© 2024 | Jefferson Public Radio
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Blvd.
Ashland, OR 97520
541.552.6301 | 800.782.6191
Listen | Discover | Engage a service of Southern Oregon University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Forest Service Bioregional Assessment Lacks Critical Direction, Says Northwest Forest Plan Co-Author

Looking towards Silver Star Mountain on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest
U.S. Forest Service- Pacific Northwest Region
Looking towards Silver Star Mountain on the Gifford Pinchot National Forest

University of Washington forest ecology professor Jerry Franklin was one of the original authors of the Northwest Forest Plan. JPR’s Erik Neumann spoke with Franklin about how the new forest service guidance marks a shift in management of 24 million acres of public forests.

Twenty-six years ago, the Northwest Forest Plan was hammered out to balance protection of critical habitat for endangered species with a sustainable timber economy. Now the U.S. Forest Service has published a “Bioregional Assessment” meant to modernize the plan, and guide the management of more than 24 million acres in 19 national forests in Oregon, Washington and Northern California.

University of Washington forest ecology Professor Jerry Franklin was one of the original authors of the Northwest Forest Plan. JPR’s Erik Neumann spoke with Franklin about how the new guidance marks a shift in management of public forests.

Erik Neumann: As one of the major architects of the original plan, do you feel like the [Bioregional] Assessment accurately represents the national forest lands today and where they should go?

Dr. Jerry Franklin: No. It does in part and it doesn't in part. What the forest service is trying to do is to avoid ever again doing that kind of a "decision document" which involves the entire area. What they've done is produced a document that talks about the region but doesn't really provide anything definitive in any way. Each forest does have both its ecological and social context that are unique to it. But to really deal with what are effectively region-wide issues such as the approach that would be taken to the northern spotted owl, the approach would be taken the old-growth forest, you really need to have regional direction that provides some boundary conditions within which individual forests could work.

The other thing that they are really doing in this document is building the case for more timber harvest. It's very subtle, but it's very clear. They are creating a set of statements which they can refer to to support more of that kind of activity, which may be appropriate but this is not the way to do that.

EN: Well, so you said that they're sort of giving up some level of responsibility so that local forest segments can make their own plans and have their own kind of responsibility over their plans. Do you think that this is giving them bad advice essentially?

JF: No, it's not providing the boundary conditions that people need in order to be able to proceed with individual forest planning efforts. That's the problem. So I'm absolutely in agreement that each forest needs to have latitude in which to operate. But they need to have clear sideboards or boundary conditions on what could be considered, for example. Otherwise, what's going to happen is they're going to find every one of their forest plans caught up in legal challenges as to 'Why did you do this on this forest but do that on that forest?'

EN: Twenty-six years later, do you think that the original plan has achieved its goals?

JF: Well, no, it didn't but it was extraordinarily important. Have we prevented declines in the owls? No. Have we provided a predictable flow of timber? To a degree, yes, but not at the level we might like. What it did was totally rearrange the conversation with regards to our federal lands. It didn't end the conversation. People were able to proceed from this point. And so, we have been actively engaged in managing the federal forest lands. And the forest service did find ways that it could continue to harvest timber. They found ways to do it without cutting the old growth.

The military always said, 'The first casualty of war is the plan that you've made on how you were going to fight it.' We went through a major paradigm shift from the timber emphasis to the emphasis on sustaining forest systems.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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.