The Role of Forest Management in Salmonid Habitat Protection


The Society of American Foresters (SAF) endorses the need to protect threatened or endangered salmonid stocks as intended by state and federal endangered species acts. The SAF desires to see Pacific salmonid species recover to sustainable populations. The SAF favors a balanced approach to endangered species protection that takes into account sound and reputable science, as well as the economic and social implications of any management or recovery plan (Society of American Foresters 1994). The SAF believes that habitat quality, over which foresters have some influence, is only one of many factors affecting salmonid recovery.

Existing voluntary and regulatory programs are effective throughout much of the vast area occupied by Pacific salmonid populations. Where these programs are not effective SAF strongly encourages resource management and regulatory agencies to work together cooperatively to ensure Best Management Practices (BMPs) are redesigned to work properly. The SAF advocates the use of proven forest practices in all forestry operations, not just in those areas that have been designated as critical habitat for Pacific salmonids or any other aquatic or terrestrial species (Society of American Foresters 1995). The SAF supports the use of BMPs as defined in the Clean Water Act (Section 319). The SAF believes Endangered Species Act (ESA) recovery plans for salmonids should recognize state forest practice programs and the efforts of states to implement the Clean Water Act through state water quality management programs. They should also encourage federal resources management and regulatory agencies to work cooperatively with the states and landowners to protect water quality and fish habitat. Examples of cooperative efforts include the coastal salmon restoration initiatives in Oregon and the development of Habitat Conservation Plans by companies and state forestry agencies.

Issue Statement

Declines in certain salmon populations can be attributed to many factors, only one of which is historic timber harvesting. One of the many issues is whether current forest management standards and practices are adequate to protect water quality and salmon fishery habitat. While past forest management practices have affected the salmon resource, modern voluntary and regulatory programs are mitigating existing and potential negative impacts effectively in many western watersheds. Another issue is the attempt to apply generalized regulations on all salmonid habitats. Not only does this ignore scientific research and monitoring data, but it uses isolated worst case scenarios to generate the minimum standards. While forestry is playing an important role in salmonid restoration, there is still much to do in all factors affecting salmon to revitalize this essential resource.


Protection and recovery of anadromous salmonids will require changes in all of the activities affecting these fish throughout their complex life cycle, including forest management. Uniform regulations currently proposed for standard applications across a wide variety of ecosystems, differing salmon species and runs, are contrary to scientific findings and continuing monitoring efforts. Several states in the Pacific region have adopted forest practices acts that regulate forestry activities and require BMPs. State audits reveal their general effectiveness in protecting water quality. If audits and other monitoring activities reveal otherwise, BMPs are modified until they are effective. States in the Pacific region have had 25 years of experience implementing and modifying BMPs to protect salmonids under the Clean Water Act. In its most recent assessment of forest and rangelands conditions, the USDA Forest Service recognized the general effectiveness of state programs for protecting water quality (USDA Forest Service 1994).

When anadromous salmonids were listed under the ESA in the early 1990s, federal agencies departed from this approach of BMP design, evaluation, and modification. Instead interim prescriptions were designed for riparian management zones on federal lands to protect water quality from sediment in overland flow under a worst-case scenario. These prescriptions were to be used until an analytical procedure for developing site-specific prescriptions could be developed (O’Laughlin and Belt 1995). Site-specific prescriptions have not yet been developed. As a consequence the worst-case scenario prescriptions remain the standards on federal lands throughout the Pacific Northwest. It is inappropriate for these minimum standards to be extended to non-federal lands through the critical habitat provisions of the ESA with no consideration of the BMP experiences in this region.

One standardized management regulation that should not be applied to all ecosystems is a 300-foot buffer zone along streams. As part of the President’s Northwest Forest Plan, the USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management adopted 300-foot no-touch buffer zones on each side of streams on federal lands throughout much of the Pacific Coast region. In November 1997, the National Marine Fisheries Service proposed that 300-foot zones adjacent to coho salmon streams be designated as critical habitat. Although streamside buffer zones are critical to restoring anadromous fisheries, little scientific evidence supports the need for standardized 300 foot buffer zones. The SAF believes that the width of streamside buffer zones and the forest practice standards that apply within them should be determined based on local conditions through the process of designing and modifying BMPs. The SAF opposes the application of a single prescriptive (uniform) buffer zone width throughout the region.

