"We're approaching a major milestone. Thanks to the hundreds of dedicated people who have made personal sacrifices to gain a comprehensive understanding of the project. Your insights have helped us develop an approach for a scientifically sound, ecosystem-based management strategy."
Much has happened since our last newsletter in late November. We lost three weeks of work due to the Federal furlough and are presently operating under a continuing resolution from Congress that expires on March 15. We do not know our fate beyond that date, nor what agreement the President and the Congress may reach--or not reach--regarding the Project's future.
In the meantime, we are proceeding with completion of the five products the Project was originally chartered to accomplish. The science work and the two Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) are nearing completion. These documents will be completed and forwarded to the Chief of the Forest Service and Director of the Bureau of Land Management in early May. They will be available to the public in early summer.
Since January, both the science documents and EISs have gone through extensive reviews and are now in the final stages of editing and review. Many of the science documents have now completed peer and policy reviews. The first document to be published, the "Scientific Framework for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin," will be mailed to the public this spring.
In mid-February, a team representing several agencies reviewed the Draft EISs.
Although there was good progress made from last October's review, the team
found a few areas that still need some attention. Since that time, the two EIS
teams, located in Boise and Walla Walla, have been working very closely
together so that both EISs are consistent in presenting their stated purpose
There have been two team leader changes on the project in the last few months. First, Patty Burel moved on to the Public Affairs staff in the Forest Service's Regional Office in Portland. Rex Holloway assumed the leadership role on the Communications Team.
George Pozzuto accepted a position on the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire. Cathy Humphrey taken over as the Eastside EIS Team Leader to complete the EIS. We are working more closely with the Upper Columbia Basin Project in Boise and we're now functioning more as one team, developing two Draft Environmental Impact Statements.
The role of science in ecosystem management is to identify current conditions and problems. The role of management is to offer solutions and make decisions.
The charge to the Science Integration Team was to take a broad-scale look at the resources and the uses, patterns and relationships among them. The team used mostly existing data to identify trends and probable outcomes of continued management practices. The Project's responsibilities are only for lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management within the project area. However, for the purposes of the Scientific Assessment, we looked at all lands in the project area as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The information brought forward is generally broad-scale and in most cases fine-scale (local) effects won't be determined.
Over the last three months, significant bridges have been built between the science information and the development of the alternatives for the two Draft Environmental Impact Statements. Members of the Science Integration Team and the EIS teams have developed methods that provide a crosswalk to incorporate the findings of the Scientific Assessment into the EIS alternatives. One part of this crosswalk was the development of Ecological Integrity Ratings for the area covered by the Scientific Assessment. The next step is for the Science Integration Team to complete an Evaluation of the EIS Alternatives.
The Evaluation of Alternatives by the Science Integration Team will address the effects and outcomes of implementation of each proposed EIS alternative. The evaluations will link the biological, cultural, social, and economic concerns identified through the Project's scoping process as well as the scientific assessment.
That evaluation began in late February and includes an assessment of species viability for each alternative as required by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). Another aspect of the evaluation includes a series of social panels which will address each alternative's impact on community resiliency. Specific linkages to research, inventory, monitoring and other ownerships will be highlighted.
The Evaluation of Alternatives by the Science Integration Team should be completed in late March. The EIS team will then use this information as the basis for the completion of the Environmental Consequences chapter of the EISs.
"Ecological Integrity" is the wholeness or completeness of the ecosystem. It refers to the presence and functioning of ecological components and processes. There is no direct measure of integrity, but it may be suggested by indicators.
To assist the EIS teams in using the scientific information, the Science Integration Team evaluated the findings from the Scientific Assessment to identify the following:
To do this, the Science Integration Team divided the project area into 164 sub-basins and evaluated the ecological integrity of the forest, range, hydrologic and aquatic systems of each.
Similarities for the forest and rangeland ecosystems in each sub-basin were then determined. Sub-basins with similarities were grouped into "Clusters." "Forest Land Clusters" were numbered "1-6" with each having similar characteristics. Rangelands were similarly grouped into "Rangeland Clusters."
The Ecological Integrity Ratings and Forest and Rangeland Clusters were used by the Upper Columbia River Basin and Eastside EIS Teams as a basis for prioritizing management activities across the landscape and developing management direction within the alternatives. When depicted on a map, they resemble the management areas in existing land and resource management plans, but at a much broader scale.
As part of the Project's open public process, an Internet Home Page was established through the Forest Service's national home page last fall. Our primary goal is to reach a range of public interests and accommodate access to information. The Internet communications link is intended to serve as an information resource for a more extensive computer audience than the Project's existing Electronic Library.
To reduce the cost and workload of formating each document and update for two separate electronic systems, we are considering transferring our current Electronic Library to the Internet. This transfer would have several advantages to those who use it: First, many computer users now have local access to the Internet through a local phone number, eliminating the need to dial our electronic library long distance. Second, many non-computer owners may be able to access the Internet through local libraries, colleges, or other public organizations.
The type of information shared on the Internet is Project briefing information, team meeting notes, project newsletters, news releases, and public meeting minutes. Before we make this change however, we would like to know if this will adversely affect your access to information about the Project. Please give us a call or drop us a postcard if you have concerns.