In the 1990s the federal forests in the Pacific Northwest underwent the largest shift in management focus since their creation, from providing a sustained yield of timber to conserving biodiversity, with an emphasis on endangered species. Triggered by a legal challenge to the federal protection strategy for the Northern Spotted Owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), this shift was facilitated by a sequence of science assessments that culminated in the development of the Northwest Forest Plan. The plan, adopted in 1994, called for an extensive system of late-successional and riparian reserves along with some timber harvest on the intervening lands under a set of controls and safeguards. It has proven more successful in stopping actions harmful to conservation of old-growth forests and aquatic systems than in achieving restoration goals and economic and social goals. We make three suggestions that will allow the plan to achieve its goals: (1) recognize that the Northwest Forest Plan has evolved into an integrative conservation strategy, (2) conserve old-growth trees and forests wherever they occur and (3) manage federal forests as dynamic ecosystems.
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