The Mt. Hood Forest Management Plan as written in 1990 does not fully recognize the complex interrelations between people, plants, wildlife, water, and soil. The current plan also fails to consider how climate disruption may impact wildlife in the years and decades ahead. While western science has begun to catch up with sophisticated, indigenous knowledge of these interactions, federal policies like the Mt. Hood Forest Plan tend to lag behind the most comprehensive understandings of the environment.
Wolves: Completing the Ecosystem
Consider the case of the gray wolf, a species native to much of this continent, and that was purposefully wiped out by several generations of white settlers across the Oregon Cascades by 1947.
Decades later, due to endangered species protections, a breeding pair of gray wolves was confirmed on the Warm Springs Reservation near Mt. Hood National Forest in 2018. Cameras continue to verify the White River Pack’s activities within the borders of the National Forest.
When they hunt wolves influence the size and health of their prey populations, like deer and elk. Carcasses that the wolves leave behind provide food for bear and scavenger species. Wolves also help redistribute essential nutrients to soil, duff, plants, and trees as they range great distances across the forest terrain.
In fact, wildlife biologists and managers are only beginning to better understand the positive effects that wolves can introduce when they rejoin an ecosystem. And yet, the 1990 Forest Plan makes no mention of wolves or a wolf management strategy at a time when forward-looking policy initiatives are imperative.
Beavers: Building Habitat
Another “need-to-change” wildlife concern: the role that beavers can play in the Mt. Hood National Forest.
Like wolves, beavers populations were devastated by generations of white settlers who hunted and trapped for their valuable fur or simply as pests. Like indigenous communities have always known, western scientists now recognize the beaver as a “keystone species” whose behavior positively influences the health of watersheds and wetland ecosystems.
Revived wetlands can help reestablish diverse flora-fauna communities. By boosting the growth of riparian hardwood tree species, beavers provide crucial habitats for downy woodpeckers, yellow warblers, and red-eyed vireos. Beavers also help shape bodies of water that waterfowl depend on, as well as the peregrine falcons who prey on waterbirds.
The dams and ponds that beavers create also help regulate water flow and storage in the forest. Beavers’ work helps extend water availability in meadows and woodlands at higher elevations while reducing downstream erosion and scouring. Their work is also linked to keeping creeks and rivers cooler, enhancing conditions for complex invertebrate populations, and for iconic salmon and steelhead species.
At a time when our region faces the growing prospect of diminished snowpack, changes in seasonal rainfall and runoff, hotter summers, and more frequent droughts, water management has never been more important. All things considered, the natural skill that beavers possess for “engineering” niche environments could be incredibly helpful. But beavers can only help solve our water problems if a Forest Plan acknowledges the beaver’s full ecological worth.
It’s Time for a Better Plan
So whether the issue is new threats to sustainable habitat for endangered species like the northern spotted owl, or how fire suppression methods and post-disturbance tree replanting undermine mule deer populations, a new Mt. Hood Forest Management Plan is clearly in order. We need a plan that best addresses pressing wildlife concerns in the greater context of forest ecology—and not as a lesser priority to tree plantations and timber sales.