The Northwest Forest Plan includes an aquatic conservation strategy (ACS) with the primary objective of maintaining and restoring the distribution, diversity, and complexity of watershed-level features and processes to which aquatic and riparian species are uniquely adapted. The ACS uses an ecosystem approach to management of riparian and aquatic habitats and was designed to: 1) protect watersheds that currently had good-quality habitat and strong fish populations; and 2) halt further declines in watershed condition and restore ecological processes that create and maintain favorable conditions in aquatic ecosystems in currently degraded ecosystems (FEMAT 1993). The long-term goal (100+ years) is to develop a network of functioning watersheds that supports populations of fish and other aquatic- and riparian-dependent organisms across the NWFP area.

The ACS consists of four components:

  1. Riparian Reserves: Lands along streams and unstable and potentially unstable areas where special standards and guidelines direct land use.
  2. Key Watersheds: A system of large refugia comprising watersheds that are crucial to at-risk fish species and stocks and provide high quality water.
  3. Watershed Analysis: Procedures for conducting analysis that evaluates geomorphic and ecologic processes operating in specific watersheds. This analysis should enable watershed planning that achieves Aquatic Conservation Strategy objectives. Watershed Analysis provides the basis for monitoring and restoration programs and the foundation from which Riparian Reserves can be delineated.
  4. Watershed Restoration: A comprehensive, long-term program of watershed restoration to restore watershed health and aquatic ecosystems, including the habitats supporting fish and other aquatic and riparian-dependent organisms.

The ACS is based on preserving and restoring key ecological processes, including the natural disturbance regimes that create and maintain habitat for native aquatic- and riparian-dependent organisms, and recognizes that periodic natural disturbances may be required to sustain ecological productivity. As a result, the ACS does not expect that all watersheds will be in favorable condition (highly productive for the same aquatic organisms) at any point in time, nor does it expect that any particular watershed will remain in a certain condition through time. If the ACS and the NWFP are effective, the proportion of watersheds in better condition (for native organisms) is expected to remain the same or increase over time.