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Healthy Forest : An Initiative for Wildfire Prevention and Stronger Communities
Fulfilling the Promise of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan
The Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994 and was intended to end court injunctions that brought timber production in the Pacific Northwest to a standstill by providing an adequate level of habitat protection for old growth forest species and a predictable timber supply for economic stability. Although the Plan has successfully protected old growth trees, it has failed to deliver on its promise of a sustainable forest economy. Litigation and procedural delays have prevented implementation of the Plan in the balanced manner that was intended. In addition, the complexity of the Plan has created administrative gridlock due to expensive and burdensome processes and analysis requirements that go beyond legal requirements.
At the time the Plan was completed, it was announced that the Plan would yield
about one billion board feet of timber per year when fully implemented. That
promise has not materialized. In fact, timber production has fallen from the
high point of 889 million board feet in Fiscal Year 1997 to just 308 million
board feet offered for sale in FY 2001. The projected sustainable timber supply
has failed to materialize, and the fire-prone areas of the forest are unhealthier now than before the Plan existed.
Of the 24.5 million acres covered by the Plan, approximately 80 percent of the area's designated forest reserves are managed for habitat value rather than timber production. Thinning and timber salvage activities are supposed to be allowed in some of these areas if a federal inter-agency group decides it is appropriate to meet the desired conditions for the land. But this process has not worked as it was intended.
Because of procedural and judicial delays, agencies were only able to offer for sale less than 40 percent of the planned timber volume in 2001 - much less than what was promised in the Plan. The job creation and retraining programs promised in the Plan also have not been successful. As a result, economic declines continue in many communities in the area covered by the Plan. Many of the most isolated and heavily forest-dependent communities are still struggling and the remaining jobs are not comparable in pay to traditional timber industry jobs lost.
A coalition of public land counties, timber companies and labor unions have filed four lawsuits challenging different aspects of the Northwest Forest Plan. Their central concern is that the Northwest Forest Plan is not living up to its original objectives. The Administration is working with interested elected officials, and community leaders to identify ways to put the Northwest Forest Plan back on track and resolve the pending litigation. The Northwest Forest Plan was designed to preserve both habitat and the forest economy; new efforts are needed to deliver on its promise.
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