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Building on Two Decades of Ecosystem Management and Biodiversity Conservation under the Northwest Forest Plan, USA


The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) shifted federal lands management from a focus on timber production to ecosystem management and biodiversity conservation. The plan established a network of conservation reserves and an ecosystem management strategy on ~10 million hectares from northern California to Washington State, USA, within the range of the federally threatened northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina). Several subsequent assessments—and 20 years of data from monitoring programs established under the plan—have demonstrated the effectiveness of this reserve network and ecosystem management approach in making progress toward attaining many of the plan’s conservation and ecosystem management goals. This paper (1) showcases the fundamental conservation biology and ecosystem management principles underpinning the NWFP as a case study for managers interested in large-landscape conservation; and (2) recommends improvements to the plan’s strategy in response to unprecedented climate change and land-use threats. Twenty years into plan implementation, however, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, under pressure for increased timber harvest, are retreating from conservation measures. We believe that federal agencies should instead build on the NWFP to ensure continuing success in the Pacific Northwest. We urge federal land managers to (1) protect all remaining late-successional/old-growth forests; (2) identify climate refugia for at-risk species; (3) maintain or increase stream buffers and landscape connectivity; (4) decommission and repair failing roads to improve water quality; (5) reduce fire risk in fire-prone tree plantations; and (6) prevent logging after fires in areas of high conservation value. In many respects, the NWFP is instructive for managers considering similar large-scale conservation efforts. 


Dominick A. DellaSala, Rowan Baker, Doug Heiken, Chris A. Frissell, James R. Karr, S. Kim Nelson, Barry R. Noon, David Olson and James Strittholt

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