Sunday, April 20, 2014 | 2:01 a.m.
It was nearly 20 years ago that President Bill Clinton’s Northwest Forest Plan went into effect. Government agency reviews show the plan has been effective at protecting drinking water supplies for millions of Americans, improving water quality, and restoring forests that were affected by decades of unsustainable old-growth logging.
While generating complaints from interests that seek higher logging levels on federal lands, the Northwest Forest Plan has been producing as much timber as Congress has provided funding for, and with relatively little controversy compared with the timber wars of the past. In addition to peace in the woods, the plan has also provided a stable, legal framework allowing for timber operations on state and private lands.
We now also know from climate researchers that the Northwest Forest Plan has helped turn forests from a source of carbon emissions into a sink. The moist mature and old-growth forests in California, Oregon and Washington represent a vast storehouse of carbon that could be lost to the atmosphere if logged; it would take centuries to recapture that lost carbon. We also know that mature and old trees store considerably more carbon than young trees.
It is of great concern to see proposals that threaten to weaken the Northwest Forest Plan. Of particular concern are plans to increase logging in habitat for Northern spotted owls and marbled murrelets. This unwise policy is now being used to justify eliminating old-growth reserves and logging of mature forests that are currently protected by the Northwest Forest Plan.
Clinton’s forest conservation legacy is something to build on by opposing unsustainable logging legislation and conserving forest carbon as part of the Obama administration’s Climate Action Plan. Future generations of Americans will benefit from and thank those involved for the effort.
The writer is president of the American Bird Conservancy.