Credit: BLM, flickr.
Credit: BLM, flickr.

Oct. 27, 2016 – A new survey suggests that a revised plan managing millions of acres of forest in the Pacific Northwest would be more likely to meet with the approval of local residents if it safeguards clean drinking water, old-growth forests and outdoor recreation opportunities.

Released by The Wilderness Society on Oct. 25, the poll gauged public opinion in Washington, Oregon and Northern California on an updated version of the Northwest Forest Plan. Among key findings:

  • 81% of voters felt that protecting forests that are sources of clean drinking water is either a “very important” priority for leaders or “one of the most important”
  • 78% said protecting and restoring water quality of rivers, lakes and streams is “very important” or “one of the most important” priorities; 66% said the same of protecting wild salmon runs
  • 65% identified protecting old-growth forests as either “very important” or “one of the most important” priorities

  • 59% identified protecting the sources of clean water from rivers, lakes and streams as a no. 1 or no. 2 priority in managing public lands
  • 84% of voters favor improving trails and other outdoor recreation resources in a revised Northwest Forest Plan; 66% favor limiting logging and road building in old growth forests
  • Overall, 69% of voters favored a revised Northwest Forest Plan featuring proposals like outdoor recreation improvements, limiting logging near water sources and protecting old-growth forests
  • Only 21% of voters felt timber harvesting laws on national forests and other public lands are “too strict”
  • Read a summary of the poll results [PDF]

Agencies must work together on conservation-minded Northwest Forest Plan revisions 

The Northwest Forest Plan was signed into law in 1994 to protect and restore old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest. Under that 100 year plan, roughly 25 million acres of forest are protected from destructive clear-cut logging and managed as part of a vast, intertwined ecosystem that stretches from Northern California to the Canadian border.

But after more than 20 years, the Northwest Forest Plan is up for revision. As part of a region-by-region overhaul, a proposal recently announced by the Bureau of Land Management prioritized logging over conservation, without giving enough attention to conserving outdoor recreation opportunities or protecting drinking water for nearby communities.

The U.S. Forest Service is supposed to follow up with its own plan for the region, and there is no telling whether their proposal will follow the BLM’s bad example. If the two agencies continue on this path—favoring logging over conservation and refusing to coordinate with the health of the broader ecosystem in mind—it could spell disaster for forests and rivers in the Pacific Northwest. This issue will become even more pressing as the effects of climate change wreak havoc on the region’s ecosystems.

As the new polling makes clear, people in the Pacific Northwest would prefer that the coming revisions follow the original Northwest Forest Plan’s example for managing these lands. Now that the plan is up for revision, we have to be sure the land management agencies don’t abandon what made it work.

The BLM and Forest Service must collaborate on a set of new plans that builds upon the framework of the old, recognizing the value of the entire region and protecting clean water, old growth forests and recreational opportunities that millions enjoy.

Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the effort to permanently protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in 44 states. We have been at the forefront of nearly every major public lands victory.