Earlier this month, the U.S. Forest Service released scoping plans for the upcoming Little White Salmon timber sale. The project, which is officially called the Little White Salmon Forest Resiliency and Fire Risk Mitigation Project, is still in the early planning stages. The agency is seeking public input, which is due May 8, 2023. Public input, as well as further agency review, will be used to refine the plan before a more detailed Environmental Assessment is published for further public input in the future. Cascade Forest Conservancy (CFC) has been discussing the details of this project with the Forest Service for several years as part of our work within the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative and will be submitting our own comments to the proposal. We ask that you take a moment to join us in speaking up for mature forests in the Little White Salmon Watershed.





The Little White Salmon watershed extends northward from the Columbia River toward high elevation meadows in the Indian Heaven Wilderness, the majority of which (79%) are located within the Mt. Adams Ranger District of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. This area is an important transition zone between drier eastside forests and moist westside forests containing a high level of biodiversity and many high-value habitat areas. Its transitional characteristics also make it uniquely vulnerable to climate change disturbances. 



A large group of people standing in a forest clearing discussing an upcoming timber sale.
CFC’s staff joined representatives of the U.S. Forest Service on a field trip with the South Gifford Pinchot Collaborative to discuss plans for the Little White Salmon timber sale in 2022.


The project described in the scoping notice proposes active management (including commercial and non-commercial thinning, fuel reduction activities, road decommissioning, and aquatic habitat restoration actions) on 15,600 acres. This includes thinning activities in 7,100 acres of middle and mature forests, 2,000 acres of which are described as complex stands.

CFC has concerns about the intensity of thinning activities proposed in mature forest stands and several other issues, which we outline below.





CFC is concerned that the treatments described in the scoping plans in mature forest stands are unnecessarily aggressive. The agency is proposing logging activities in over 3,000 acres of forests where trees are over 120 years old that would reduce total canopy cover to 40% or 45-55%. These mature forests are on the cusp of becoming much-needed old-growth habitat.

The intensity of the proposed logging activities in these stands will not confer fire-risk mitigation benefits (especially in the wetter west-side stands) that outweigh the negative impacts of the proposed activities to the health of the intact ecosystem, carbon sequestration capacity, and the development of old-growth forest stands. CFC is asking the Forest Service to employ less intense thinning activities for the older stands included in their plans.


Large conifer trees towering over maples in the foreground
Trees in a mature stand within the Little White Salmon timber sale planning area.


We are also asking the Forest Service not to cut any old-growth in the 32 units included in the plan where these important and rare habitat areas are present. Although we acknowledge that the scoping brochure mentions “no old-growth forests are proposed for treatment,” we are formally commenting in support of that promise to ensure that all old-growth stands are dropped from treatment plans and allowed a no-cut buffer.





Northern spotted owl watching from a tree branch
Northern spotted owls are highly endangered.


The proposed harvest overlaps with several northern spotted owl circles (areas around locations where northern spotted owls have been observed nesting in the past), and many of those units are proposed for thinning the canopy to 40% cover. Northern spotted owl numbers are already drastically dwindling due to the lack of available preferred habitat and competition from barred owls.

Thinning the canopy down to 40% is a heavy disturbance that will likely lead to decreased reproduction and/or site abandonment, impacting the recovery of this highly threatened species. There have been suggestions that northern spotted owls may not inhabit some of these areas any longer, and this has been used as a justification to underplay the importance of owl circles. However, critical habitat for NSOs, updated in 2021, still includes most of the project area as critical habitat. In the absence of new monitoring data, the Forest Service should continue protecting known historic nest sites.





Many of the proposed units appear to be within Riparian Reserves. These stream-adjacent forests and aquatic habitats are migration corridors and serve as important refugia where habitat resilience is frequently best improved or maintained by leaving these areas to grow unencumbered and intact. CFC believes commercial thinning is not appropriate within Riparian Reserves and is likely not compliant with current forest management policies. CFC is asking that any management within Riparian Reserves be non-commercial in nature and tailored to the aquatic habitat needs of the specific sites.





A man standing among a grove of large Western redceders
The Lost Creek Area is home to some of the largest ceders in the forest. Photo by Darryl Lloyd.


The Lost Creek area on the southwestern edge of the watershed is special to CFC and many others. It includes ancient cedar trees that are some of the largest in the Forest. Due to the special nature of this place, we have questions and concerns about the intensity of the proposed treatments in this area and request special attention and consideration be paid to ensure the features that make this site unique are protected. We are concerned that logging near this area will result in more open canopies, higher understory temperatures, less moisture retention, and therefore higher fire risk for the old-growth stands in the area. We request that any treatments in this area focus on the protection of this unique and important ecosystem and that the impact of logging on increased fire risk and forest resilience in this type of forest be sufficiently considered.





Public input from concerned citizens like you can have a positive impact on the end result of projects like the Little White Salmon timber sale. Please use the talking points above as an outline to write and submit your own comments to the Little White Salmon scoping plans by May 8th, 2023.

Comments may be mailed to Jessica Hudec, Mt. Adams Ranger Station, 2455 Hwy 141, Trout Lake, WA 98650.

