July and August mark a critical time period for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. Integrating large amounts of scientific information and drafting the EIS alternatives are the top priorities.
Project team members had planned to go on the road in July, bringing a project progress report to local communities throughout the Basin. Before the schedule was finalized, advice was sought from several community leaders. The consensus: Host the public briefings when you can tell how this project will affect the public. We want to see the final products such as what the EIS Alternatives and the Scientific Assessment will look like.
We took the advice. It was decided to hold community briefings when more information is available. This will be prior to the release of the Draft EISs in late 1995.
In the meantime, people will still have the opportunity to follow our alternative development process. A project update, including a preview of the alternatives, will be mailed to the project mailing list sometime in late July or early August. If you have questions after you've read the material, give us a call. We'll be glad to discuss it with you, or, if interest is high, we will schedule a briefing in your community by project team members.
Please call your nearest project office with any questions or comments you may have. Boise (208) 334-1770, or Walla Walla, (509) 522-4030.
The working dates for the Environmental Impact Statement Teams were shared at the public meetings held in Walla Walla on June 14 and 15. The Draft Environmental Impact Statements will be released to the public in late 1995. Comments will then be accepted for 90 days.
~ June 1995 Develop the Range of Alternatives
Write Chapter One (Introduction)
~ July 1995 Write Chapter Three (Development of Alternatives)
~ August 1995 Write Chapter Two (Affected Environment)
Write Chapter Five (Public Involvement)
~ September 1995 Write Chapter Four (Environmental Consequences)
~ October 1995 Compilation of Draft EISs
Internal Review Process
~ Late 1995 Draft EISs Released to the Public
~ Early 1996 90 Day Public Comment Period
Modify Draft EISs Based on Public Comments
~ Mid 1996 Final EISs Released to the Public
The Science Integration Team staff reports will be completed and sent out for peer review in August 1995. In the interim, the integration of staff reports will begin.
~ July 1995 Staff Analysis and Interpretation Completed
~ August 1995 Staff Area Reports Completed
Peer Review for Staff Area Reports
Internal Review and Compilation of Review Feedback
Integration of Policy Questions and Issues Across Staff Areas
Over the past several months a subtle but significant leadership change has taken place on the Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project. In late spring, it became apparent that the two EIS Teams and the Science Integration Team needed to closely coordinate because of the project's short timeframes and heavy workloads the project was working with. To assure that close coordination between the two project offices and various teams occurs a Project Leadership Team was formed.
The Project Leadership Team is comprised of: Jeff Blackwood, Project Manager; Tom Quigley, Science Integration Team Leader; and Pat Geehan, Deputy/BLM Project Manager, all based in Walla Walla, Washington, and Steve Mealey, Project Manager, based in Boise, Idaho. The team is supported by Deanna Mendiola, Administrative Assistant, and Nancy Geehan, Project Liaison. The Project Leadership Team is meeting every other week to discuss concerns, issues, and coordination efforts needed to accomplish the tasks set forth in the Project Charter.
"A great need exists to preserve diversity in the forest," commented a concerned participant in Kalispell, Montana. On January 28, 1995, in an unprecedented use of video technology, the Upper Columbia River Basin EIS Team received approximately 5,000 comments within a three-hour period by hosting a teleconference in 28 sites throughout the Upper Columbia River Basin and one site in Washington, D.C.
Ideas presented to the team ranged from issues of local concern such as mining practices in Challis, Idaho to regional issues such as how humans fit into the concept of ecosystem management throughout the Northwest.
Other responses that were important to all the sites included:
The comments and questions from the teleconference were analyzed and icorporated into issue development. They now available are in a publication for reference by the public and the Upper Columbia River Basin EIS team. The team also received written comments which were combined with the teleconference comments to create the public comment records. The goal of the public comment records is to provide anyone interested with a directory to the public issues that may be incorporated into the draft EIS.
