The Resilience of the Northwest Forest Plan: Green Drift?

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences


Politics and Government


This paper explores the resilience of the controversial Northwest Forest Plan against a range of attacks, a resilience that is surprising given the initial controversies surrounding the Plan and its failure to deliver harvests at levels that seemed possible under the initial terms of the Forest Plan. Opponents of the Forest Plan have launched aggressive attacks following many of the non-legislative pathways so common in modern environmental policymaking, including appropriation riders, administrative actions, and settlements of controversial lawsuits. For the most part, however, these attacks have failed to crack the Forest Plan. The paper argues that the resilience of the Forest Plan is an example of a larger phenomenon of “green drift” in American environmental policymaking. Despite constant challenges, the environmental laws adopted in the 1960s and 1970s—including the Endangered Species Act, which has been critical in shaping forest policy in the northwest—define the basic political terrain on which policy struggles take place, and that terrain favors environmentalists. In the Pacific Northwest, there is simply no going back to anything remotely resembling the logging policies of the 1980s or before; indeed, there is continuing pressure to accommodate ecosystem values. The Endangered Species Act has ground hard against older policy commitments, and has proven itself to be hard enough and powerful enough to slowly erode them and to create new operational premises for policymaking in the forests.