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Conservation of Aquatic and Fishery Resources in the Pacific Northwest: Implications of New Science for the Aquatic Conservation Strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan – Final Report

Aug 6, 2019


Twenty years have elapsed since a major science synthesis and planning effort led to adoption of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy (ACS) of the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) in 1994. Their purpose was to protect and restore riparian and aquatic ecosystems on Pacific Northwest federal forest lands and to ensure that forest management plans achieved legally required and socially desired multiple use objectives, including water quality, aquatic and wildlife resources. In this paper, we review relevant science emerging since 1993 to assess whether proposed changes to the ACS, including reduced riparian reserve protections and a substantially lowered burden of proof for watershed-disturbing activities, are scientifically justified. Observed and anticipated effects of climate change, and of cumulative anthropogenic stressors operating in the nonfederal lands surrounding NFP lands strongly indicate the need to strengthen, not weaken key ACS protections. Roads and ground disturbance associated with mechanical thinning and fuels reduction activities, especially within Riparian Reserves, cause adverse environmental impacts that generally offset or exceed presumed restorative benefits. Headwater streams warrant wider riparian forest buffers than current ACS provisions to ensure effective retention of sediment and nutrients derived from upslope logging, fire, and landslides. Widespread and sustained ecological harm caused by roads is now widely recognized, and ACS measures should be strengthened to more effectively arrest and reduce road impacts in all catchments. Grazing, mining, post-disturbance logging (e.g., fire salvage), water withdrawal, and aerial application of toxic chemicals can cause both acute and chronic harm to aquatic ecosystems. Existing ACS standards and guidelines would need to be strengthened to more effectively control these impacts. A more thorough and current scientific review and synthesis by federal agencies to inform a future ACS is long overdue. Unfortunately, no such review has occurred, while recent agency and legislative proposals would substantially reduce protective provisions of the ACS and NFP by increasing the extent of logging and other mechanized forest management, such as fuels treatments.

Other Key Species: Umpqua Cutthroat


Christopher Frissell, Rowan Baker, Dominick DellaSala, Robert Hughes, James Karr, Dale McCullough, Richard Nawa, Jon Rhodes, Mary Scurlock, and Robert Wissmar


Frissell, C.A., R.J. Baker, D.A. DellaSala, R.M. Hughes, J.R. Karr, D.A. McCullough, R.K. Nawa, J. Rhodes, M.C. Scurlock, and R.C. Wissmar. 2014. Conservation of aquatic and fishery resources in the Pacific Northwest: implications of new science for the aquatic conservation strategy of the Northwest Forest Plan – final report. Coast Range Association. 35p.



Report No.


Media Type

Inter-Agency Report