Scientist Ushered in New Era of Land Management

Article excerpt

Byline: Bob Doppelt For The Register-Guard

One of the nation's leading aquatic scientists recently passed away. Most readers probably don't know him. But if you like to fish, value clean water or treasure healthy forests and watersheds you owe him a great deal. Jim Sedell's accomplishments were enormous. He was a mentor and an inspiration to me and to many others. Elected officials, forest and fisheries managers can learn a great deal and avoid costly mistakes by heeding the lessons of his lifetime of work.

I first met Sedell back in the mid-1980s when he was with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis. At the time, the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and many other public agencies practiced single issue and species management. Most forests were managed to meet specific timber cutting "targets." Many fisheries were managed on a stock-by-stock basis.

Through seminal research done earlier in his career, Sedell discovered how energy and materials are recycled along gradients from small streams to large rivers. His findings led to a new ecosystem-based paradigm for watershed management called "The River Continuum Concept." It raised serious questions about the single-issue management approach.

Sedell's research helped explain why in the 1980s forest management in the Northwest had become so controversial. Pacific salmon and other species were being driven toward extinction because timber harvest, road building, and other management activities intended to meet narrow objectives were disrupting the interconnectedness of rivers and streams. The lack of connectivity undermined the overall health of watersheds and the organisms they supported.

This is just one example of the nationally and internationally recognized scientific programs Sedell led that developed new theories and approaches to the management of watershed and river ecology, riparian ecosystems and fish habitat.

Some of his research forms the basis of management and conservation strategies that are today employed by almost every unit of the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and other agencies nationwide.

Perhaps his greatest legacy is the Aquatic Conservation Strategy that forms a cornerstone of the 1994 Northwest Forest Plan. The ACS, as it is known, came about when Sedell and his colleague Gordon Reeves were asked by President Bill Clinton to join forest scientists Jack Ward Thomas, Jerry Franklin, John Gordon and Norm Johnson to develop ecosystem-based options for managing federal lands in the range of the northern spotted owl. Using approaches such as PacFish they had previously developed, the outcome was the nation's first regional ecosystem-based approach to watershed, riparian, and fish management and restoration. …