Salmon and Forests

A Report on the
Nehalem Watershed

Prepared by the
Coast Range Association
PO Box 2250
Corvallis, Oregon
(541) 758-0255

The big forest that once covered the Nehalem watershed is gone. That's a fact. Because the big forest is gone, watershed processes have been changed in ways that no longer support abundant salmon and trout. The complex habitat of braided channels, streams dotted with deep pools and tangled with large wood has disappeared and the Nehalem salmon have crashed.

The people of the Nehalem valley can restore their great salmon runs. But doing so requires restoring much of the mighty forest that once covered the land. Here is the good news: while the restoration process may be painful for big timber owners, the result will be a more productive forest for timber workers and a secure future for native salmon and local communities.


The Nehalem River basin covers an area of approximately 544,922 acres. In the past -- as with all coastal watersheds--the Nehalem basin contained the big forests of Western Oregon. No other factor shaped and maintained Nehalem stream habitat for salmon as greatly as the forest. Unlike nearby coastal watershed forests lost to fires, most of the Nehalem old-growth forest was lost to logging.

The Nehalem forest supplied streams with plentiful large wood, moderated sediment and stream flows and buffered the watershed from the effects of intense winter storms. Today, the forest of the Nehalem is much different, and so is the story of native fish populations. The forest is dramatically younger, big logs in the streams are severely lacking (something the scientists say is essential for salmon) and populations of native salmon and steelhead are a fraction of their former numbers. The threat of native salmon extinction has come to the Nehalem.

Major Sub-Watersheds of the Nehalem Basin
Name Acres Dominant Owner Type
Upper Nehalem 142,585 Private Industrial
Middle Nehalem 112,445 Private Industrial
Lower Nehalem 113,781 State & Private Industrial
Salmonberry 45,537 State & Private Industrial
North Fork 62,188 Private Industrial
Cook - Lower Nehalem 68,136 State Lands

Scientists tell us that salmon and their habitat must be thought of as one thing. Recently, the state of Oregon appointed a blue-ribbon Independent Multi-disciplinary Science Team (IMST) to make recommendations for recovering Western Oregon's salmon. The IMST emphasized the connection between habitat and salmon by saying "Salmonids and their habitat comprise a single coevolved unit that cannot be separated for management purposes" (IMST p. 12). In other words, if we are to restore salmon populations we must restore habitat.

The best available science says that to save and recover coastal salmon--particularly coho--people must return the land closer to its historic forest condition. As the IMST stated, "the goal of [forest] management and policy should be to emulate (not duplicate) natural processes within their historic range" (IMST Preface, p. v). "We believe emulation of the historic range and distribution of conditions at the landscape level is essential to accomplishing the mission of the Oregon Plan" (IMST p. 34).

Scientists also say that each basin's unique family of salmon is necessary for the survival of the larger community of salmon along the whole Oregon coast. This means working to restore forest conditions in each basin and improving each watershed's stream habitat. Therefore, we can't write off the Nehalem basin or any other Oregon watershed -- every watershed and every local population of salmon is important for the species' long term recovery.

Recently, new information has made it possible to accurately compare historic forest conditions to current forest conditions. For example, newly published studies indicate that, historically up to half of Oregon's Coast Range forests were old growth, characterized by trees over 200 years old. Yet, today's Nehalem forest lands are dominated by plantations of seedling, saplings, or pole-size trees less than 10" at their base. What a huge change! The Nehalem watershed is an example of how a very big change in forest conditions lies at the heart of today's salmon crisis.

The Report on the Nehalem:

(1) Explains how forested lands provided for native salmon;

(2) Presents important facts about Nehalem basin forests, salmon habitat, and ownership; and

(3) Recommends changes in the way we do forestry in the Nehalem so that native salmon will be restored, communities sustained, and jobs protected.

