Scientists, Conservation Groups Call on President to Maintain Forest Protections

Old-growth forest by Steve Holmer
Old-growth forest by Steve Holmer

(Washington, D.C., July 2, 2012) National and regional conservation organizations have called on President Barack Obama to conserve the mature and old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. In a letter sent today, American Bird Conservancy, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Cornell Lab of Ornithology and over fifty other organizations sought to remind the President that “These magnificent forests provide clean drinking water for millions of Americans, a world-class tourism destination, sustainable forestry, and habitat essential to the survival of hundreds of species of wildlife."

Several reports by the U.S. Forest Service confirm that the Northwest Forest Plan is working and preserving old-growth forests that provide essential habitat for threatened species, including Pacific salmon, the Marbled Murrelet, and the Northern Spotted Owl.

Their most recent report, released this May, was a fifteen-year study of the plan's effect on watersheds in northern California, Oregon, and Washington State that were previously heavily damaged due to overcutting, unsustainable forest management practices that failed to protect streams, and the construction of too many logging roads. The report found that the Plan is working to restore water quality as a result of the forests' regrowth and restoration work on the road system.

"The Northwest Forest Plan was a major conservation achievement that ended decades of overcutting and the liquidation of magnificent old-growth forests," said Steve Holmer, Senior Policy Advisor at American Bird Conservancy. "The plan is working, and President Obama needs to ensure its protections are maintained."

Another Forest Service report The Northwest Forest Plan: the First Fifteen Years confirms that the reserves created to provide wildlife habitat are working as intended by protecting old forests, and allowing younger forests to regrow to fill in the heavily fragmented ecosystem. Only 20% of the old-growth forest remained when the Plan was put into effect in 1994.

"The Northwest Forest Plan remains the most advanced example of ecosystem management ever devised, and it needs to remain in place if the degraded watersheds and diminished wildlife populations of the Northwest are ever going to recover," said Dominick DellaSala, Ph.D., chief scientist of the Geos Institute.

The letter to President Obama calls on the Administration to continue both the late-successional and riparian reserves created by the Northwest Forest Plan as fundamental to natural resource conservation and sound climate change response.

It echoes a previous letter, endorsed by 229 scientists, that states: "The conservation foundation of the Northwest Forest Plan, which is rooted in fixed reserves, has been broadly supported in the scientific literature. This is largely because the reserve network is the backbone to a regional conservation strategy for hundreds of species that depend on older forests that are relatively rare on surrounding non-federal lands."

Critics of the Plan claim that it is failing to produce promised timber volumes, but when scrutinized this assumption turns out not to be true. According to the government's own figures, from 2003 to 2010 the land management agencies produced 96% of the timber volume that was funded by Congress.

"When I was in school, 96% was a solid A. The Northwest Forest Plan is working to protect the environment, and it is providing a stable and sustainable supply of timber," said Joseph Vaile, conservation director of the Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center based in Ashland, Oregon.