A northern spotted owl. It is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That's curtailed logging in the Northwest's public old-growth forests, which provide habitat for the elusive bird.

A northern spotted owl. It is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. That’s curtailed logging in the Northwest’s public old-growth forests, which provide habitat for the elusive bird.


Timber interests and environmental groups are gearing up for a multi-year fight over how federal forests are managed in Washington, Oregon and Northern California.  

The Northwest Forest Plan is now 20 years old and due for an update, according to the US Forest Service.    

The groundbreaking 1994 management plan limited old-growth logging on federal lands and put in place environmental protections for wildlife like the northern spotted owl. It was unique in establishing an ecosystem-wide science-based approach to protecting wildlife on 26 federal forests.  But scientific understanding has advanced in the past 20 years.  

“There are other things like climate change that have come about as a big concern that were not addressed in the Northwest Forest Plan,” says Forest Service spokesman Glen Sachet.  

Digging into that level of detail is still a long ways off. The Forest Service’s year-20 assessment of the successes, failures, oversteps and gaps in the plan isn’t due out until this summer.  

“All of that research that’s been done and monitoring that’s been done over that 20 years will go through a synthesis effort… synthesize what that all means. And then that will inform the process,” Sachet says.  

Before any provisions of the plan will be updated, Sachet says the Forest Service will need to decide how to approach the revision. One major decision going forward is whether to update the plan as a whole and apply it universally to all the federal lands in the Northwest, or amend each forest’s management plan separately.  A hybrid of the two approaches may also be possible.  

The Forest Service is now starting the process of getting input from stakeholders and community members around the region. Officials are holding public listening sessions in Seattle, Portland and Redding, California, over the next two weeks.    

The updated plan likely won’t be finalized until 2019 or later.  

Scheduled Forest Service Listening Sessions:  

Portland: Tuesday, March 17, 5:30-8:30pm, Sheraton Portland Airport Hotel, 8235 Northeast Airport Way 

Seattle: Wednesday, March 18, 5:30-8:30pm, The Conference Center at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, 17801 International Blvd.

Redding: Wednesday, March 25, 5:30-8:30pm, Red Lion Hotel, 1830 Hilltop Drive