"After two years of everyone's hard work and dedication, all the pieces of the EISs are coming together. I hope the public and our agency employees are as anxious to see the documents as we are to share them."
The Project's final outcome has been uncertain since June 1995, when Congress introduced a section in the Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill to limit the budget, processes, and products of the Project. In April, as a result of the budget discussions over the past year, Section 314 was removed from the bill.
Language remaining in the Fiscal Year 1996 Omnibus Appropriations Bill "expressly prohibits the use of recommendations, regulations, or requirements included in the final or draft environmental impact statements, or any records of decision for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project to regulate the use of, or actions occurring on, non-federal lands ... and further specifies that the product of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project shall not provide any legal basis for the imposition of such recommendations, regulations, or requirements on non-federal lands by any court or regulatory agency, federal or state."
The Project was never intended to make decisions on or give direction for non-federal lands. Agency managers responsible for making decisions from the Project's environmental impact statements (BLM State Directors and Forest Service Regional Foresters) have no authority and no intention to extend decisions or authorities to private or non-federal lands. This legislation serves to clarify that no regulations or requirements on those lands can be imposed through the outcome of the Project.
With the passing of the Fiscal Year 1996 budget, we are now clear to complete the products as originally outlined in the Project Charter, including a complete Scientific Assessment of the interior Columbia River Basin and portions of the Great and Klamath Basins and the draft and final Environmental Impact Statement(s) covering those lands in the project area administered by either the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service.
Finalize Scientific Assessment and Draft EISs
May - July 1996
Release of Scientific Framework
Release of Scientific Assessment
Release of Draft Environmental Impact Statements
Public Comment Period
September - December 1996
Respond to Public Comments / Prepare Final EISs
Release of Final Environmental Impact Statement(s)
Record(s) of Decision
One of the primary line of questions at our last public meeting held in Walla Walla on May 23, was about the Project's funding. Those in attendance asked about the fiscal year 1996 funding level and where the money is coming from.
To date, Project funding has come from several different sources within the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. All funding has been drawn from the agencies regular appropriated funds. The Forest Service has used funding from the ecosystem management budget line item. The Bureau of Land Management has drawn funding from several budget line items. The anitcipated costs for Fiscal Year 1996 is 5.7 million dollars. These funds will cover publication of the science products and the Draft Environmental Impact Statements.
For fiscal year 1997, 2.3 million dollars has been requested to complete public involvement and release the Final Environmental Impact Statement(s) and Record(s) of Decision.
Shortly after the passage of the 1996 Omnibus Appropriations Bill the Project was the subject of two separate Congressional hearings in Washington, D.C. Both hearings provided agency and project leaders the opportunity to discuss and explain the Project's intent and purpose. Many questions from committee members focused on the Project's costs and efficiency.
On May 7, Forest Service Chief Jack Ward Thomas and BLM Director Mike Dombeck testified before the House Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies on Appropriations at an oversight hearing for Fiscal Year 1997 appropriations. Martha Hahn, Idaho BLM State Director; Elaine Zielinski, Oregon/Washington BLM State Director; Tom Mills, Director of the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station; and Steve Mealey, Project Manager for the Upper Columbia Basin Environmental Impact Statement Team accompanied Thomas and Dombeck.
Thomas stressed the need to look at broad-scale resource concerns within the project area. He also reassured the Committee members that many decisions are still appropriately made at the local level and that each administrative unit will continue appropriate planning at that level. He stated he believed that the Project will save time and money in the long run.
Dombeck's testimony underscored the interagency effort involved in the project. He stated that he expects the up-front involvement with other federal agencies to save time and energy and result in better interagency cooperation into the future. He stressed the extensive efforts the project has made with public involvement and the emphasis placed on involving states, counties, and tribes.
Congressmen "Doc" Hastings and Helen Chenoweth spoke at the first panel and expressed concerns about a perceived lack of local input to the Project and possible effects on private property.
During the next panel, Union County (Oregon) Commissioner John Howard showed guarded support for the Project by stating "I believe the ecosystem management projects have the potential to resolve the gridlock and bring sound mangement practices to the federal forests and rangelands of the interior Columbia Basin. I'm more convinced that if I'm going to go to court, I want the best, most defensible plan possible." Jim Geisinger, President of the Northwest Forestry Association expressed concerns with the "objectivity underlying the project," as well as the amount of money spent that was not being spent on on-the-ground resource management.
Two weeks later, on May 21, Project Manager Jeff Blackwood accompanied Forest Service Associate Chief David Unger before the House Committee on Resources' Subcomittee on National Parks, Forests, and Lands at a hearing concerning ecosystem assessments. Project managers from the Southern Appalachian and Sierra Nevada assessments were also in attendance.
Subcommittee Chairman James Hansen questioned how the ecosystem assessment process fit in with decision making process and how Forest Plans would be amended in a way that would be useful to local managers. Concerns were also raised over how state and private lands are addressed in the assessment and the costs involved in planning at the broad scale.
Associate Chief Unger took the opportunity to define analyses at the "landscape level " as compared to the "project level" , explaining that field managers determine the objectives for ecosystem analysis as well as the scale of analysis required based on resource issues and future planning needs.
Dear Friend- PLEASE HELP US MANAGE OUR MAILING LIST
The science documents of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project are nearing completion.
In an effort to save paper and printing costs, we would like to determine which of these documents you would like to receive, if any.
You are currently on our mailing list and are scheduled to receive only a combined Executive Summary (approximately 100 pages) of the documents listed below.
Please mark the appropriate boxes below, follow the folding instructions, and return this card if you want documents in addition to the combined Executive Summary:
If your address is incorrect, please make any corrections on your mailing label and return this card by July 31. Thank You.