INTERIOR COLUMBIA BASIN ECOSYSTEM
The Leading Edge
"Based on what we heard from the public, new science information, as well as input from BLM and Forest Service staffs, we have refined the overall strategy to address those issues best resolved at the broad-scale. I am excited about contining our work with the public as we move forward on the Project."
Cathy Humphrey, Deputy
EIS Team Leader
Based upon the response from the public on the two Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), as well as input from the agencies' staff and new information provided from science, a refinement to the design of the overall strategy for the Project has been initiated. This refined focus is emphasized in an October 8, 1998 letter from the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior to those members of Congress who represent the constituents of the States located in the project area.
Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman wrote that the "(n)ew alternative, or alternatives, will address the limited number of issues that must be resolved at the basin level. This approach will be less complex and less costly, while still meeting scientific standards that will ensure sound management and underpin compliance with environmental laws." The Secretaries go on to note that this will result in the need to prepare a Supplemental EIS with full public involvement, delaying the Record of Decision (ROD) by "six to nine months."
To meet the Secretaries' direction and address the public's concerns, the project staff will spend the next few months focusing their efforts on the vital issues that need to be a addressed through a broad-scale, multi-species, ecosystem management strategy. As outlined in the October 8 letter there are four components that need to be addressed through this broad-scale plan:
Other issues that do not cross jurisdictional boundaries, and are better addressed at the local level, will be dealt with through local planning processes (Forest Plans, BLM Resource Management Plans or site-specific project plans). The intent, as noted by the Secretaries, is that these remaining issues will be dovetailed into the broader strategies. This will allow the Project to only focus on those vital few issues that are best administered by a broad-scale plan.
By refining the focus, the project staff will be able to address concerns expressed about complexity of the Project and the Preferred Alternative. In the long run this will result in a Final EIS and Record of Decision that will consider the appropraite relationship between ecosystem needs of, and outputs from, lands administered by the BLM and Forest Service.
NATURE AND EXTENT OF PUBLIC COMMENTS
With over 83,000 public responses received on the Draft EISs the process, referred to as Content Analysis, of reviewing and compiling the comments has been completed. The comment period on the Draft EISs lasted an unprecedented 335 days. This extensive amount of time generated one of the largest responses to an EIS in the history of the BLM and Forest Service.
The information from the public responses was compiled by members of the Forest Service's Content Analysis Enterprise Team (CAET). This team was hired by the Project based upon their past experience in this arena to provide an objective point of view to the Content Analysis process.
All comments are considered in the Content Analysis process, whether it was the same comment presented by thousands of people or one technical comment from an individual. The important thing in this process is the content of the comment, rather than the number of times a comment was received. Comments are sorted from all the letters into subject areas to help in the analysis process.
Responses came in the form of letters, faxes and electronic-mail (e-mail) from all fifty states and 58 countries. We heard from the general public, national environmental organizations, resource-based industries, public land users and representatives from Federal, State, Tribal and local agencies and/or governments, among others. From the 83,000 responses, the majority of substantive and technical comments were found in approximately 5,000 letters. The remainder were general letters that were considered in the analysis process.
Given the voluminous amount of comments received on the Draft EISs, the CAET, with project staff participation, identified 19 major themes which captured the opinions expressed by the public. This summarization, rather than listing individual comments, is allowed under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The diversity of concerns and issues identified through this process is as wide as the range of sources responding and is a reflection of the scope and complexity of the Project. An example of some of the themes and a synopsis of the public's opinions on these topics include:
This is just a small sampling of all the information collected, compiled and analyzed. A full discussion on the pervasive themes and what the public said on the Draft EISs can be found in the Final Analysis of Public Comment for the Draft Environmental Impact Statements, Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, or more simply The Analysis of Public Comments.
AVAILABILITY OF THE DRAFT SCIENCE CONSISTENCY EVALUATION
The Science Advisory Group (SAG) announces the availability of their review of the Preferred Alternative (Alternative 4) in the Draft EISs, referred to as the Draft Evaluation of the Use of Scientific Information in Decision Making for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project or Draft Science Consistency Evaluation. The purpose of this evaluation was to determine if the Preferred Alternative had fully considered the available science information.
The SAG members note in the Draft Science Consistency Evaluation that the majority of the decision elements are consistent with the available science, but that some inconsistencies remain. In their review, the SAG members identify that a few fixes will go along way in moving these inconsistencies closer to a consistent rating.
Many of the inconsistencies were due to factors outside of the control of the development of the Draft EISs. In particular, the Draft EISs were written at the same time that much of the scientific information was being compiled, and thus, one would expect inconsistencies. One-third of the inconsistent ratings result from either the science not being available to the project staff when the Draft EISs were being written, or the fact that there are some inconsistencies within the science information. The parallel time lines for the assembly of the science information and the development of the Draft EISs makes the Draft Science Consistency Evaluation all the more important.
Project staff will use the information provided by the Science Advisory Group in their refinement of the overall strategy for the Project. It is anticipated that these concerns will be addressed in the Supplemental EIS and will assist in the final decision making process, as it relates to available science information.
WHERE AND WHAT IS AVAILABLE?
This newsletter presents just a fraction of the amount of information available to the public. Three documents are available for your review, they are: