6. CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION

Slow, but Steady Improvement: 25 Years of Monitoring Reveals Impacts of the Northwest Forest Plan on Watersheds

Slow, but Steady Improvement: 25 Years of Monitoring Reveals Impacts of the Northwest Forest Plan on Watersheds
Written by ZJbTFBGJ2T

Slow, but Steady Improvement: 25 Years of Monitoring Reveals …  United States Geological Survey (.gov)

Slow, but Steady Improvement: 25 Years of Monitoring Reveals Impacts of the Northwest Forest Plan on Watersheds

The Northwest Forest Plan and its Impact on Watershed Condition

The authors found that broad-scale forest recovery combined with targeted forest, road, and stream management under the Northwest Forest Plan have resulted in slow but steady improvements in watershed condition.

Northern spotted owls are mostly non-migratory, long-lived birds whose populations have declined in mature forests of western North America.

The Northwest Forest Conference: A Compromise for Conservation

It’s Spring of 1993, just over 30 years ago. Newly elected President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore are in the Pacific Northwest. Also at the table: half of the Clinton cabinet, the governors of California, Oregon and Washington, representatives from non-profit environmental organizations, loggers, mill owners, scientists, and lawyers. What’s the special occasion? The Northwest Forest Conference is underway in Portland, Oregon. It’s the culmination of a decade-long struggle to find a compromise between saving emblematic species like the northern spotted owl, old growth forest, and the logging jobs and wood products that form the backbone of the local economy.

In the past, old growth forests were viewed by many as “dead zones,” ecosystems past their prime, full of old, dead wood with little value for humans or wildlife other than for building material. Research eventually made it clear that 1) old growth forests are important, 2) not just for owls, but for many other species of fish and wildlife, and 3) not just for wildlife, but also for people. Forests provide the fresh water and clean air that we all need to survive.

Ecosystem management was emerging as a more broadly accepted strategy. President Clinton was advised by those at the Northwest Forest Conference that any plan designed to save a single species, in this case the northern spotted owl, was destined to fail. It was going to take an ecosystem-wide approach, recognizing how all parts of the forest are connected.

The result of the conference was the Northwest Forest Plan, enacted in 1994. It allowed logging to continue, but at a quarter of the rate prior to the 1980s and addressed key habitat protection measures.

New Protections for Forests and Water in the Pacific Northwest

Members of the Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program survey crew at the North Fork of Dillon Creek in Klamath National Forest.

The old trees, dead wood, shade, insects, and water storage provided by old forests are also essential for salmon. The ecosystem conservation plan that started with an owl was expanded to protect the fish swimming below.

Federally managed forests support diverse aquatic ecosystems, and protecting those ecosystems was a core consideration in the design of this new Northwest Forest Plan. Forest streams provide many critical resources, including native fishes and water for ecosystems and people. Shortly after the implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, distinct populations of five species in the salmon family joined the northern spotted owl on the Threatened or Endangered Species List. These included coho, chum, and Chinook salmon and bull and steelhead trout.

The Aquatic Conservation Strategy written into the Northwest Forest Plan includes road building restrictions and encourages the removal of old, unused roads. It also requires larger buffers of trees between streams and timber harvest areas, preserving shade and protecting stream banks from erosion. Tasked with evaluating whether the Strategy is successfully improving watersheds are the scientists behind the Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program.

The Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program includes scientists from the USGS, U.S. Forest Service, and Oregon State University. Their 25-year report describes trends in watershed characteristics since the Northwest Forest Plan was put in place. National forests and Bureau of Land Management resource areas within this area have taken a wide range of actions designed to improve aquatic ecosystems, including upgrading roads, replacing culverts, and facilitating the growth of larger trees along streams. Some of these actions, like replacing damaged culverts, could immediately lead to improved fish passage. Others, like growing large trees to provide shade and in-stream structure for streams, could take decades to make an impact on stream temperature.