Currently, the Upper Columbia River Basin EIS Team is using comments and other information to formulate issues that will reflect central themes expressed by the public. The final issue statements will identify areas of public concern regarding public land management issues. In turn, the issues will guide the development of alternatives for the Basin.
The topics developed by the Upper Columbia River Basin EIS Team are similar to those generated by the Eastside EIS team. The goal of both EIS teams is to create issues from the scoping results that are flexible and encompass the needs and concerns raised by the public. The two EIS teams are collaborating so that the final alternatives will be reflective of the entire interior Columbia River Basin.
According to Upper Columbia River Basin EIS Team Co-leader Cindy Deacon Williams the scoping process allowed "the public the opportunity to present topics pertaining to their community and gave us the chance to work directly them to develop issues that are of concern to the region." Williams also said the project is online with the predicted time schedule and the draft EISs will be published for public comment in late 1995. This summer, issues will be developed and alternatives devised by both EIS teams.
Currently there is a lot of speculation about the complexities of potential decisions that may result from the two Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) being produced by the Project. There are questions such as how flexible or how specific decisions may be. The EIS alternatives are now being formulated, based on direction in the Project Charter, the Notices of Intent for the EIS's, and public scoping. To answer many of these questions, the Project Leadership Team is using the concept of scale as a guide.
Except for the Northwest Forest Plan, most of our experience in the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service is at the fine scale. Within this scale, our focus has been on project level decisions such as trails, timber sales, grazing permits, and other activities that directly affect the land. We dealt with issues as they arose, and at this scale, it has generally worked well.
We have found, however, that there are certain issues that cannot be effectively resolved at this fine scale. Through experience, research, and case law, some of these broad ranging issues cannot effectively be resolved on a forest-by-forest or district-by-district basis. These include salmon habitat management, forest and grassland health, species viability, and the role that natural and human induced disturbance (such as prescribed fire or timber harvest) plays in the environment In addition, it is necessary to assure a strong scientific basis for our land management decisions. We have also found that many issues are in some way interrelated. Therefore, isolating and addressing them individually often does not provide lasting solutions.
From a practical standpoint, there are 48 individual Forest Service or BLM land and resource management plans within the interior Columbia River Basin. Significant time and cost savings can be gained by updating certain aspects of these plans in one effort. Most decisions are still appropriate at the local level, but it is necessary to set the context at the larger scale and base decisions on a strong, integrated science foundation.
What do we expect for decisions at this broader scale? Some of our expectations include:
Establishing long-term direction for protection and enhancement of aquatic ecosystems for anadromous fish and other cold water species.
Replacing current interim strategies, including PACFISH, the proposed Inland Native Fish Strategy and the "Eastside Screens" with long term strategies that balance short term needs with the changing landscapes.
Updating direction to respond to current species of need, such as those listed under the Endangered Species Act, approaching this from an ecosystem basis.
Assuring viability of species within the context of desired ecosystem function and processes.
Supporting the needs of ecosystems that change over time and space.
Recognizing the role that disturbance, such as fire, insects, and disease, play in ecosystem evolution and maintenance.
Integrating the social and economic components of ecosystems with the biophysical processes and functions.
Making decisions only on lands managed by the BLM or Forest Service.
Amending current management direction, including Forest Service Regional Guides, and as appropriate, individual BLM or Forest Service land and resource management plans.
The types of decisions made from the two EIS's will be based on the level of information from the Scientific Assessment. They will be structured to reflect the Scientific Framework for Ecosystem Management. The Assessment and the Framework are documents being produced by the Science Integration Team. In addition, the decisions will be:
Based on ecosystem concepts;
Focused on restoring the health of forest and other ecosystems;
Scientifically sound and based on recent studies by agency scientists and others;
Integrated to include social, biological, and economic concerns;
Linked to research, inventory, and monitoring.
Decisions will be focused on these broader issues, leaving many other decisions, as well as implementation, at the local level.