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Forest Service Lays Out Guidance For Millions Of Acres Of West Coast Public Lands

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U.S. Forest Service
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Forest lands in the Bioregional Assessment of Northwest Forests

New guidance for how millions of acres of national forests along the West Coast should be managed was released this week. It could have implications for forests in Oregon, Washington and northern California.

The report is called the Bioregional Assessment of the Northwest Forest Plan. It covers everything from fire and fuels management to timber harvest to recreation in 19 National Forests mostly located in western Washington and Oregon and northwestern California.

This assessment of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan lays out for land managers how the ecological, social and economic conditions in Northwest forests have changed since the original plan came out more than a quarter century ago, according to Wade Muehlhof with the Forest Service.

“It’s non-prescriptive,” Muehlhof says “It doesn’t say ‘Do this’ it says ‘Here are things to consider as you’re modernizing your forest plans.’”

The new assessment is intentionally un-prescriptive about management decisions that affect a vast region. That’s a problem, according to Dr. Jerry Franklin, a professor emeritus in the college of environmental forest science at the University of Washington and one of the original authors of the Northwest Forest Plan.

“If you’re dealing with region-wide issues, such as the fate of the northern spotted owl, you cannot make decisions on a forest by forest basis. You have to have a coordinated strategy for all of the national forest units,” Franklin says.

Muehlhof says there’s no specific timeline for when the 24.5 million acres of federally managed lands could incorporate guidance from the assessment. That too, is up to local land managers.

Erik Neumann is JPR's news director. He earned a master's degree from the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and joined JPR as a reporter in 2019 after working at NPR member station KUER in Salt Lake City.