ashland.news
June 14, 2024

KS Wild Side: A long time coming

Alexi Lovechio, KS Wild’s climate program manager, stands with an old-growth tree in the Oregon Caves National Monument. Amendments to the Northwest Forest Plan will work to protect ancient trees like this one. Alexi Lovechio photo
December 11, 2023

U.S. Forest Service begins update of the Northwest Forest Plan

By Alexi Lovechio

What is the Northwest Forest Plan?

The Northwest Forest Plan continues to be the largest truly science-based forest and ecosystem management plan in the country. The plan covers 17 national forests totaling 19 million acres across western Washington, Oregon and Northern California. To date, the plan has been successful in a number of ways relating to the integrity of the region’s streams and waterways, salmon health and conserving old-growth forests, which are critical tools in climate mitigation.

The NWFP designated large areas of public lands as semi-protected reserves. It also connected those reserves through streamside corridors. Some of our nation’s oldest and largest trees are located within the plan. The plan ensured that forward-looking management would help preserve the integrity of the Pacific Northwest’s remaining ancient forest ecosystem.

The plan does not protect all of the forests, though. It leaves many areas open as a sacrifice zone known as “matrix” which focuses on timber extraction.

A and use allocations map for the Pacific Northwest according to the Northwest Forest Plan, which involves 19 million acres across western Washington, Oregon and Northern California. U.S. Forest Service graphic
The NWFP is being updated

Recently, the U.S. Forest Service convened its first Northwest Forest Plan Area Federal Advisory Committee meeting in Portland. The committee was established to provide the Forest Service with recommendations for updates to the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. The committee’s recommendations will become the basis for the first significant updates to the plan in nearly three decades.

The Advisory Committee Charter provides an overall framework for the committee’s functions and lays out a two-year timeline. The Forest Service is particularly interested in obtaining committee feedback on how to protect and promote mature and old-growth forest conditions while ensuring national forests are resilient to high-severity wildfire, insects, disease and other types of disturbances that are being exacerbated by the climate crisis. This also helps the Forest Service to engage Indigenous communities that were largely excluded from the original plan.

The committee is composed of 21 members with diverse backgrounds and expertise representing Indigenous tribes, scientists, conservationists, the forest products industry, wildlife advocates and outdoor recreation groups.

Climate change was hardly mentioned in 1994, when the original plan was being formulated. A lot has changed in the last 30 years. An amendment is an opportunity to update the plan’s approach to forest conservation, resiliency and management. Tribes and tribal members in the region were not involved in the original development of the plan. The amendment process should be an avenue to ensure strong tribal engagement.

Why the update is needed

In 1994 we did not know nearly as much about climate change and the impacts it would have on wildfire severity, water quality and wildlife habitat as we do today. Our environment has changed, new scientific data has emerged and outdoor recreation has increased. 

The Northwest Forest Plan is one of the most important tools we have for preserving old-growth habitats and maintaining and improving water quality. The plan has maintained the health of the region’s streams and waterways and has conserved a large portion of our remaining mature and old-growth forests. These are critical tools in combatting the effects of climate change. 

The updated plan will shape the future of land management in the region for years to come. It is time for an updated plan to reflect the current issues our forests face in the era of climate change. The committee is an important part of ensuring the updated plan will prioritize protecting mature and old-growth forests, restore our fire-dependent forests and support Indigenous rights and cultural practices. 

A hiker stands hugging an old-growth ponderosa pine tree near the upper Rogue River. Alexi Lovechio photo
You have a say

The committee will meet every two months for multiple days in cities throughout the Pacific Northwest. All meetings are open to the public. Members of the public are encouraged to provide written comments or in-person oral comments.

More information on how to submit comments can be found here. The next meeting will be Jan 30. through Feb. 1 in Eugene, Oregon. 

The Klamath-Siskiyou region is one of the core areas that is the focus of the Forest Service planning effort. The reason for the focus on the Klamath Province is that it is in the drier portion of the Pacific Northwest. It is an area where climate change is elevating the need to protect high-carbon forests and to address the increased disturbance — meaning fire — in forests. Roughly 4 million acres of the Klamath-Siskiyou region is managed by the Forest Service, so the plans will significantly affect our region and will shape the future of land management for years to come.

Portions of the Ashland watershed are managed by the Forest Service, so the plan amendment will directly impact our backyard forests.

To stay engaged on all things Northwest Forest Plan and if you would like to participate in an upcoming advisory committee meeting, email Alexi@kswild.org for more information. 

KS Wild Side appears every month and features a staff member from KS Wild, a regional conservation organization based in Ashland. Alexi Lovechio works as the climate program manager for KS Wild. For more information go to kswild.org.

Picture of Jim

Jim

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