Factors Affecting Salmonids

During their complex life histories, Pacific salmonids are affected by many factors other than forest management. The relative importance of the many individual natural and human influences on fish populations remains difficult to assess and is the subject of considerable scientific discussion and debate (Botkin et al. 1995).

Contributing to the extensive historic declines in anadromous fish stocks are combinations of urbanization, stream damming, diversions, habitat modification and fish harvest (Botkin et al. 1995, Palmisano et al. 1993). Harvest by commercial and recreational fishing and predation by exotic fish species have reduced the numbers of returning salmonids. Hatchery operations have diluted genetic diversity (due to inbreeding of wild stocks with limited genetic range represented by hatchery returns). Over harvest in response to abundant hatchery returns could also have reduced wild salmonid stock. Competition with exotic fish and human-induced habitat changes that favor other native fishes have adversely affected Pacific salmonids.

In addition to human influences, important natural forces have accounted for much of the variation in abundance of salmonids from year to year and place to place (Pearcy 1996, Willson 1997). These events occurred both before and after early forest operations. Fluctuations in climate and ocean conditions (e.g., the El Niño effect) can affect salmonid populations by reducing ocean food supplies for salmonids or by favoring warm ocean predators (Pearcy 1996). Large and small dams can create complete or partial barriers to salmonid migration up and downstream, creating conditions that cause direct mortality (e.g., turbine kill), increased predation, or reduced vigor (e.g., nitrogen bubble disease). Predation by birds, marine mammals, and native fishes have also taken their toll on Pacific salmonids. Forest practices are just one element in the complex web of salmonid influences.

The Role of Forest Management

Some salmonid populations have experienced major declines in the past 10-20 years, while some Pacific salmonid stocks, for example Chinook salmon in Alaska, appear to be stable or increasing. The National Marine Fisheries Service has identified at least twelve distinct populations of Pacific salmon and steelhead for listing as threatened or endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act (Stone 1997). Each of these distinct population segments of salmonid species has important commercial, recreational and societal values to the Pacific region.

To insure salmonid recovery, BMPs providing guidelines for proper construction and maintenance of roads and for retention and recruitment of streamside forest cover and future supplies of large woody debris, in addition to clean water, need to be implemented routinely throughout the Pacific Coast region. For example, forest road construction and use have been a primary source of elevated sediment levels in Pacific coast streams, through their effects on both surface erosion and mass wasting (Furniss et al. 1991). Specific BMPs, as well as other state and local rules, have, in some watersheds, greatly reduced impacts to all aquatic species (Ice et al. 1997). Improved practices have reduced erosion, improved water quality, and helped restore aquatic and wildlife habitat. Improved design and installation of culverts have improved fish passage.

Streamside management zones, or riparian buffers, are another key forest practice consideration. Management practices that protect these areas, and which consider the quality of fish habitat and water as a primary management objectives, should drive site-specific silvicultural prescriptions that take into account stand conditions. These streamside zones are crucial to the protection and enhancement of water resources. Managed properly, they can improve water quality, provide shade, and support essential habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals (Chamberlin et al. 1991). Watercourses occupied by salmonids must receive protection against water quality and aquatic habitat degradation originating from forest management operations. Care must also be given to other watercourses which influence downstream conditions. Failure to protect such streams ignores the connection between upstream and downstream areas within a single river basin (Benda et al. 1992).


Current and proposed listings and subsequent ESA-based regulations will have important impacts on land use activities including forestry and silviculture. The Society of American Foresters favors a balanced approach to endangered species protection that takes into account sound and reputable science, as well as the economic and social implications of any management or recovery plan (Society of American Foresters 1994). ESA recovery plans should be coordinated as much as possible within the framework of existing federal, tribal, state and local planning and zoning laws.

Recovery plans must also recognize the diversity of forest land ownership within which salmonid recovery must occur and the effectiveness of local, voluntary resource protection and restoration programs. In some cases, state forest practice rules may adequately protect salmonids, as well as other aquatic biota. Implementation of sweeping regulatory changes could have highly detrimental effects on local economies and, particularly, on small forest landowners; in addition, it could result in unintended adverse biological consequences. Public officials, planners and managers as appropriate, in each state or sub-region (e.g., the Columbia River basin) should be provided with the flexibility to design rules, regulations and practices that reflect unique local or sub-regional conditions. The SAF opposes the application of a single prescriptive riparian buffer zone throughout the region.