While all of the information in this report has been widely available to researchers, much of it has never been brought to the public's attention. The numbers are dramatic and explain much of what has happened to the Nehalem native salmon. Although the situation appears bleak, there is hope because now we have a clear picture of how forestry must change. One thing is beyond debate: fundamental changes to Nehalem forestry--particularly those forest lands owned by the state and big timber companies--must occur if salmon are to be saved. Forest management in the Nehalem can change — and must change — for the people of Nehalem, the local economy, and native salmon.

What Was the Original Nehalem Forest Like?

The best scientific estimates of what the original Coast Range and Nehalem forest was like are based on studies of fire scars and pollen and charcoal taken from lake sediments. These site-specific analyses indicate that before European settlement, the forest was much older and contained much larger trees than today's forest. More often than not throughout its natural history, the Nehalem forest was old growth, filled with trees more than 200 years old. For example, in the Coast Range in the mid-1800s old growth ranged from 40 percent to as high as 61 percent (Wimberly/Spies, p. 5). Given the Nehalem's location in the northern Coast Range it is very likely that the percentage of old growth in the Nehalem was higher than the regional average.

Recent analysis by researchers at Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station provide powerful evidence to support these numbers. Their analysis of pollen and charcoal in lake sediment suggests that old growth covered an average of 48 percent of the Coast Range over the past 3,000 years, and that forests containing trees greater than 80 years old covered an average of 71 percent of the land. (Wimberly/ Spies, p. 31). Timber industry "information" stating that Coast Range fires occurred frequently and that the natural forest was lacking a substantial amount of old growth and late-successional forest is, at best, less than helpful and, at worse, downright misleading.

Pause a moment and think about the above numbers. The change to the Nehalem forest has been nothing less than dramatic and provides a sense of the background forest condition driving stream habitat decline.

How Does the Forest Shape Salmon Habitat?

Large forests slow sediments moving from the hillsides to the streams. When landslides in forests or debris torrents in upper-watershed streams occur, they both may deliver large wood along with coarse sediment (rocks and gravel) to lower watershed streams. In the lower, gentler streams, large wood interacts with sediment to create the complex channels that provide good rearing habitat for juvenile salmon. The complex habitat created by the interaction of sediment and large wood provides the safe habitat necessary during relentless Nehalem winter rains.

Large wood also controls the way sediment moves through the stream system. Large wood and coarse sediment, including rocks and small boulders, are the building materials of stream beds that enable a stream to connect with its flood plain, form side channels, and exchange nutrients with riparian vegetation and the flood plain water table. Beavers add to the complexity by creating pools within the low-gradient streams. The important point to remember is that the complex habitat created by large wood and sediment plays an important protective role during winter storms — storms that may prove fatal for salmon in today's simplified stream conditions.

Our brief description of how forests provide for salmon habitat is well established in the technical literature and is familiar to many folks working in the Upper and Lower Nehalem Watershed Councils. The role of large wood in salmon habitat is well described in numerous scientific publications and the state's Oregon Watershed Assessment Manual (Watershed Professionals Network, 1999).

What Do Salmon and Trout Need to Thrive?

Coho salmon and steelhead trout require a variety of stream conditions for reproducing and rearing. Spawning and rearing generally take place in small tributary streams, usually with a gradient of less than 3 percent. Unconstrained low gradient streams provide the highest potential for sediment and large wood to form complex habitat providing rearing habitat for salmon and trout. For spawning, coho require clean gravel, ranging from the size of a pea to the size of an orange. Rearing requires cool water temperatures: the fish prefer the water between 53 degrees and 58 degrees Fahrenheit, but may tolerate temperatures up to 68 degrees. Young coho and steelhead (fry) emerge between February and early June, and occupy backwater pools and the margins of streams. During summer, coho prefer deep pools in small streams. In winter, they prefer off-channel alcoves, beaver ponds and dam pools.

