INTERIOR COLUMBIA BASIN ECOSYSTEM
THE LEADING EDGE
NEWSLETTER OF THE INTERIOR COLUMBIA BASIN ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT PROJECT ~ EVALUATING AND IMPLEMENTING ECOSYSTEM MANAGEMENT
"The 60-day extension of the public comment period should give everyone a reasonable
amount of time to comment on the upcoming social/economic report the Project is
currently working on." ~ Jeff Walter, EIS Team Leader
The Project's Executive Steering Committee has announced an additional 60-day extension of the formal public comment period for the Eastside and Upper Columbia River Basin Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs). The committee has decided to extend the comment period from February 6, 1998 until April 6, 1998. The extension is necessary to respond to additional project requirements included in the 1998 Interior Appropriations Bill. The two DEISs have been available for public review since June 1997.
Section 323 of the 1998 Interior Appropriations Bill asked the Project to issue some reports prior to publishing a Final EIS. A report analyzing existing economic and social conditions, culture, and customs of communities within the project area is currently being developed. The report will also include an analysis of the impacts on those communities of the alternatives in the Draft EISs. The report will be published and available for public review in mid-February.
"Adding 60 more days to the public comment period will allow reasonable time for anyone interested to review and comment on this additional economics information," stated Susan Giannettino, Project Manager. "If you have already submitted comments, it will also give you an opportunity to amend or add to previous comments, based on review of this report."
"We want to provide a reasonable opportunity and quality time for the public to read, comprehend, and comment on one or both of the two DEISs, and this additional economic report," said Martha Hahn, Idaho State Director for the Bureau of Land Management. Hahn chairs the committee who oversees the Project. "We feel these documents are a culmination of a significant effort on the part of the Federal agencies involved in this project."
During the first two months of the comment period, the Project received several requests for extension of the original 120-day comment period from October 6, 1997 to February 6, 1998. Many of these requests cited the length and complexity of the two DEISs. This second extension of the formal public comment period to April 6, 1998 has been announced in the news media and in the Federal Register.
The Executive Steering Committee was quick to point out that public comments are essential to mold the final strategy, now due to be completed in the Spring of 1999. "We need to remember that these are draft documents," said Forest Service Northern Regional Forester Dale Bosworth. "We want the final direction to reflect the public's comments. This additional extension of the public comment period will provide more opportunities to ask questions about the documents and give comments over the next few months."
DECIDE FOR YOURSELF ~ A Guest Opinion by Martha Hahn
With a little more than two months to go in the public comment period for the Upper Columbia River Basin and Eastside Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), nearly 70,000 comments have poured in -- and the number grows daily.
When the comment period closes on April 6th, these two Draft EISs may have received more comments than any other effort of its kind in this country. The public response proves that people who live and work in the Intermountain area care about forest health, salmon and bull trout populations, the incidence of devastating wildfires, the condition of rangelands, the way that natural resource management affects their communities and a host of other issues.
The Project is unique in several ways. First, it relies to a great extent on new scientific reports designed to give Federal land managers the best available information. Second is the large area of Federal land being studied. Third is the unprecedented cooperation among government entities and interested groups. Fourth are the crucial issues mentioned above which we are addressing. The result will be a new strategy to help the agencies and the public manage natural resources for decades to come.
Late in the summer, we initially extended the comment period for this project for two reasons.
First, a tremendous amount of information was generated by our science reports, released in December 1996. The volume of information and data was overwhelming for many people. We felt that the public, and even federal employees, needed more time to absorb what was in the reports.
Also, many people asked us for a longer comment period and we were eager to comply with their request. When the 300-day comment period ends in April, it will bring to a close one of the longest opportunities for public involvement in this country's history of natural resource management.
Public comments are an essential part of any land management plan. We consider the two draft EISs a good starting point for us to understand your vantage point, and how you value the future outcome of public land management. By sending us your thoughts and information, your suggestions and recommendations, it helps to direct our efforts as we work toward a final strategy.
With the keen interest comes an abundance of information about the project, much of it produced by groups or individuals representing a specific point-of-view. Some of the interpretations of the two draft EISs is accurate; much of it is not.
