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 impacted 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 to the timber wars of the past.

In addition to peace in the woods, the plan also has 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 and it would take centuries to recapture that lost carbon.

We also know mature and old trees store considerably more carbon than young trees.

From conservation, scientific and historical perspectives, Clinton's Northwest Forest Plan was a major presidential accomplishment.

The plan has left a legacy of protected mature and old growth forests that store carbon, abundant recreation opportunities and wildlife habitat for species such as the threatened Marbled Murrelet and Northern Spotted Owl.


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It was the first and so far the best integrated ecosystem management approach ever devised that accounts for a variety of public values in addition to timber volume.

It also marks a rare example where a large-scale landscape threatened by unsustainable resource extraction has been brought under a more sustainable management regime.

Clinton deserves great thanks for leaving the American people such a treasure; a treasure that was rapidly disappearing before his leadership.

It is of great concern therefore to see proposals that threaten to weaken Clinton's 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.

Dr. George Fenwick is president of the American Bird Conservancy.