THE WORLD'S LARGEST ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT PLAN: THE NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN AFTER A QUARTER-CENTURY.

AuthorBlumm, Michael C.
  1. INTRODUCTION 153 II. BACKGROUND: THE ANTECEDENTS 157 A. Public Forestland Management Prior to World War II 158 B. Transforming the Pacific Northwest's Federal Forests in the Post-War Years 161 III. CHANGE COMES TO THE PACIFIC NORTHWEST 163 A. The Northern Spotted Owl as an Indicator Species 163 B. The Endangered Species Act Listings and the Zilly Decisions 165 C. The Section 318 Rider: Congressional Intervention 166 IV. THE BIRTH OF THE NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN 167 A. The Portland Timber Summit 168 B. Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team: Science versus Economics and Politics 169 C. The Dwyer Decision 171 V. THE NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN'S PROVISIONS 173 A. Land Allocations 174 B. The Aquatic Conservation Strategy 175 C. Survey and Manage 177 D. Adaptive Management and Monitoring 178 E. Socioeconomic Considerations 181 VI. COURT INTERPRETATIONS OF THE NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN 184 A. Implementing the Survey and Manage Program 185 B. Implementing the Aquatic Conservation Strategy 187 C. Managing for Owls After Wildfire 188 VII. EXEMPTING THE OREGON AND CALIFORNIA LANDS FROM THE NFP: THE WESTERN OREGON PLAN REVISION(S) 191 VIII. REVISING THE NORTHWEST FOREST PLAN 196 A. The Socioeconomic Dimension 198 B. Ensuring Ecological Integrity 200 1. Protecting Biological Diversity 202 a. Reserves 202 b. Wildfire 205 c. Wildlife 205 2. The Continuing Importance of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy 207 3. Climate Change 208 4. Tribal Co-Management 208 5. The Role of the Oregon and California Lands 210 IX. CONCLUSION 212 X. POSTSCRIPT 215 I. INTRODUCTION

    In the 1990s, amid a bitter conflict over the continued industrial harvesting of Northwest forests that had been ongoing for roughly forty years, the federal government launched a remarkable experiment in federal land management planning: the Northwest Forest Plan (the NFP or the Plan). (1) Approved in 1994, the largely science-based Plan was unprecedented in its breathtaking scope--roughly twenty-four million acres of federal lands in the western Cascades of Oregon, Washington, and northern California--about the size of the states of Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont combined. (2) Prompted by the listing of the northern spotted owl under the Endangered Species Act (3) (ESA) due to its declining viability under the National Forest Management Act (4) (NFMA), it was also innovative in its protections of old-growth forests, wildlife, and watersheds. (5) The Plan's efforts to fuse the missions of two federal land management agencies--the U.S. Forest Service (the Forest Service) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)--was also extraordinary, as was the relative lack of congressional involvement in its planning and execution. (6) The fusing of the agencies' missions ended suddenly in 2016, when the Obama administration withdrew most BLM lands from the Plan, undermining the Plan's ecological integrity. (7)

    The Plan's expansive scope and pioneering protective provisions should not obscure the fact that the NFP was very much a compromise measure: It did not prohibit all (even most) old-growth forest harvesting or road-building in sensitive ecological areas, and left the federal land management agencies with sufficient discretion that enabled them to increase logging and road building in response to political demands for increased harvests. (8) Although the clearcutting of old-growth forests has now largely (although not completely) ceased on national forestlands within the NFP area, and the Plan's innovative aquatic protection strategy has helped to stabilize salmonids and other riparian species, avian species like ESA-listed spotted owl and marbled murrelet have continued to decline. (9) Moreover, while the Plan audaciously aimed to govern federal forest management for 100 years, it did not anticipate the magnitude of current problems like climate change, wildfire, and invasive species, most of which are beyond the control of federal land managers, and it has lacked funding to effectively monitor rare at-risk species. (10)

    Plate 8.1. Land allocation under the Northwest Forest Plan. Overlap of LSR with Administratively Withdrawn area is shown as LSR. Riparian Reserves are not shown. (Source: Regional Ecosystem Office (REO)--Northwest Forest Plan, https://perma.cc/EMF9-6DNL).

