Northwest Forest Plan, Survey & Manage Standard: Rare Species Protected (CA, OR, WA)

WELC has fought relentlessly to defend the critical 'survey and manage' provision of the Northwest Forest Plan since the plan was first adopted in 1994. The provision requires federal agencies to survey for rare species, and create buffers around the species if found, before logging or other disruptive activities are permitted on Northwest forests. The program was developed to safeguard rare and little-known species, like the great grey owl and the red tree vole, that are fundamental to healthy old growth forests. Under the Bush administration, the federal agencies dropped the standard from the plan.

We have gone to court three times to protect the standard from elimination and have won each time. In 2009, federal judge John C. Coughenour ruled in our favor, stating that the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated federal law when they eliminated 'survey and manage' from the plan.

In ruling that the agencies violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Judge noted that the standard protects “the little things that run the world,” meaning species that provide the building blocks for healthy forests. The judge also opined that the standard is a “necessary part to satisfy the [Northwest Forest] Plan's foundational objectives.”  

In March 2011, we entered into a settlement agreement with the two federal agencies. The agreement, which was approved by the court, creates exemptions from the provision's requirement for bridge and culvert reconstruction, restoring meadows, improving recreation sites, as well as logging in young, overstocked forests and certain logging projects in the wildland-urban interface.

The timber industry filed an appeal of the district court's approval of the settlement agreement, and the Ninth Circuit recently reversed. It ruled that any permanent and substantive changes to rules such as the Northwest Forest Plan must first undergo public notice and comment. The Ninth Circuit ordered the case sent back to the district court.

Victory! In March 2015, the timber industry dropped its appeal, meaning that the Northwest Forest Plan will continue to ensure that all projects proposed on federal lands will continue to protect rare species like summer steelhead, northern spotted owls, and goshawk from habitat destruction in California, Oregon and Washington!

(WELC project #326)