Large Wood

The critical component in creating good salmon habitat — clean gravel, backwater pools, side channels, and off-channel alcoves — is the large conifer wood provided by forests that are older than 80 years. The importance of large wood for coastal streams can hardly be overstated. According to Upstream: Salmon and Society in the Pacific Northwest, a 1996 report produced by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, "Perhaps no other structural component of the environment is as important to salmon habitat as is large woody debris, particularly in [Northwest] coastal watersheds…" (Upstream, p. 194).

A forest of large trees is the key element that creates coastal stream habitat. In ways that are complex and not completely understood, a mature forest landscape moderates sediment, provides nutrients, supports water insects, and allows for pockets of cool water that give salmon places to hide from the heat (IMST p. 18; NMFS White Paper, p. 17-18). The National Marine Fisheries Service suggests that at least 80 pieces of wood larger than 24" in diameter and 20 feet long, considered key large wood, should be present in each mile of stream. Poor habitat has fewer than 30 pieces of key large wood per mile, and sections with fewer than 15 such pieces per mile are considered nonfunctioning. Take a look at any Nehalem stream and see if 24" or larger logs are present. Chances are you will not see one piece.

Locally, large wood enters Nehalem streams when trees die from disease, are knocked down by wind, come rushing down steep slopes in landslides or are released from steep upper streams in debris torrents. Not all large wood is the same. Very large pieces are particularly important and come from the big spruce, hemlocks and Douglas firs. Large wood enters streams primarily from within 300 feet (98 meters) of the water. But scientists note that unstable upper slopes and stream beds are also an important source of large wood (IMST p. 23).

The Current State of the Nehalem Forest

The regional shift from an abundant forest to a small timber-poor forest is a clear fact within the Nehalem River watershed. An analysis of forest vegetation conducted in 1995 by the Coastal Landscape Analysis and Modeling Study (CLAMS) project of the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest (PNW) research office in Corvallis--offers a bleak picture of the Nehalem. Of the basin's 544,132 assessed acres, 53 percent is covered with trees less than 10" in diameter at breast height (DBH), or by non-conifer trees of all DBH sizes. Lands that are covered with non-conifer or small conifer trees are a poor source of large wood for streams. Another 27 percent of the landscape is covered with conifers and mixed stands between 10" and 20" DBH, which have only a moderate potential to recruit large-wood. Only 20 percent of the basin's land contains conifer or mixed stands over 20" DBH. We consider forests with trees 20" and larger DBH good land for recruiting large wood to streams.

Potential for Nehalem Forest Land to Recruit Large Wood to Streams
  Poor Moderate Good
Acres 286,626 145,835 111,671
Percentage 53% 27% 20%
A Coast Range Association interpretation of the 1995 CLAMS vegetation layer for stream large wood recruitment.

Particularly important in the above large wood percentages is the potential to recruit key large wood. Key large wood is defined by ODFW as pieces larger than 20' in diameter and 25' in length. Federal standards for key large wood set the width at 24". In either case, approximately 80% of the basin's forest lacks sufficient size to deliver key large wood into the stream system. This landscape condition is likely a complete reversal of the historic natural forest condition where 80% of the basin likely contained forest sufficient in size to provide key large wood.

Nehalem Stream Habitat Conditions

Current stream conditions mirror the change in the Nehalem forest. Over the past decade the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) conducted 314 stream habitat surveys within the Nehalem watershed. When the stream survey data is interpreted using the standards described in the Oregon Watershed Assessment Manual, Nehalem stream habitat appears to be in severe trouble. The results show that only 7 percent of all Nehalem stream reaches contain desirable levels of key large wood. The surveys found 70 percent of the reaches had undesirable levels of key large wood, and 23 percent were at risk. The same pattern held for complex pools--pools with a large wood component-- where 78 percent were found to be in an undesirable condition and 13 percent were at risk. Only 9 percent of the surveyed reaches had desirable levels of complex pools.

It is important to stop for a moment and review what the above numbers mean. Critical stream habitat elements failing at 93 percent and 91 percent levels isn't the kind of information for scratching one's head and saying "gee, I don't know." These are locomotive size numbers that shout to private industrial owners and the Board of Forestry "do something for large wood recruitment!"