The Society of American Foresters acknowledges the complexity of issues surrounding salmonid recovery and recognizes that effective cooperation and collaboration will be needed to achieve Pacific salmonid restoration goals. The recovery and stabilization of Pacific salmon and anadromous fish species in the Pacific Northwest, including California and Alaska, is an undertaking that requires the cooperative efforts of and contributions from many stakeholders.

SAF members will continue to work collaboratively to develop, implement, and monitor proven forest practices to enhance the anadromous fish habitat in the forested areas of the Pacific Coast region. They will also continue working with allied natural resource professionals and interested citizens, groups, and policy makers to protect and recover Pacific salmonid populations, and manage them at sustainable levels.

About the Society

The Society of American Foresters, with about 18,000 members, is the national organization that represents all segments of the forestry profession in the United States. It includes public and private practitioners, researchers, administrators, educators, and forestry students. The Society was established in 1900 by Gifford Pinchot and six other pioneer foresters.

The mission of the Society of American Foresters is to advance the science, education, technology, and practice of forestry; to enhance the competency of its members; to establish professional excellence; and to use the knowledge, skills, and conservation ethic of the profession to ensure the continued health and use of forest ecosystems and the present and future availability of forest resources to benefit society.

The Society is the accreditation authority for professional forestry education in the United States.The Society publishes the Journal of Forestry; the quarterlies Forest Science, Southern Journal ofApplied Forestry, Northern Journal of Applied Forestry, and Western Journal of AppliedForestry; The Forestry Source and the annual Proceedings of the Society of American Foresters national convention.


Benda, L., T.J. Beechie, R.C. Wissmar, and A. Johnson. 1992. Morphology and evolution of salmonid habitats in a recently deglaciated river basin, Washington state, USA. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 49:1246-1256.

Botkin, D. et al. 1995. Status and future of salmon in western Oregon and northern California: Findings and options. Report #8. The Center for Study of the Environment. Santa Barbara, CA. 300p.

Chamberlin, T.W., R.D. Harr, and F.H. Everest. 1991. Timber harvesting, silviculture,and watershed processes. In: Influences of Forest and Rangeland Management on Salmonid Fishes and their Habitat. W.R. Meehan, ed. Special Publication 19. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, MD.

Furniss, M.J., T.D. Roelofs, and C.S. Yee. 1991. Road construction and maintenance. In: Influences of Forest and Rangeland Management on Salmonid Fishes and their Habitats. W.R. Meehan, ed. Special publication 19. American Fisheries Society. Bethesda, MD.

Ice, G.G., G.W. Stuart, J.B. Waide, L.C. Irland, and P.V. Ellefson. 1997. 25 years of the Clean Water Act: How clean are forest practices? Journal of Forestry 95(7):9-13.

O’Laughlin, J., and G.H. Belt. 1995. Functional approaches to riparian buffer strip design. Journal of Forestry 93 (2): 29-32.

Palmisano, J.F., R.H. Ellis and V.W. Kaczynski. 1993. The impact of environmental and management factors on Washington’s wild anadromous salmon and trout. Washington Forest Protection Association and State of Washington Department of Natural Resources. Olympia, WA.

Pearcy, W.G. 1996. Salmon production in changing ocean domains. In: Pacific Salmon and their Ecosystems, Status and future options. D.J. Strouder, P.A. Bisson, and R.J. Naiman, eds. Chapman & Hall International Thomson Publishing. New York, NY.

Society of American Foresters. 1994. Reauthorization of the Endangered Species Act. Bethesda, MD.

Society of American Foresters. 1995. Reauthorization of the Clean Water Act. Bethesda, MD.

Stone, S. 1997. NMFS West Coast Salmon Status Summary: Updated 9/2/97. National Marine Fisheries Service, Portland, OR.

USDA Forest Service 1994. RPA Assessment of the Forest and Rangeland Situation in the United States. 1993 Update. USDA Forest Service, Washington, DC 144p.

