Synthesis of science to inform land management within the Northwest Forest Plan area

OREGON – The science forum on June 26, in Portland, Oregon, marked the culmination of a 3-year undertaking to synthesize the past 24 years of science relevant to the management of 24 million acres of federal lands in western Washington, western Oregon, and northern California. Taking the stage were 10 lead Forest Service scientists, Jim Peña, Regional Forester for the Pacific Northwest Region, and Paul Anderson, acting Station Director for the Pacific Northwest Research Station. In the audience were more than 60 representatives from environmental advocacy groups, county commissioner offices, and federal agency personnel. About 150 others participated via live Web-streaming.

This event marked the official hand-off of science from Forest Service R&D to the National Forest System. The science forum was a fitting venue to share key findings with the public who, throughout the process of crafting the synthesis, had the opportunity to submit publications for consideration and comment on an earlier draft. The effort yielded a 3-volume synthesis of science to inform land management within the Northwest Forest Plan area.

The 1994 Northwest Forest Plan was developed as a solution to a regional stalemate over logging and habitat protection for the threatened northern spotted owl. Unprecedented in scope, the Plan prioritized biodiversity conservation but stipulated that a sustainable level of timber harvest continue from federal forests. The Plan also addressed anadromous fish, marbled murrelets—a threatened bird that nests in large coastal trees but forages in the ocean—and other species associated with older forests.

In the past two decades much has been learned about specific species, ecosystem processes, and particularly the intertwined nature of human communities, natural resource management, and forest health. The 2012 Forest Service Planning Rule specifically states that the best available science shall be used in planning. So, in 2015, regional foresters in the Pacific Northwest Region and Pacific Southwest Region asked the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Southwest Research Stations to synthesize the accumulated knowledge.

The resulting synthesis provides land managers with invaluable information on key issues across the Northwest Forest Plan area and lays a scientific foundation for future planning efforts, starting with a bioregional assessment of current conditions and trends and future possibilities. National forests can also use the information to support design and implementation of land management projects. The science information considered all land ownerships, so managers can use it to identify issues where coordination with other agencies and landowners may be needed.

The synthesis was designed as a go-to source of scientific information to inform national forest land management decisions in the Plan area and reduce the amount of time spent searching for scientific information. Its regional focus reduces the need for individual national forests to produce their own science reports, and provides a consistent base of science information to inform planning efforts.

Susan Charnley, research social scientist Pacific Northwest Research Station, speaks at the science forum in Portland, Oregon. Forest Service photo.