Unfortunately, the problems with stream habitat aren't limited to key large wood and complex pools. Of the eleven stream habitat elements benchmarked by the Oregon Watershed Assessment Manual, the Nehalem ranked best in shade. The high marks for shade, however, appear to be an artifact of where ODFW chose to conduct their surveys. This is disturbing, because it appears the surveys were conducted in areas chosen for better habitat conditions. In eight other critical habitat elements, the Nehalem was deficient 52 percent to 74 percent of the time. We suggest the reader review carefully the Nehalem Habitat Condition form above. The numbers are astounding.

A Note on the ODFW's Benchmarks

We know that Coast Range streams once had abundant habitat. No one knows exactly how reduced habitat affects salmon abundance. We just know that as habitat declines the fish populations decline. It is likely an error to assume that in a single watershed lower levels of habitat will support a proportionally lower level of fish. This is most likely not the case. Because of this, the whole benchmark system needs to be approached very cautiously. For example, we all live in houses. Now imagine if some part of your house was removed, for example 25% of the roof. Then 10% of the outer walls were removed. We would quickly see the integrity of the house undermined, and its suitability as long term living habitat compromised.

Salmon habitat may work like the above example. The scientific community doesn't know what works over long periods of time as the complex elements of stream habitat are degraded. The best scientists are unsure of what works for salmon other than natural conditions. The next time one of your neighbors says that there is far more stream habitat than actual salmon ask them if they made their observation during a raging winter storm. Or, ask them to cite the peer reviewed scientific article that concluded such is the case. While we are not satisfied with the benchmark approach, it is useful if applied with caution.

Nehalem Stream Habitat Conditions

314 Total Stream Surveys (1991-1998)

Habitat Element Undesirable At Risk Desirable Percent Desirable

Stream Wood Conditions

Complex Pools 164 27 18 9%
Large Wood 65 99 150 48%
Wood Volume 119 56 139 44%
Key Large Wood 217 71 21 7%

Stream Pool Conditions

Percent Pools 38 129 147 47%
Pool Depth 32 200 82 26%
Pool Ratio 85 98 46 20%

Other Stream Habitat Conditions

Stream Bottom
(silt, sand, etc.)
71 51 74 38%
Width to Depth Ratio 70 159 84 27%
Percent Gravel 33 169 112 36%
Shade 0 0 314 100%
Habitat surveys from 1991 to 1998.
Not all columns add up to 314 because some surveys did not measure all elements.

Nehalem Native Salmon Populations

The state of native fish abundance for the Nehalem watershed shows the predictable effect of the extreme habitat loss. Scientists say they can't be certain exactly how many fish returned to coastal basins a century or more ago, but canning records offer us a hint. In 1981 the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife published a report on the historic cannery catch for coastal Oregon and the Lower Columbia (Mullen, 1981). Cannery records give an indication of the number of salmon returning to local watersheds. Recently, the journal Fisheries published an article on historic and current salmon abundance for the Northwest and British Columbia (Gresh, 2000). In that report the authors indicate the commercial catch rate for coastal Oregon was, on average, 40% of total salmon abundance. A Coast Range Association analysis of the aforementioned two reports indicates that approximately 4.5 acres of coastal watershed land area provided for 1 returning coho salmon.

Based on the above 4.5 to 1 ratio it appears that the Nehalem watersheds had a native coho salmon abundance of approximately 121,000 fish. This calculation holds if we look at the actual Nehalem cannery records and assume it was 40% of abundance. From 1923 to 1940 the average number of coho packed at the Nehalem cannery was 53,000 fish. Using the 40 percent figure total abundance calculates out to 132,500 coho. Whether coho abundance was 132,500 based on a cannery-abundance ratio or 121,000 based on the CRA's 4.5 acre per native coho ratio--the fact remains the native coho population has declined catastrophically in the Nehalem.