Electronic comments may be emailed to Please submit comments within the e-mail message or as an attachment in .pdf, .doc, or .rtf format and specify in the subject that it pertains to the Little White Salmon Forest Resiliency and Fire Risk Mitigation Project.


The laws and guidelines regulating the way public lands are managed have come a long way, but the challenges we face today require an updated approach.

 The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) was implemented almost thirty years ago. The plan–a series of federal policies and guidelines governing land uses within federally managed areas of the Pacific Northwest–was adopted at the height of the confrontation between environmentalists and the timber industry around over-harvesting practices that decimated old-growth forests in the 1980s and early 90s. The plan was shaped by hundreds of scientists from a wide range of fields of expertise. It was designed for the purpose of preserving the health of entire ecosystems, including the people that rely on our forests, rather than focusing solely on the preservation of individual threatened or endangered species.


Learn more about the Northwest Forest Plan in Episode 5 of the OPB Podcast: Timber Wars


The NWFP was an important and ground-breaking piece of federal policy. When it was adopted in 1994, it created new guidelines for federal agencies and fundamentally changed the nation’s approach to resource management on public land for the better. But when the policy was adopted, our understanding of climate change was just beginning to emerge and was not yet a factor in shaping policy decisions. 

Now, scientists, policymakers, and the public all have a better understanding of the urgent need to slow and mitigate climate impacts, as well as the role that forests in the Pacific Northwest play in capturing carbon and slowing global climate change. In light of these factors, CFC and many leading scientists believe our national forest land management policies could use some updating.




Part of the way the Northwest Forest Plan set new guidelines for resource management was the creation of several different land allocation designations that set management objectives for specific areas. The goal was to balance competing land use objectives and to protect the long-term health of forests, wildlife, and waterways.

Since the NWFP was adopted, timber harvests have mainly been proposed and discussed in areas within four of these designations: 


Late-Successional Reserves (LSR)


Late-Successional Reserves are areas set aside to support or advance old-growth characteristics. It should be noted that this old-growth-focused management objective still allows some logging (mostly thinning) and this has been a source of conflict and disagreement through the years. 


Riparian Reserves


Under the NWFP, forest management in Riparian Reserves (habitat areas near streams and rivers) is supposed to support riparian health, but how one interprets this goal varies and management can also include thinning.



Adaptive Management Areas 


Compared to other designations, Adaptive Management Areas are smaller and intended to allow the US Forest Service a degree of experimentation with management interpretations. These are places where the impacts of restoration and harvest techniques are tested, implemented, and measured. But, of late, we have seen a rise in fairly intensive logging projects in these areas, mostly under the stated goal of bringing back huckleberry picking areas. 




Matrix lands were intended to meet multiple objectives within the landscape, including the production of commercial yields of wood, diversification of habitat areas, and corridors between dispersed mature and old-growth habitat areas. The vast majority of timber harvest in national forests occurs on Matrix land. Unfortunately, that has led some to misinterpret the management objective of Matrix lands as places solely intended for free-for-all timber production.




In our Climate Resilience Guidebook, published in 2017, we outlined land management recommendations and restoration strategies that can be implemented at the local level to build resilience and limit the impacts of climate change. The Guidebook looked into how the different designations created by the NWFP relate to the conservation of species and habitats.

As we prepare to publish a new edition of the Guidebook, we are digging deeper into the role of these designations, especially that of Matrix lands. It’s vital to do that work now. The NWFP will be undergoing a long-anticipated update in the coming years, and scientists and conservationists will have opportunities to influence the new guidelines and objectives. We are interested in exploring how our knowledge of climate change and carbon sequestration may influence how we, collectively, may want to view the role of Matrix lands in national forests.

There are many questions that require investigation. Is it time for management conversations to more directly consider how carbon sequestration in Matrix lands can influence future climate impacts? Since drought and fires impact the entire forest, do we need to update our thinking about the management goals of Matrix lands to include their potential value as habitat refugia (important places where plant or animal populations can survive periods of unfavorable conditions), even if these Matrix lands make imperfect substitutes for areas designated as LSRs or Wilderness?  

A selection of images from CFC’s wildlife cameras taken on Matrix lands


The new edition of the Guidebook will help elucidate answers to these questions and more. It will do so by synthesizing our knowledge from on-the-ground experience, insights from the latest scientific research, and data from mapping layers. All of this will allow CFC to gain a better idea of what changes to the Northwest Forest Plan may be needed to sustainably manage public resources while preserving ecosystem health and biodiversity in a changing world. 

Locally, the insights we gain will impact our recommendations and priorities related to our work discussing and negotiating timber sales in forest collaboratives and our work, generally, with federal and state agencies. We will also use these insights to influence the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Plan and the Mount St. Helens Comprehensive Management Plan, two federal planning documents that will be updated after the NWFP and that will both be critically important to how our local federal lands are managed well into the future.

It’s time to revisit how we think about Matrix lands. We aim to publish a set of recommendations for this revision process and an outline of strategies we can all push forward through the various levels of conversation and public involvement, from the individual on up to the national stage.