Speak Up for Climate-Resilient Forests

To address growing challenges for Northwest forests, the Forest Service is proposing to update the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. Learn more about our efforts to speak up for the importance of climate and wildfire resilient forests for outdoor recreation, and comment now to help secure a sustainable future for the forests we love.
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
January 19, 2024
Speak Up for Climate-Resilient Forests
Sunset at Mt. St. Helens, Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, PNW Region.

Note: this public comment period has closed. We'll keep our community updated on future developments in this process.

When the Pacific Northwest “Timber Wars” reached a boiling point in the early 1990s, federal agencies turned to scientists to find a solution. The result was the creation of the U.S. Forest Service’s landmark 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. For nearly 30 years, the plan has attempted to strike a balance between conservation and timber industry interests on federally-managed lands in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. But threats and pressures to our forests have changed dramatically since the plan’s inception. Wildfires have grown in intensity and range, and scientists and policy-makers have a better understanding of the urgent need to slow and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

The Northwest Forest Plan is due for an update - and it’s about to get one. The Forest Service recently announced a proposal to amend the 1994 plan to address modern challenges like fire resilience and climate adaptation. This proposal is an exciting opportunity for our community: we can help shape the future of our public lands by submitting comments to the Forest Service by Feb 2, 2024

Why the Northwest Forest Plan Matters

When the Northwest Forest Plan was adopted in 1994, it fundamentally changed the nation’s approach to resource management on public lands for the better. Originally created to resolve intense controversy over the effects of old growth logging on fish and wildlife, the plan shifted management of national forests from a focus on timber extraction to a scientifically-based conservation approach. In short, the plan limits logging to certain areas to protect wildlife, old growth forests, and stream corridors. 

The plan also plays a crucial role in connecting communities with outdoor experiences. 24.5 million acres, over 10,000 miles of hiking trails, more than 500 climbing sites, and 17 national forests in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California are managed by the Northwest Forest Plan. Many critical areas for Mountaineers courses and programs, including the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and Gifford Pinchot National Forest, fall under the plan’s umbrella. 

A Call for Change: Amending the Northwest Forest Plan

Although many elements of the original Northwest Forest Plan have withstood the test of time, our forests face new challenges that require modern solutions. That’s why the U.S. Forest Service recently published a notice of intent to amend the plan to meet climate and wildfire challenges head on. This will ensure that the places you love remain resilient in the face of environmental changes and continue to offer unparalleled recreation experiences.

The Forest Service proposal to amend the plan is split into five topic areas: fire resistance and resilience, climate change, mature and old growth forest ecosystems, tribal inclusion, and rural communities. While we agree with the Forest Service’s focus on these five areas, we want to make sure that each topic considers the unique recreational experiences throughout the landscape. The original plan lacked specific management direction related to recreation, and with changing conditions, it’s important that the amended plan addresses the growing demand for outdoor experiences. That’s why we’re writing a letter to the Forest Service to make sure that our community’s perspectives are included in these new management solutions. 

Your Voice Will Shape the Future of Our Forests 

Our organizational comment letter is a great advocacy tool, but the Forest Service also wants to hear from individuals in the outdoor recreation community. They want to know your perspectives on the importance of climate and wildfire resilient forests for the outdoor recreation experience.

The best way to share your perspective is to submit a comment through the Forest Service Northwest Forest Plan Amendment online portal. We recognize that submitting comments can be a daunting process, so we’ve put together a list of key points from our letter that can help inform your personalized comments. A good rule of thumb is to tailor your comments to one or more of the Forest Service’s five proposed topic areas:  

  • Fire Resistance and Resilience: Severe fires impact outdoor recreation. The amended plan should focus on restoring ecosystems to a more fire-resilient state, which will safeguard both the environment and your outdoor adventures.
  • Climate Change: The amendment should consider the impact of climate change on outdoor recreation and propose strategies that will minimize those impacts. 
  • Mature and Old Growth Forests: The amendment should preserve mature and old-growth forests not only for climate resilience but also for the recreational experiences they provide. 
  • Tribal Inclusion: Indigenous tribes are the original stewards of the Northwest’s lands and waters. Yet the original planning process lacked meaningful engagement with Tribes and Indigenous peoples. The amendment should focus on strong co-stewardship and co-management policies that uphold tribal sovereignty.
  • Communities: Recreation on National Forest land provides a huge economic boost for many nearby local communities. We want the amended plan to support all the benefits that our public forests have to offer, including healthy economies, jobs, health, and well-being. This is also an issue of equity - many National Forests provide a gateway for first-time recreationists to venture outside. Given its importance to communities, sustainable recreation management should be more fully integrated into the Northwest Forest Plan.

In addition to our letter and your comments, Mountaineers Conservation & Advocacy Director Betsy Robblee will continue to represent the outdoor recreation community’s interests on the Northwest Forest Plan Federal Advisory Committee – a diverse group of tribal leaders, local community members, environmental groups, industry leaders, and scientists responsible for providing advice and recommendations to the Forest Service during the planning process. 

Join the Conversation 

This is the beginning of a once-in-a-generation chance to make your voice heard and help shape the future of conservation and recreation in the Pacific Northwest. Join us by sharing with the Forest Service why climate and wildfire resilient forests are critical for the outdoor recreation experience. Comments are due by Feb 2, 2024

Your comments will inform the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the updated Northwest Forest Plan, which should be published sometime this summer. We’ll keep you posted on next steps for this important process.


There’s more exciting news in the effort to protect forests from the impacts of climate change: the Biden Administration recently announced a notice of intent to amend all 128 forest plans nationwide. This is a major step in the right direction for old growth forest protection across the country.