The Leading Edge

April 17, 1998

Volume 5 No. 3

Newsletter of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project ~ Evaluating and Implementing Ecosystem Management within the Interior Columbia Basin

"With the comment period scheduled to close on May 6th, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the Project and to encourage everyone to begin thinking ahead on the next logical steps in this dynamic planning process that you are an integral part of."

Geoff Middaugh
Deputy Project Manager

Why Are We Doing this Project?

Let's step back and look at why we are working on the most comprehensive, ecosystem-based management strategy for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands in the nation. The foundation for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, or more simply the Project, is two fold:

First, the Project was initiated in 1993 at the request of President Clinton to develop a scientifically sound, ecosystem-based management strategy.

Secondly, a need for a new management strategy is driven by issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries needed to be addressed at the large-scale. These issues include:

To meet the President's initiative and address the issues at the appropriate scale, the Project took a big picture look at the land drained largely by the Columbia River. We have been exploring how ecological, economic and social pieces fit together on the landscape over time and how humans affect and are affected by change.

The Project is determined to address ecosystem health problems before catastrophic events and/or species extinctions make the issues tragic. In addition, the Project wants to work in a proactive manner to avoid the need for these issues to be addressed through the courts. As Judge Dwyer stated in the lawsuit over the Northwest Forest Plan and the land area where the Northern Spotted Owl exists, "Given the current condition of the forest, there is no way the agencies could comply with environmental laws without planning on an ecosystem basis."

The basic foundation of the two Draft EISs is to provide an array of management strategies with a single, overarching vision based on the scientific assessment.

Driving the design of this strategy are the needs to:

To do this, we need to look at the big picture. This Project has worked hard to establish an open collaborative forum with the public, multiple agencies, and local, State and Tribal governments who wish to participate in the Project.

We are dealing with complex issues that were identified during our public scoping process. Through that process we heard that you are concerned with:

Controversy exists between those who feel that the priority for management of public lands should be to support the creation and maintenance of jobs and those who believe the emphasis should be on healthy ecosystems even if this adversely effects jobs.

Natural disturbances, such as fire, and how ecosystem-based management will incorporate these disturbances into management activities is being analyzed. The types of opportunities that will be available for cultural, recreational and aesthetic experiences have been identified as a concern. A final concern is how ecosystem-based management will contribute to Federal treaty and trust responsibilities to American Indian tribes whose interests sometimes conflict with other peoples' uses of BLM- and Forest Service-administered lands.

As you can see, these are some of the broad-scale issues being addressed throughout the project area that cannot be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Rather than focusing on annual outputs like timber or forage or recreation visits, we've turned our energies toward the ecosystems from which all benefits flow. With this shift of looking at the whole ecosystem, it will result in better management of your public lands, so that we can enjoy clean air, water, wood products, forage, and other amenities into the future.

What Will Be Gained?

So now you say to yourself, "The Project is complex and I understand some of the reasons why it was initiated," but the next logical question is "what will be gained by moving forward with the Project?" It's a valid question that many individuals have asked and we want to address that question to help you understand the importance of moving forward with the Project.

Beyond meeting the President's initiative and addressing the resource issues that resulted in the Project being undertaken, other reasons for moving ahead with the Project include:

Since the initiation of the Project, large-scale issues continue to be brought forth that can be addressed through the Project. One is the listing of additional species (such as bull trout) under the Endangered Species Act. Another that has been identified is the recent moratorium on road building in roadless areas on lands administered by the Forest Service.

We believe that by completing a Final EIS and Record of Decision (ROD) we will address both the reasons why the Project was initiated and the issues that face both the BLM and Forest Service. From the information provided through the Science Integration Team, development of the Draft EISs, and public comments we strongly feel that the final management strategy will result in a broad-scale ecosystem management plan that will provide for improved management of lands administered by the BLM and the Forest Service.

Complex Documents/Complex Concepts

The Project will blaze the trail for a different kind of management on BLM- and Forest Service-administered lands. The interior Columbia Basin is a diverse and complex system, and finding a balance for both natural resources and the multiple human interests over the long-term is certainly a challenge.

Because of this complex relationship, the issues the Project staff are working on are large and involve many people and resources to fully understand the big picture. In order for you to gain a better understanding, we have made this information as accessible as possible, so you can get the most out of this public planning effort.

We have worked hard to develop and refine the material (that is, the EISs and Science documents) that was published for your review. The charts, graphs and maps included in the Project's documents are designed to help the reader gain a better understanding of the concepts presented on the project area. We realize that we are dealing with very complex documents and it is a challenge for us to make sure the information is easy to read and comprehend.

Beyond the two Draft EISs and the numerous science documents we have put together, other papers have been published to help summarize the concepts being presented by the Project staff. Two that we recommend for your review are:

We have worked hard to try and make this information as easy to "digest" as possible. But, we also do not want to lose the important pieces of information that would result in an inadequate presentation of information for you to comment on the Project. Your comments in turn will help us make informed choices and decisions to sustain our ecosystems and human communities into and through the 21st century.

End of the Comment Period

As we go to press on this edition of the Leading Edge, there is about two weeks left for you to comment on the two Draft EISs. The comment period is scheduled to close on May 6, 1998. We have already received over 75,000 comments on the Draft EISs.

The public's participation has been extraordinary. As Martha Hahn, State Director for the BLM in Idaho and Chairperson for the Project's Executive Steering Committee, noted previously:

"When the comment period closes 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, how natural resource management affects their communities and a host of other issues."

The comment period has been extended three times to ensure that everyone who wishes to comment has ample opportunity to do so. The first time we extended the comment period it was based on concerns expressed by the public that 120 days was not enough time to read through the large amount of information provided in the two Draft EISs and in the accompanying science information generated for the project area. The science information was provided by the Science Integration Team and provides the basis of the information outlined in the two Draft EISs.

More recently, we extended the comment period again to April 6, then to May 6, to allow people the opportunity to read and comment on the Economic and Social Conditions of Communities document recently released. We felt more time was needed for the public to adequately review this document.

We encourage you to get us your comments prior to the end of the comment period. The more specific your comments are, the better for us to understand your individual concerns. This is your opportunity to help us formulate a management strategy that will affect your public lands for generations to come.