JANUARY 10, 1997

Volume 4 No. 1



"The volume of this information will take several years to assimilate and make changes on the ground. To me, this is about laying down a process, so that we can jointly lay our future out."

Tom Quigley
Science Integration Team Leader


A major milestone with the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project has been reached with the release of the most comprehensive scientific assessment of the social, ecomonic, and ecological trends and conditions of the region ever undertaken. The release was announced in news conferences in Boise, Idaho and Portland, Oregon on December 18. Announcing the release were Tom Mills, Station Director for the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, Idaho State BLM Director Martha Hahn, and Science Integration Team Leader Tom Quigley.

The assessment covers over 144 million acres (225,000 square miles) in eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, Western Montana and portions of Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Land managers will use the findings to cooperatively manage the 75 million acres of Forest Service- and BLM-administered land within the study area. The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project was initiated because this decade has brought BLM and Forest Service managers an unparalleled challenge.

Many of the issues they face, like preventing catastrophic wildfires, providing predictable levels of grazing and timber harvest, and maintaining salmon habitat, cannot be effectively managed on a single national forest or BLM district. A "big picture" understanding of natural conditions and trends was needed in order for managers to develop a coordinated strategy.

Social, economic, and ecological trends and conditions were studied, because humans are a part of the ecosystem. Scientists have developed two measures to help them compare and contrast conditions. Socio-economic resiliency characterizes a community's ability to adapt to social and economic change. Similarly, ecological integrity describes the wholeness or completeness of an ecological system. A system with high integrity rebounds more quickly after disturbances occur such as wildfire, flooding, and road building.

Findings from the assessment both revealed surprises and confirmed theories. They include:

    * More than 55 percent of the area in the interior Columbia River Basin has high or moderate integrity ratings. The remaining 45% has a low rating.

    * For forested lands, high intensity, stand replacement wildfires have increased from 20% on the BLM and Forest Service-administered lands to nearly 50%. This poses a significant threat to ecological integrity, water quality, species recovery, and homes in rural areas.

    * The interior Columbia River Basin has experienced widespread and dramatic change in the composition, structure, and distribution of fish communities.

    * Strong salmon populations inhabit between 0.1 % and 33 % of their current range. It is possible to rebuild healthy salmon populations from the remaining habitat.

    * Salmon habitat protection and restoration alone will not ensure future healthy populations. The effects of dams, hatcheries, and fish harvest must also be addressed.

    * Species that are associated with old forests, native grasslands, and native shrublands have lost habitat. Options remain for reversing the downward trends by conserving and restoring these habitats.

    * The Basin's economy is generally healthy. Only 4% of the Basin's economy depends directly on commodity extraction (including logging, grazing, and mining).

    * Some local, rural economies are heavily dependent on products and services from Forest Service- and BLM-administered land. Sixty-eight percent of the assessment area includes some counties with low socioeconomic resiliency, yet only 17% of the population lives in those counties.

    * Any successful land management strategy must recognize and manage the multiple risks to ecological integrity and economic well-being.

    * Ecosystem management strategies must recognize that multiple risks and opportunities vary significantly throughout the Basin.

    * Managing ecosystems requires a recognition that individual sites are linked to broad landscapes and that broad landscapes are linked to individual sites.

The assessment's scientific information was compiled and synthesized by hundreds of scientists and technical specialists from federal agencies, universities, state agencies, and private contractors.

Most of the data had been collected prior to the assessment, however it was scattered and inconsistent. This assessment marked the first time the data had been gathered and synthesized, so that it could be compared across the entire Basin. It was also the first time the information had been integrated, creating a "big picture" look at the Basin.

The assessment will help managers make reasoned decisions. It also highlights significant gaps in our understanding, which will help establish priorities for future research and development. Topics needing further research include:

    * the role of natural disturbance processes, including wildfires and floods, in maintaining ecological integrity;

    * the risks associated with active and passive management;

    * how providing goods and services impacts ecological integrity; and

    * how rangeland integrity is related to management activities.

Land managers are currently using the science findings to develop two Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) which will address widespread challenges, such as sustaining grazing and timber production and maintaining salmon habitat. The Eastside EIS will provide direction for BLM- and Forest Service-administered lands in eastern Oregon and Washington. The Upper Columbia River Basin EIS will cover lands administered by the BLM and Forest Service in Idaho, western Montana, and portions of Utah, Nevada, and Wyoming.