    When approved in 1994, the NFP amended all national forest and BLM land plans within the range of the northern spotted owl: western Washington, western Oregon, and northwest California. (11) Although the 2016 revised BLM land plans effectively seceded BLM lands from the NFP, earlier--in 2012--the Forest Service had amended its planning regulations (12) to require for the first time the use of "best available scien[ce]" and emphasized ecological integrity as the driving multiple use value for national forests. (13) Because NFMA requires land and resource management plans (LRMPs) to be revised every fifteen years, (14) an ongoing review of the NFP aimed at modernizing the Plan must apply the 2012 planning rule when addressing issues such as climate change, wildfire, and invasive species. (15)

    One of the chief virtues of the NFP is that over a quarter-century after its promulgation, it still exists. The Plan somehow survived determined political efforts to eliminate or eviscerate it, (16) even under hostile Bush and Trump Administrations that opened up federal public lands to widespread development. (17) The Plan withstood opposition in the face of an ongoing but significant decline in regional timber harvest as well as erroneous but widespread claims that it failed to deliver on "guaranteed" minimum harvest levels. (18) This Article explains how the Plan came to be, how it has shaped the management of an enormous amount of federal land, how it has survived, and its uncertain future.

    Part II provides background on the evolution of federal forest management in the years before the NFP, focusing on the years before and after World War II. Part III discusses the events leading to the promulgation of the NFP, including ESA-listings of the northern spotted owl and marbled murrelet and ensuing but temporary congressional intervention. Part IV explains the evolution of the NFP, the role of science, economics, and politics in fashioning the Plan, as well as its judicial ratification. Part V examines the chief provisions of the Plan and their effects, while Part VI explores the court interpretations of challenges to the Plan and its provisions. Part VII turns to the lessons the NFP and its implementation may hold for other efforts at landscape planning, a concept that the Republican Congress disavowed in 2017 when BLM attempted to introduce it into its land planning regulations. (19) Part VIII claims that the NFP--remarkable for both its size and substance--is an ecosystem management program worthy of study and emulation in the years ahead, despite ongoing litigation attempting to destroy its ecological underpinnings. (20)

  2. BACKGROUND: THE ANTECEDENTS

    The agencies implementing the NFP, the Forest Service and BLM, are quite different in their origins and orientation. The Forest Service has had the longstanding mission to manage national forests, a heritage of expertise dating to the days of Gifford Pinchot, and a longstanding commitment to multiple uses. (21) Nationally, BLM manages mostly rangelands that were historically not valued sufficiently for private disposal or for public reservation. (22) But the majority of the commercial forest lands managed by BLM for timber production are concentrated in what are known as the Oregon and California (O&C) lands in Oregon, railroad grant lands that were revested in the federal government in the early years of the twentieth century, and which historically were heavily logged for the benefit of local communities. (23)

    1. Public Forestland Management Prior to World War II

      Congress established the Forest Service in 1905 to manage the federal government's newly created forest reserves to prevent flooding, maintain water flows, and provide a sustainable source of timber. (24) Today, the agency manages nearly 145 million acres of federal forestland, of which twenty million acres are in the Pacific Northwest. (25) Over the decades, the Forest Service's approach to its resource management duties evolved significantly, influenced by both national and local political, economic, social, and environmental conditions.

      During most of the first half of the twentieth century, the Forest Service regarded itself as custodian of the national forests. (26) The agency's management practices primarily involved implementing Gifford Pinchot's "conservative use" approach to silviculture, in which conservation meant sustained timber yields and protection of favorable water flow conditions, especially to avoid flooding. (27) National forest boundaries provided large swaths of forestlands some insulation from an encroaching timber industry that saw the Pacific Northwest as the last frontier after its cut-and-run harvest practices exhausted forests in the U.S. South and Midwest. (28) In the interest of providing recreation opportunities to the public, the agency added recreation to its utilitarian calculus, and in 1924 the Forest Service adopted assistant regional forester Aldo Leopold's (29) pioneering proposal to reserve a wilderness area in New Mexico, and other regions followed suit. (30) By 1939, the agency's administrative wilderness system included fourteen million acres. (31)

      In contrast to the Forest Service, BLM--established in 1946 out of a fusion of the Grazing Service and the General Land Office (GLO)--had no forestland management expertise at its creation, and neither did its predecessors. (32) BLM was instead created to manage the leftover public domain lands, mostly rangelands that were too arid for farming or commercial timber production. (33) Today, the agency is responsible for more surface land acreage that any other federal agency, 245...

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