During the 1990s the ODFW conducted surveys of returning native coho for coastal streams. ODFW random fish surveys for the years 1990 to 1999 for the Nehalem basin counted, on average, 1,989 spawning coho each year. In 1996, the watershed saw its lowest coho return for the decade of only 1,057 wild fish. Even the 3,975 wild coho that returned to the watershed in 1991, that decade's high, are but a shadow of historic numbers.

Collapse of the Nehalem Native Coho
Estimated Historic Yearly Abundance of Coho
1990 to 1999 Average Annual Coho Return
132,000 to 121,000 Range 1,989

The above numbers reflect a loss of native coho within the Nehalem to approximately 1 to 2 percent of historic abundance.

Current Salmon Distribution

The remaining Nehalem native coho are not evenly present throughout the watersheds. Snorkle surveys for numerous north coast rivers, including the Nehalem, conducted by fish biologist Charlie Dewberry bear out the fact of uneven salmon distribution (Ecotrust, 2000). Most likely, fry and juvenile coho are congregating in the few best remaining stream areas for summer conditions. Low population numbers and concentration in small portions of the stream system expose the population to catastrophic loss from a singular event such as a landslide or debris torrent. That's why the scientists tell us it is important to identify the best remaining places, known as refugia, and protect the landscape from any further activities that threaten the fish.

Who Owns the Nehalem Forest?

It's no secret why forest condition, salmon habitat, and fish numbers look so bleak on the Nehalem: industrial forest practices have radically transformed the landscape upsetting natural forest processes that are key to salmon survival — and a sustainable human economy.

The Nehalem River Watershed Assessment conducted by the Upper and Lower Nehalem Watershed Councils identified 92 percent of the basin's land as dedicated to forestry. According to Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) records, 49 percent of the Nehalem basin's acreage is owned by private, industrial forest companies. Of the industrial forest owners, Longview Fiber and Willamette Industries are the two laregest industrial owners. Past and current industrial owners and operators liquidated the huge old growth forest and gave the profits to their investor owners. Now they have left the people of the Nehalem watershed and Oregon with the cost of restoring the watershed. In effect, they privatized the gain realized through timber sales and transferred much of the cost to society at large.

The second largest forest land owners in the Nehalem is the state of Oregon. The state owns 39 percent of the forest land and dominates the ownership in the Cook - Lower Nehalem sub-watershed. State (26,592 acres) and private industrial ownership (18,588 acres) dominate the Salmonberry sub-watershed. Together they own over 99 percent of all land. The big Lower Nehalem sub-watershed has a substantial state ownership of 47 percent.

Nehalem Forest Ownership
Private Federal State & Other  
Private Industrial Private Non-
BLM Forest
Tillamook & Clatsop State Forests Misc. Total
260,955 67,347 3,904 0 209,627 2,044 534,877
49% 12% <1% 0% 39% <1% 100%

Not all Nehalem private lands are owned by industrial forest owners or the state. 12 percent of the watershed is owned by private, non-industrial owners, defined as those owning less than 5,000 acres. These are the folks generally referred to as small woodlot owners. The federal government owns less than 1 percent of the watershed. ODF data classifies the remaining ownership as "miscellaneous". Given that private industrial ownership is the largest ownership type in the Nehalem watershed, industrial forest management is a critical issue of concern.

Industrial Forest Management

Because the Nehalem has such fertile timberlands, industrial forest owners can grow a marketable log in a very short time. Nehalem industrial owners cut their forests on very short rotations of 40 to 60 years. If we assume Nehalem industrial owners manage for a forty-five year rotation, the average age of Nehalem basin industrial land trees is twenty two and half years. This means that on almost half the basin's land area, the age and size of the forest has been shifted radically — from one that averaged hundreds of years of age to a forest one-tenth as old, whose trees are primarily saplings and pole-stand size.

