New Book: The Making of the Northwest Forest Plan

New from Oregon State University Press: “The Making of the Northwest Forest Plan: The Wild Science of Saving Old Growth Ecosystems,” by K. Norman Johnson, Jerry F. Franklin, and Gordon H. Reeves.

Looking forward to comments from anyone who reads it.


Tree sitters. Logger protests. Dying timber towns. An iconic species on the brink. The Timber Wars consumed the Pacific Northwest in the late 1980s and early 1990s and led political leaders to ask scientists for a solution. The Northwest Forest Plan was the result.

For most of the twentieth century, the central theme of federal forest management in the Pacific Northwest had been logging old-growth forests to provide a sustained yield of timber. During the 1970s and 1980s, however, studies by young scientists highlighted the destructive impact of that logging on northern spotted owls, salmon, and the old-growth ecosystem itself. Combining this new science with environmental laws like the Endangered Species Act, environmental activists obtained court injunctions to stop old-growth logging on federal land, setting off a titanic struggle to meet conservation imperatives while also enabling the timber harvests that provided employment for tens of thousands of people. That effort led to the creation of the Northwest Forest Plan, which sharply and abruptly shifted the goal of federal forest management toward conserving the species and ecosystems of old-growth forests and the streams that run through them.

In this book, three of the scientists who helped craft that change tell the story as they know it: the causes, development, adoption, and effects of the Northwest Forest Plan. The book also incorporates short commentaries and histories from key figures—including spotted owl expert Eric Forsman—and experiences from managers who implemented the plan as best they could. Legal expert Susan Jane M. Brown helped interpret court cases and Debora Johnson turned spatial data into maps. The final chapters cover the plan’s ongoing significance and recommendations for conserving forest and aquatic ecosystems in an era of megafires and climate change.

4 thoughts on “New Book: The Making of the Northwest Forest Plan”

  1. Just Ordered My Copy – This ought to be extremely interesting – At least the title looks like a good admission that it was based on “Wild Science” i.e. Unproven Science AKA: Wild Theories that ignored proven science, contradicting observation and inserted guesses as science where there was a vacuum in terms of the wildlife knowledge bank. The authors are well respected so it’ll be interesting to see the pressures that forced them to make undesirable concessions in order to stay on the team with the hopes that they could minimize the use of faux science in regard to Forest Management. A noble but seemingly failed effort. I sure hope that I find out that they did some good.

    I doubt that I can review it in a timely manner considering my wife’s health issues.

    • “Wild science” specifically refers to the Western Coniferous Forest Biome Project and subsequent research funded by the National Science Foundation. See chapter 4. The funding source authorized by Congress enabled researchers to work independently of the land and resource management agencies whose aggressive and poorly planned applications of “sustained yield” caused the programmatic meltdown of 1988-92.

      In contrast, the authors describe “domesticated science” as “designed largely to assist forest managers to do better what they had already decided to do.” Page 59. Few managers embraced the NWFP because it repudiated their forest plans as recipes for extinction of birds and fish.

      Thanks for sharing an opinion about the book before reading it, will follow your post-read comments with interest.

  2. Who came up with this oxymoron: “logging old-growth forests to provide a sustained yield of timber.” The way the timber scheduling models portrayed it back then was that logging old growth forests was LIMITED by the need for long-term sustained yield.


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