scientific ducks in a row before updating the most important forest management plan in the Northwest.  

The Northwest Forest Plan covers 24 million acres of public land run by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Bureau of Land Management.  It went into effect 22 years ago.  

“Since that time, there’s been a wealth of new science, a tremendous focus on new issues,” says Tom Spies of USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis.  

Among these emerging issues are climate change, how the growing populations of barred owls affect sensitive spotted owl populations, and the consequences of long term fire suppression. 

None of these issues were significantly understood or addressed when federal agencies originally decided how to manage public forests in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.   

Now that the Northwest Forest Plan is up for revision, managers are trying to make sure they have a common scientific baseline to start from. This will have an enormous bearing on how the region’s federal forests will be managed going forward.  

Related: Why President Clinton Created The NW Forest Plan

To accomplish this, federal scientists have brought together more than 20 years of ecological, economic and other research into a “science synthesis.” 

The synthesis is now up for peer review. Cliff Duke of the Ecological Society of America is leading the review team.  

“We want to make sure scientific uncertainties are clearly identified and characterized,” he said.   

The public is being asked to weigh in as well. Comments will be taken through Jan. 6.

 The science synthesis is expected to be finalized in summer 2017.  Using that document, policymakers will move forward in revising the Northwest Forest Plan, a process that’s expected to take at least four years.   

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