Watershed Disturbance

Short rotations not only maintain the forest in a permanent small tree size, the frequency of clearcutting creates disturbance far in excess of past natural levels. In the past, watershed disturbance was driven by large, infrequent replacements of stands by fires and periodic, intense storms. In either case -- storm or fire -- the huge wood volume of large trees remained. Today, clearcutting leaves the land barren of large wood while at the same time exposing the freshly cut-over land to the impact of intense storms.

Given the prior discussion of the role of large wood in salmon habitat, the condition of stream habitat for much of the watershed becomes fully understandable in light of the land management practices of a few land owners. Almost half the Nehalem forest has been transformed by a handful of profit-seeking companies from a huge old growth landscape to one of a permanent small plantation forest. The watershed's forest has been changed to the detriment of public values. No one asked our permission or explained the consequences. We are now paying the price in poor stream habitat conditions.

Stream Large Wood Recruitment: The Problem in the Nehalem

With the source of large wood for Nehalem streams depleted, the prospect for native salmon recovery is grim. The IMST concluded that "Oregon streams and adjacent forests currently contain much lower levels of larger wood than they did historically, and under current management practices, the potential for recruitment will not result in its replacement" (IMST p. 22). Habitat so radically different from historical conditions, the team continued, "is seriously hindering the recovery of wild salmonids" (IMST p. 23).

Logging practices in the Nehalem are by far the single greatest cause of the reduced size of wood in streams; and the size of wood in streams is directly related to how much habitat is available for salmon. Studies have found that juvenile coho are more abundant in areas where large pools are abundant. But as logging increases sediments and reduces large wood in streams, the large pools are disappearing. This fact is born out in the habitat stream surveys with only 26 percent of the pools having a desirable depth. One study on federal lands found a 60 percent reduction in large pools in western Oregon and Washington. In Oregon, those losses approached 80 percent (Upstream, p. 181). Another study found that the size of wood moving into streams decreased as logging increased. According to the IMST, "Since the size of wood in the channel is directly related to pool size, this represented a direct loss of critical salmon habitat" (IMST p. 72).

It All Comes Back to Forest Management

The rock-bottom loss of old, mature forest in the Nehalem — and resulting loss of salmon habitat —  is unprecedented. Scientists say past natural conditions and processes are the best for fish; current conditions and processes such as those we see in the Nehalem, eventually will drive the native salmon to extinction. While salmon may be able to survive current conditions in the short term, "the longer the habitat stays in a reduced state, the greater the risk to the population" (Wimberly/Spies, p. 20). In other words, chronic habitat loss can drive — and is driving — Nehalem native coho salmon to extinction.

The numbers we have cited are powerful and challenge the Board of Forestry to respond and uphold the public's interests in the Nehalem watershed. Forest condition and stream habitat reflect an unprecedented degradation of the environment. The burden to recover Nehalem salmon rests on industrial timber owners and the Board of Forestry. Nehalem industrial forestry, whether practiced by private industrial owners or the state, is destructive beyond anything a watershed can withstand. Current industrial forest owners, even if not directly responsible for the liquidation of the Nehalem forest, must accept the burden of recovering the forest and stream habitat.

The Nehalem is Important

Some people within the timber industry believe it isn't worth the effort to recover salmon in highly damaged sub-watersheds like the Upper Nehalem or North Fork. They argue that the cost to land-owners of restoring the watershed to more natural conditions is too great to save the few remaining native fish. At the same time, many scientists urge the government to save the best remaining habitat through the immediate and strict protection of select watersheds. Special watersheds that are rich in habitat and highly protected are referred to as refugia. Between the need for refugia watersheds and the noise of timber industry executives complaining about costs, someone unfamiliar with the overall science might think that an area dominated by private industrial owners is not a political priority for restoration. This isn't the case at all.