“The opportunity to learn from 25 years of continuous monitoring is invaluable,” said Jason Dunham, USGS Supervisory Research Aquatic Ecologist and lead author of the report. “This monitoring effort is our primary means of accounting for changes to watersheds and streams related to protections implemented by the Northwest Forest Plan and the increasing influences of climate change.” The report pairs trends from repeated instream data with whole watershed aspects such as road and vegetation conditions, and for the first time in the history of the Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program, includes the effects of climate change.

Streamflow

Lost Creek, tributary to Little White Salmon, Washington, showing a FLOwPER streamflow status of “dry.”

It may seem obvious that the amount of water flowing through streams is a key component of watershed condition. However, prior to the Aquatic and Riparian Effectiveness Monitoring Program, there was little scientific information about streamflow in the Pacific Northwest other than from gages placed mostly on larger streams. Specifically, the team looked at annual discharge—the quantity of water moving down a stream or river per year– drought, and stream width. They observed widespread declines in stream width across the region. Trends in drought and annual discharge were more variable, but there were signs of greater prevalence of drought and declining streamflow towards the southern extent of the study area in Oregon and California. These trends are consistent with those expected to occur in a warming climate, suggesting that over the course of the Northwest Forest Plan, climate change has become a major driver of hydrological conditions across the region.

Forest Cover and Stream Temperature

Upper Tumalo Creek in the Three Sisters Wilderness, Deschutes National Forest, Oregon.

Stream temperature influences many aquatic ecological processes, most notably the survival and growth of cold-water fish species such as salmon and trout, a major focus of the Northwest Forest Plan. Stream temperature is mainly a function of the amount of shade provided by trees along its banks, which is strongly influenced by timber harvest and other disturbances like wildfires. Monitoring data show little change in overall canopy cover. There were large declines in canopy cover in specific areas, such as those

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

  • Target 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including mountains, forests, wetlands, rivers, aquifers, and lakes
  • Indicator 6.6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

SDG 13: Climate Action

  • Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters in all countries
  • Indicator 13.1.1: Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population

SDG 15: Life on Land

  • Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial and inland freshwater ecosystems and their services
  • Indicator 15.1.1: Forest area as a proportion of total land area

Analysis

The issues highlighted in the article are connected to SDGs 6, 13, and 15.

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation

The article discusses the Northwest Forest Plan’s efforts to protect and restore water-related ecosystems, including forests and streams. This aligns with SDG 6’s target of protecting and restoring water-related ecosystems.

SDG 13: Climate Action

The article mentions the increasing influence of climate change on hydrological conditions across the region. This relates to SDG 13’s target of strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters.

SDG 15: Life on Land

The article focuses on the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, particularly old growth forests. This aligns with SDG 15’s target of ensuring the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems.

The specific targets and indicators identified based on the article’s content are:

Target 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems

  • Indicator 6.6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time

Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters

  • Indicator 13.1.1: Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population

Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems

  • Indicator 15.1.1: Forest area as a proportion of total land area

The article mentions or implies indicators that can be used to measure progress towards the identified targets:

  • Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time (Indicator 6.6.1)
  • Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population (Indicator 13.1.1)
  • Forest area as a proportion of total land area (Indicator 15.1.1)

SDGs, Targets, and Indicators Table

SDGs Targets Indicators
SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation Target 6.6: By 2020, protect and restore water-related ecosystems Indicator 6.6.1: Change in the extent of water-related ecosystems over time
SDG 13: Climate Action Target 13.1: Strengthen resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters Indicator 13.1.1: Number of deaths, missing persons, and directly affected persons attributed to disasters per 100,000 population
SDG 15: Life on Land Target 15.1: By 2020, ensure the conservation, restoration, and sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems Indicator 15.1.1: Forest area as a proportion of total land area

Behold! This splendid article springs forth from the wellspring of knowledge, shaped by a wondrous proprietary AI technology that delved into a vast ocean of data, illuminating the path towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Remember that all rights are reserved by SDG Investors LLC, empowering us to champion progress together.

Source: usgs.gov

 

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