OCTOBER 31, 1996

Volume 3 No. 4



"Ecosystem management is really about managing risks and opportunities at multiple scales. We have examined the broadscale; still ahead is the need to examine the lower scales and demonstrate the linkages, both upward and downward. This should begin with an understanding of the information brought forward through the Scientific Assessment."

Tom Quigley, Science Advisory Group Leader

Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project


Today, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) are faced with the need to balance traditional natural resource management and issues with demands for and greater concern over ecosystem health. The agencies responded to these emerging social and environmental issues by adopting an "Ecosystem Management" approach to natural resource management.

The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project was chartered to assist both agencies in making the transition to ecosystem management. The project charter outlined several products from the Science Integration Team.

First, it was necessary to describe how ecosystems operate. This was the goal of one of the first science documents, called A Framework for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. The Framework provides the overall principles, concepts, and processes applicable to managing ecosystems in the project area. It describes ecosystem principles that underlie efforts to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of ecosystems. Also discussed are the relationships between ecosystem management and concepts such as risk assessments, sustainability, ecological integrity, monitoring, adaptive management, scales of analysis, and partnerships with other agencies and the public.

Ecosystem management is based on scientific knowledge about ecosystems and what society wants from them. The underlying philosophy is to manage ecosystems to match their biophysical capabilities within long term technical and economic feasibility and the desires of society.

A major role of science in ecosystem management is to provide information for the decision-making process. This information helps to identify the current status of ecosystems as well as potential options for addressing issues; the social, physical, economic, and biological consequences of those options; and the tradeoffs among them.

Another objective of the Framework is to link science processes and products with planning on federally administered lands. The Framework will provide principles and processes that can be used to develop ecosystem management direction consistent with laws governing the two land management agencies. Concepts and principles from the Framework will link to subsequent project documents, including the two Environmental Impact Statements.

The first of several science documents, the Framework is being mailed this week. The Framework will soon be available on the Science Integration Team page of the Project's homepage at:


As described in the previous article, the Framework for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins is the first of several documents to be produced by the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. It is approximately 75 pages.

Following the release of the Framework, the Project will release, An Integrated Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin including Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. The Integrated Scientific Assessment characterizes and assesses the landscape, ecosystem, social, and economic processes and functions, and describes the probable outcomes of continued management practices and trends. Forest health, rangeland health, risks from natural and human-induced disturbance, biodiversity, species at risk, and social and economic relationships with federal natural resource management are addressed. This 300-page document should be released in December, along with an executive summary and overview.

The Integrated Assessment is backed up with more details in the Assessment of Ecosystem Components in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. This supporting documentation is comprised of two-volumes and about 1,500 pages. The Science Integration Team developed and characterized the status, condition, and trends associated with ecosystems of the project area. They looked at landscape, aquatic, terrestrial, economic and social components from a broad perspective.

This winter, the Project will simultaneously release two draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), the draft Eastside EIS and the draft Upper Columbia River Basin EIS along with another report from the Project's Science effort, the Evaluation of EIS Alternatives by the Science Integration Team. A 50-page executive summary of the draft EISs titled Considering All Things will also be available. The Draft EISs will run about 1,500 pages each and the Evaluation of EIS Alternatives is approximately 600 pages.

Using information and findings from the Integrated Scientific Assessment, the EIS teams developed alternatives for ecosystem management. These alternatives were then evaluated by the Science Integration Team. Findings of this scientific evaluation were used, along with other appropriate information, by the EIS teams to describe effects in the EIS documents.

The intent of these EISs is to present alternative ecosystem management strategies. Using these strategies, decisions can be made that will adjust and update Forest Service regional guides, BLM State Director guidance, and as appropriate, individual land and resource management plans for these agencies. The Final EIS(s) and Record(s) of Decision will be completed after a formal public comment period in 1997.

Each science document has gone through a peer review process which included scientists drawn from the broader scientific community, including tribes, universities, scientific societies, other agencies, and the private sector. It is anticipated that up to 100 additional scientific reports will eventually be generated from the Project's science information.


The Scientific Framework is much more than ecological principles defined by experts. It is based upon an appreciation that people are part of and not separate from, the ecosystems natural resource managers are obligated to sustain.