Willson, Mary F. 1997. Variation in salmonid life histories: patterns and perspectives. Res. Pap. PNW-RP-498. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 50p.


Additional Readings

Belt, G.H., J. O’Laughlin, and T. Merrill. 1992. Design of forest riparian buffer strips for the protection of water quality: analysis of scientific literature. Report 8, Idaho Forest, Wildlife and Range Policy Analysis Group, University of Idaho, Moscow. 35p.

Bottom, D.L., G.H. Reeves, and M.H. Brooks. 1996. Sustainability issues for resource managers. Gen. Tech. Report PNW 370. Portland, OR: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Serivce, Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Buck, E.H. et al. 1990. Pacific salmon and steelhead: potential impacts of endangered species act listings. CRS Report 90-533 ENR. Congressional Research Service, Washington, DC.

Cuenco, Michael. 1996. Framework for estimating salmon survival as a function of habitat condition. Columbia River Inter-tribal Fish Commission, Portland, OR

Cummins, Kenneth W. 1994. Status and future of salmon of western Oregon and northern California: Management of the riparian zone for the conservation and protection of salmon. Draft. Center for the Study of the Environment, Portland, OR.

Frissell, Christopher A. 1992. Cumulative effects of land use of salmon habitat in southwest Oregon coastal streams. Thesis. Oregon State University Fisheries Science, Corvallis, OR.

Frissell, Christopher A. 1993. A new strategy for watershed restoration and recovery of Pacific salmon in the Pacific Northwest. Pacific Rivers Council, Eugene, OR.

Frissell, Christopher A. 1994. From the forest to the sea: the ecology of wood in streams, rivers, estuaries, and oceans.

Gordon, J.C., and J. Lyons. 1997. The emerging role of science and scientists in ecosystem management. In: Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management. K.A. Kohm and J.F. Franklin, eds. Island Press, Washington, DC. pp. 447-453.

Gregory, Stanley V. and R.C. Wildman. 1994. Aquatic ecosystem restoration project: Quartz Creek, Willamette National Forest. Oregon State University Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Corvallis, OR.

Gregory, S.V. 1997. Riparian management in the 21st century. In: Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management. K.A. Kohm and J.F. Franklin, eds. Island Press, Washington, DC. pp. 69-85.

Kaczynski, V. and J. Palmisano. 1993. Oregon’s wild salmon and steelhead trout: a review of the impact of management and environmental factors. Oregon Forest Industries Council. Salem, OR.

Maser, C. and J.R. Sedell. 1994. From the forest to the sea: the ecology of wood in streams, rivers, estuaries, and oceans. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, FL.

Murphy, M.L. 1995. Forestry impacts on freshwater habitat of anadromous salmonids in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska requirements for protection and restoration. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Decision Analysis Series No. 7. US Department of Commerce. Silver spring, MD.

Nehlsen, W., J.E. Williams, and J.A. Lichatowich. 9191. Pacific salmon at the crossroads; stocks at risk from California, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Fisheries 16 (2):4-21.

Nickelson, Thomas E. 1992. Status of anadromous salmonids in Oregon coastal basins. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Corvallis, OR.

Palmisano, J.F. 1997. Poster presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Seattle, WA.

Salo, E.O., and T.W. Cundy, eds. 1987. Streamside management: Forestry and fisheries interactions. Contribution 57. Institute of Forest Resources, University of Washington. Seattle, WA.

Sedell, J.R., J. Yuska, and R.W. Speaker. 1983. Study of westside fisheries in Olympic National Park. US Department of the Interior, National Park Service.

Upper Columbia River Basin Draft Environmental Impact Statement (UCRB-DEIS). 1997. BLM-ID-PT-96-021+1610, Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, USDA Forest Service, and USDI Bureau of Land Management, Boise, ID.

USDA Forest Service. 1996. Summary of Scientific Findings: Status of the Interior Columbia Basin. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-385, USDA Forest Service, Portland, OR.

US Government Accounting Office. 1993. Endangered species: potential economic costs of further protection for Columbia River Salmon: report to Congressional requesters.

Adopted by the Executive Committees of Society of American Foresters Units in Alaska, Idaho, Northern California, Oregon, Southern California, and Washington on September 8, 1998. This statement will expire in five years unless jointly revised or extended by these SAF State Societies.