Recovering native salmon within the Nehalem watershed is necessary for maintaining salmon coast wide. According to the National Research Council's Upstream report, if the salmon runs on individual rivers are lost, so too will be the larger population of salmon along the Oregon Coast: "An adequate number of returning adults for every local breeding population is needed to ensure persistence of all the reproductive units… The result of regulating fishing on a metapopulation basis [i.e.., all coho along the Oregon Coast] and ignoring the reproductive units that make up a metapopulation [i.e., Nehalem River coho] is the disappearance or extirpation of some of the local breeding populations and the eventual collapse of the metapopulation's production" (Upstream, p. 363).

While the above Upstream quote is addressing fishery management, the message is clear: -- not only does a salmon population such as the coastal coho need a certain amount of abundance to reproduce, it also needs to be well distributed between watersheds and within watersheds. When habitat declines, not only does the total number of fish decline but their distribution may become concentrated in the few best remaining watersheds or sub-basins. Concentration cuts them off genetically and exposes the small remaining population to potential destruction by natural and human caused threats.

We know that salmon are immutably linked to the condition of the land through watershed processes that create and maintain habitat. In the same way that maintaining each river's native salmon is critical to the survival of the species as a whole, maintaining and restoring each basin's salmon habitat is crucial to the survival of salmon as a whole. That means that native Oregon coast salmon cannot be sustained by protecting 45 percent of the habitat on public lands in a few basins and walking away from 55 percent of the habitat on private lands. Private lands therefore bear no less of a burden than public lands in ensuring the long-term survival of salmon runs as a whole.

The Need to Move Toward a More Natural Forest Condition

Every salmon stock in every basin and large sub-watershed is a key brick in the house of its species as a whole. Top scientists say "emulation of the historic range and distribution of conditions at the landscape level is essential to accomplishing the mission of the Oregon Plan" (IMST p. 34)— in other words, restoring salmon. Returning the forests to more natural conditions so that salmon populations can thrive requires fundamental change to the dominant land use in the Nehalem--industrial forestry. In watershed areas dominated by private land, such as the Upper and Middle Nehalem, no one is talking about going back to an old growth forest. An industrial forest that is sufficient to restore native salmon will likely be a far cry from natural conditions. However, we must move very quickly and far from the current model of industrial forestry in order to save native salmon.

Specific Recommendations for Restoring the Nehalem:

The following recommendations for changing private forestry are tied to the current discussion occurring before the Board of Forestry in Salem. This list is based on the main points of the IMST report and other key documents.

1. Manage forestry at a whole basin scale and not at the scale of one activity.

Forest harvest must be planned at the basin scale through local planning, either through voluntary effort or regulatory mandate. Cowboy forestry must end and watershed forestry must begin. Oregon's forest practices rules must consider the entire landscape — including the cumulative effects of forest practices on private, state, and federal lands. A landscape perspective is critical for determining where and how much disturbance (i.e., clearcutting) may occur locally (one site), and how large an area may be impacted.

2. Include the recovery goals of the Oregon Plan for landscape level forest management in the Oregon Forest Practices Act.

The state's rules governing forestry are primarily intended to ensure sustainable timber harvest. Oregon's forests and native salmon are so closely linked that the practice of forestry must sustain native salmon and their habitat.

3. Increase private forest harvest rotation time.

A huge opportunity exists here because current rotation times are occurring far before trees are reaching the size that maximizes log production. Increasing rotation times is a win-win for communities, the timber industry, and salmon. Increasing rotation lengths on commercial forest lands moves forest management closer to natural disturbance regimes and helps reduce — but not eliminate — many impacts to salmon habitat associated with commercial logging. By allowing forests to grow older, and therefore bigger, longer rotation management will provide large wood for streams and understory vegetation for a variety of wildlife and plants. Long rotations mean fewer acres are logged each year, reducing other cumulative impacts while helping to keep habitat connected across the landscape.

A Win-Win Strategy

A Coast Range Association report-- Forests That Work --indicates that moving to 140-year rotations from 45-year rotations may increase timber inventories by more than 500 percent, reduce acres clearcut annually by 68 percent, increase the volume of timber harvested by 40 percent, and increase positive cash-flow off the land for owners by as much as 100 percent. (See the web site Forests_That_Work.htm). We need not fear a reduction in clearcutting because current overcutting is wasting much productive timber capacity. Industrial land-owners will harvest more sellable logs and more valuable logs by cutting less. 4. Approximate the size and pattern of natural disturbance regimes in logging areas.