An ecological approach to managing natural resources is based on understanding the structure, function, and interactions of ecosystems and their components. There are four broad principles that can help guide our work in ecosystem management:

    ECOSYSTEMS ARE DYNAMIC, EVOLUTIONARY, AND RESILIENT - Ecosystems change with changes in climate and other disturbances, yet ecosystems generally retain the capacity for self repair when disturbed. Ecosystems are a product of their history and change with time. For example, ecosystems change after floods, volcanic activity, or introduction of a new species.
    Management considerations: Attempting to maintain a constant state (the status quo) is difficult, if not impossible. The results of management activities on the ecosystem must be understood and considered. The dynamic nature of ecosystems requires a dynamic planning process.

    ECOSYSTEMS HAVE BIOPHYSICAL, ECONOMIC, AND SOCIAL LIMITS - There are limits to how much an ecosystem produces. All ecosystems have limits on the rate of production and accumulation of biomass. Therefore, society needs to recognize that the ability of an ecosystem to provide goods and services has limitations and we cannot sustainably remove more than an ecosystem can produce.
    Management considerations: Each ecosystem has an inherent limit to goods and services which can be utilized without causing significant change to the ecosystem. For example, if predators are removed, their target prey may increase in number, thereby affecting the vegetative composition.

    EACH ECOSYSTEM CAN BE VIEWED AS NESTED WITHIN A LARGER ECOSYSTEM - Ecosystems can be viewed spatially (geographically) and temporally (in time) within organizational levels. An ecosystem is a naturally occurring system of living and non-living parts organized from social, biological, and physical components. These components are organized within nested levels. For instance, a tree is nested within a forest in the Pacific Northwest, nested within forests of western North America.
    Management considerations: Management actions at one level of an ecosystem may affect management action or changes at another level. For example, local weather and fuel conditions might indicate an appropriate "burn day." However, if all "local areas" decide to burn on the same day the result would be unacceptable smoke dispersal.

    ECOSYSTEM PATTERNS AND PROCESSES ARE NOT COMPLETELY PREDICTABLE - Events that change patterns and processes are often not predictable. Conditions and events may be predictable at one scale but not at others. For instance, wildfire occurrence is predictable based on time of year and rainfall conditions, but the location, intensity, and size of wildfire are less predictable.
    Management considerations: Because there are limits to being able to predict specific responses, agencies need to have flexibility to adjust to unexpected outcomes.

There are also several components to ecosystem management:

    Ecosystem management uses an ecological approach to achieve objectives identified by natural resource agencies.

    Ecosystem management occurs within an adaptive management, multi-scale analysis/decision-making framework that will require strong cross-jurisdictional cooperation. Interagency cooperation is critical.

    Partnerships are actively formed to achieve shared goals. Peoples' needs and desires are incorporated through effective participation. Effective tribal and public involvement is essential in ecosystem management.

    Land management decisions benefit from the knowledge gained by past successes and failures. Ecosystem management uses the best scientific knowledge available. Analysis can enhance understanding of the conditions and outcomes at multiple scales.


A public update meeting for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project will be held beginning at 8:30 a.m. on December 3, at the project office at 112 East Poplar in Walla Walla, Washington. Similar meetings may be held in Missoula, Montana and Boise, Idaho, but have not yet been scheduled.

At the Walla Walla meeting, Project Manager Jeff Blackwood will provide a project update of the Project's products, including the status of the two Environmental Impact Statements scheduled to be released this winter. Tom Quigley, Science Advisory Group Leader, will discuss the Scientific Framework for Ecosystem Management, and the status of the Integrated Scientific Assessment and the Assessment of Ecosystem Components. For further information please contact the project's Walla Walla office at 509-522-4030.


A science workshop titled "Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin: Science and Management in Partnership" is scheduled for March 3-5, 1997 in Spokane, Washington. The purpose of the workshop is to bring closure to the Project's science processes and provide an opportunity to increase the understanding of the Project's methods, findings, and products. The workshop is being co-sponsored by Washington State University.

Members of the Science Integration Team will present detailed descriptions of the teams methods and findings through various presentations and panel discussions. Concurrent workshops covering the various aspects of the Scientific Assessment will also be held. A workshop announcement with registration and other workshop information will be mailed to the project mailing list.