This scientific assessment provides the baseline information for the two EISs. Land managers have developed seven possible land management strategies, and scientists are currently analyzing the long-term effects of each. Land managers will use this information to weigh the risks and opportunities and select a strategy. The Draft EISs will be available for public comment in 1997.


In conjunction with the release of the Integrated Scientific Assessment and the Overview and Executive Summary documents the Project received widespread media coverage on the significance of this unprecendented scientific study.

Each newspaper, TV station, and reporter provided a different angle. The following is an excerpt from an editorial in The Idaho Stateman (Boise, Idaho): "Perhaps the most important aspect to this study is its approach. It is a comprehensive review, taking note not of one area, but the region as a whole. It also makes clear that a broad, cookie-cutter strategy will not work... This combination of looking at the big picture but taking an individualized approach to finding solutions promises to be a winner."

The editors go on to say, "No doubt the scientific study was taxing, but now the really difficult work begins. All kinds of special interests will want to have a say in how federal managers use this study...But the study is a terrific first step toward developing plans that can balance economic, environmental, and access issues. It is a launching point for what should be a comprehensive management plan that hopefully will bring the ecosystem back into balance."


Tom Quigley, Science Integration Team Leader, was recently named as Program Manager of the Managing Natural Disturbances to Sustain Forest Health Program. This research program is designed to address the role natural disturbances play in forest and rangeland ecosystems in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon.

"Natural disturbances like fire, insects, disease, flooding, and climate change, for example, all impact or alter the development of ecosystems," said Tom Mills, Station Director for the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station, in making the announcement in November. "Of particular concern is the forest health situation in Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. So we have established this research program to look at disturbance from the angle of long-term ecological integrity and maintaining output important to people."

There is a logical tie between the Integrated Scientific Assessment Quigley is currently completing and the new study to which he has been assigned. One of the key elements of the Scientific Assessment is to identify and help focus future research. It highlights significant gaps in our understanding, including the need to look at the role of natural disturbance processes in maintaining ecological integrity.

Quigley and staff are currently writing a charter to guide priority work and transition from existing research efforts into new priority areas outlined in the program. Scientists within the research program will be located in La Grande and Corvallis, Oregon; Wenatchee and Seattle, Washington; and Juneau and Anchorage, Alaska. In the near future, Quigley will be relocating from Walla Walla, Washington to La Grande, Oregon to manage the new program.



Overview and Executive Summary:

Status of the Interior Columbia Basin: Summary of Scientific Findings. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-385

A Framework for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-374

An Integrated Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-382


The Interior Columbia River Basin: Patterns of Population, Employment, and Income Change. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-358

Selected Economic and Demographic Data for Counties of the Interior Columbia River Basin. General Technical Report PNW-RN-520


Projecting Population Change in the Interior Columbia River Basin. General Technical Report PNW-RN-519

To order copies of the above publications please contact:

Pacific Northwest Research Station: Publications Distribution, Doris Bills

333 S.W. First Avenue, P.O. Box 3890, Portland, OR 97208-3890, (503) 326-5648


Simulating Coarse-Scale Vegetation Dynamics Using the Columbia River Basin Succession Model-- CRBSUM. General Technical Report INT-GTR-340

A Structural Classification for Inland Northwest Forest Vegetation. Western Journal of Applied Forestry Vol. 11, No. 3 pp. 97-102

To order copies of the above publications please contact:

Intermountain Research Station: Publications Distribution, Loa Collins

324 25th Street, Ogden, UT 84401, (801) 625-5437 or DG messages: Pubs:S22A

Fax: 1-(801)-625-5129, Attn: Publications



An Assessment of Ecosystem Components in the Interior Columbia Basin and Portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. General Technical Report PNW-GTR-xxx


What do you show in the science assessment?

The science assessment recognizes that significant change has occurred in forest rangelands and watersheds. The assessment shows conditions, status, and trends associated with ecologic, economic, and social systems. Broad descriptions of future options are provided together with results, outcomes, and potential consequences.

What is the credibility of the science documents?

The science documents have undergone an extensive peer review process. An independent peer review board had oversight of the process to lend credibility to the scientific analysis and findings. A double-blind peer review was used; the science team was not informed who the reviewers were and the reviewers were not informed who the authors were. Internal and external groups were allowed to provide names of potential peer reviewers to the review board for consideration.

Who was involved in developing the science documents?

Over 300 scientists and technical specialists were involved representing the Forest Service, BLM, Bureau of Mines, Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, universities, and consultants. Most of them have experience in the analysis area and could draw from experience of other scientific efforts like FEMAT and the Eastside Forest Ecosystem Health Assessment.