For management to emulate natural landscape patterns, logging must shift to more closely resemble the size and frequency of local natural disturbance. In basins like the Nehalem, fire disturbance occurred infrequently, but often affected a large swath of land. Logging will act more like a natural disturbance if timber harvest occurs in fewer places but perhaps at larger scales. While this recommendation of the IMST appears to have merit, the potential for abuse exists. More information and specificity is needed for this recommendation to be implemented.

5. Manage logging for both upslope and riparian areas.

In coastal watersheds, it is necessary to eliminate the regulatory distinction between riparian buffers and the upslope lands that feed streams. We must overcome the failed management strategy in which the buffers (comprising a small percent of the landscape) were expected to substitute for the land conditions under which salmon thrived. Integrating the upper slopes into a salmon protection strategy shifts timber management from the needs of industry to one defined by the needs of riparian biological and physical functions (IMST pp. 19-20). "Analysis and adjustment in management practices must occur in upslope forests throughout the watershed" (IMST p. 13). Such integration emulates historic disturbance patterns, is based on "our best understanding of ecosystem structure and function," and therefore helps recover imperiled salmon.

6. Protect small, high gradient streams, with or without fish.

All streams make important contributions to fish habitat — large wood, sediment, and gravel — even if they don't run throughout the year and even if they don't contain fish themselves. The IMST stresses that non-fish-bearing streams make important contributions to downstream processes (IMST p. 31). A stream that shows no fish during modern surveys may have contained them before industrial forestry wrought havoc on the land. Protecting those streams may have direct habitat benefits for salmon, or may protect salmon that stream surveys missed. Harvest rotations of 100 to 200 years will increase the watershed's amount of intact forest and will greatly protect small streams.

7. Require all landowners in all basins to restore fish habitat.

The cumulative effects of logging on all Coast Range forests has been a major factor in the salmon's demise. Restoring each basin — and each basin's salmon population — will be critical to the species' recovery. The bulk of the Nehalem basin, and the Coast Range's forests in general, is in private, industrial ownership. Since the entire land area in a basin is critical to restoring individual salmon populations, and since individual salmon runs are critical to restoring the overall health of the larger salmon population, all landowners in all basins must take major steps toward restoring the landscape. The industrial timber companies whose practices brought the Coast Range forest to its knees face the biggest burden, both technically and morally.

8. Implement a scientifically valid monitoring program.

As Jack Ward Thomas, the former head of the U.S. Forest Service once said, "Ecosystems are not only more complex than we know, they are more complex than we can know." The science of salmon and their ecosystems is evolving. As we change forestry, it is extremely important to monitor the effectiveness of each improvement in management. The wise integration of the changes in scientific information with land management practices requires consistent, thorough, and scientifically sound monitoring.

9. Protect all existing core habitats while the above changes are put in place.

Immediate protection for the most important functioning or potential habitat (refugia watersheds) is critical to prevent continued losses of salmonid genetic diversity. There is no substitute for immediate protection as a hedge against the impacts of current practices and of future ones. This includes specific areas in basins such as the Nehalem.


The Nehalem River's once-great coho salmon now risk extinction because the forest that maintained stream habitat is greatly reduced. Through the best current science, we know much about how forests naturally function and we know much about what salmon need. This report has presented solid data on the Nehalem forest, stream habitat and salmon populations. We now know the general features of what's wrong on the landscape, why it's wrong and who made it that way. We also know much of how to undo it. We have a crisis of unprecedented proportions, one that harms the land and the fish as well as the human community and its economy. The direction we need to go is clear. Road map in hand, we need only build the political will to change the timber industry and restore the forest and salmon.

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Last updated: November 7, 2000