For example, one interest group purchased a newspaper ad that claims the two Draft EISs "threatens the quality of our great rivers and streams ... cuts down remaining old growth forests ... (and) doubles the amount of industrial logging in our National Forests." Compare these charges with the allegations of another group that the plan "is one of the grandest schemes yet devised to impair natural resource use on public lands located in the Intermountain West."
Obviously, these two polar-opposite views of the EISs and the preferred alternative can't be right. In these two cases, neither is even close.
Sure, people are going to be intrigued by a project that deals with 72 million acres of public land in seven states, and we welcome that interest. But as you begin to formulate your comments, keep an eye out for the hyperbole, the salesmanship, the sweeping declarations that reduce to slogans and sound bites this long, carefully planned effort and the complex issues it addresses.
Many of the comments we've received are pre-printed cards and form letters. That's fine, but the number of comments is only one of many factors we'll look at as we make changes to the Draft EISs. The volume of comments, in fact, is not as important as their content.
If you're among the many who care for the natural resources in the Intermountain West and the communities they help support, get involved. We need your insight on how best we proceed with a broad-based strategy. Give us examples, clarify what you mean by protect, enhance, develop and so forth. Talk with us. Talk with those who represent special interests. Combine what you learn with your own knowledge and experience. Those are the kind of comments that are most valuable to us, the kind that promote economic stability and improve the health and sustainability of natural resources.
Generations to come will look back at this time and the paths we chose. Let's work through this process with commitment and reason and not disappoint those who will follow us.
(Martha Hahn is the State Director for the Bureau of Land Management in Idaho, and also serves as the Chairperson of the Project's Executive Steering Committee.)
IF YOU HAVE A QUESTION, WE MAY HAVE AN ANSWER
Several sets of commonly asked questions about the Project have been compiled and posted on the Project's web site. These are questions asked at many of our recent public meetings and open houses. We also tried to address many concerns and misconceptions we have heard from throughout the project area.
Questions are categorized into various topic areas such as Project Background, Public Involvement, Rangelands, Noxious Weeds, Social Economics, Tribal Rights and Interests, Implementation, and Science in "Commonly Asked Questions and Answers: Set 1 and Set 2."
In addition, all of the questions that were asked during the Project's basinwide teleconference held on July 9, 1997 have been answered and posted on the homepage as well. These answers are being mailed to teleconference attendees and posted on the project web site.
These Question and Answer documents may be found on the project web site at:
TRIBAL SUMMIT HELD WITH SECRETARY BABBITT
A Tribal Summit was held on December 1, 1997 in Portland Oregon with 10 of the 22 affected tribes in the project area. The summit was held in a roundtable format and was opened and facilitated by Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, at the tribes request. The Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Regional Forester Bob Williams officially represented Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman who could not attend. A total of 21 tribal representatives and 5 members of the Project's Executive Steering Committee also attended.
With the goal of sharing issues and finding a way to meet Goal #5 of the Draft EISs (Manage natural resources consistent with treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indian Tribes), the tribal attendees related their concerns during the session.
A recommendation was brought forwarded by the Nez Perce Tribe to use a structured process which would allow the Tribes and the Executive Steering Committee (ESC) to meet as government representatives. The tribes in attendance, and Bob Williams, representing the ESC, agreed to use an 8-member task group (4 tribal and 4 ESC representatives). The group will try to meet and complete their work between January and March of 1998. During that time, representatives of the ESC and the Tribes will work together, using this negotiated approach, to create objectives that would help lead to fulfillment of treaty and trust responsibilities.
The group agreed that both the ESC and Project Staff would continue to be available to meet with any and all of the tribes should they so desire, and that this working group would not preclude that.
Secretary Babbitt closed the meeting by saying that he believed we may have the beginning of a good means to work together and appreciated the tribal efforts to work with these agencies on such complex issues.
UPCOMING PROJECT UPDATE MEETINGS
The following meetings are scheduled to update and inform interested participants on the progress and status of the Project. These meetings also provide the public an opportunity to give us feedback and interact one-on-one. These meetings continue to serve the project staff by providing us with excellent ideas, suggestions, and comments.
|January 20, 1998
112 East Poplar
Walla Walla, WA
|March 18, 1998
112 East Poplar
Walla Walla, WA