The Leading Edge

Volume 6 No. 1

February 19, 1999

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

"The intent of the Project is to provide direction on those issues that are basinwide in nature, such as salmon habitat, while allowing for adaptability at the local level. By addressing only those issues at the broad scale we anticipate that it will allow projects to be successfully implemented on the national forests and BLM districts."

Susan Gianettino,
Project Manager

The Framework of the Refined Approach

(This is first in a series of articles explaining the refined approach for the Supplemental Draft EIS.)

As reported in the last newsletter (November 1998), we learned from public and internal comments, scientific information, and the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior, that the Project needed to refine its approach, refocusing on critical needs at the broad scale. Accordingly, readers will see a new design in the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS).

The refined approach will continue to be a science-based ecosystem management strategy at the broad scale, but it is clearer than the earlier approach, has a sharper focus, and will be less complicated to implement. The integrated strategy is intended to protect high quality aquatic and terrestrial habitats and identify areas for restoration. It will provide a better link to, and more flexibility for, existing and future management decisions at the local level.

The tightened focus is limited to issues for which there is a compelling and critical need to direct resource management at the basin scale. Examples of these issues include: water quality, the rapid spread of noxious weeds, long-term viability for wide-ranging fish and wildlife species, and social and economic needs.

Four components are highlighted in the refined approach: (1) landscape health, (2) terrestrial habitats, (3) aquatic habitats, and (4) human needs, products, and services. "Terrestrial" and "Aquatic" habitats include the wildlife, fish and plants that live in these areas. By incorporating social-economic and tribal considerations, opportunities will be identified to prioritize restoration actions that should benefit vulnerable communities.

Features of the New design

Outcome-based Direction: The new design includes direction that looks at the results of actions on the ground the outcomes, not so much the actions themselves. "It is time to start addressing the causes of the problems: reduce effects of roads, eradicate noxious weeds, thin and reduce fuels, etc. We need active management but it does not have to be done the old way. There will be risks (from both natural disturbance and management actions), but we can consciously choose how we're going to manage risk," according to Jeff Walter, EIS Team Leader.

Emphasizing outcomes will allow local managers to be more flexible about how they reach certain objectives. For example, it is important to prevent sediment from getting into the stream. How that is prevented may be done in a variety of ways, leaving questions of `how' to the local land manager working with the public. Of course, some standards requiring or prohibiting certain actions will still be included as needed, but they will be more focused on those key items where short- and long-term risks need to be managed most carefully.

Mapping and Identification: The new design will identify and map healthy landscapes and important habitats for fish, plants, and animals. This `spatial component' allows us to provide specific, outcome-based direction for key places. Habitats for important fish populations will be identified at a subwatershed level (a drainage of approximately 20,000 acres), while key habitats for certain groups of plants and animals have been mapped at the larger watershed level (a drainage of approximately 50,000 to 100,000 acres).

Communities that may be economically vulnerable to changing land uses on Forest Service and BLM-administered lands also will be identified and mapped (see the Project report, Economic and Social Conditions of Communities, February 1998). Including communities allows us to look at possible influences, relationships, and opportunities among the human and ecological pieces.

Hierarchy of Direction: The direction in the new design was developed in layers to fit the variety of conditions across the basin. Some direction applies everywhere in the basin, some applies to certain mapped or described areas (see above), and some applies conditionally, wherever particular conditions are found. Should two management designations overlap each other, a hierarchial ranking would determine which direction would be followed. For example, more conservative direction for an important subwatershed for fish would take precedence over general direction that otherwise would apply everywhere in the project area.

Restoration Strategy: Restoration is the process or action needed to help an area become resilient toward disturbances, such as fire, insects, disease, floods, and landslides. The Science Integration Team told us some areas in the basin need to be restored. Some places may be a higher priority than others. In an effort to respond to both science and public comments, the EIS team is developing an approach that identifies win-win restoration opportunities at the broad scale. Are there areas that need to be restored and at the same time can provide benefits to local communities or tribes? Are there areas where opportunities exist to restore more than one resource (say, a fish habitat priority and a forest health priority) at the same time? The restoration strategy provides information to help local managers decide where to concentrate their efforts.

Implementation plan: The implementation plan in the new design includes a process that will help identify what, if any, further analysis is needed to link broad-scale decisions made through this Project with future decisions at the local level. We call this the 'Step-Down' process. Implementation will use an adpative management approachcontinually adjusting land use plans and activities to account for new information or changing conditions. A monitoring plan will complement existing monitoring structures to help determine if project objectives and goals are met. There will be increased focus on interagency and intergovernmental collaboration. A budget report is being developed to show how different levels of funding would relate to what and how much is done on the ground.

Conclusion: This new direction attempts to be responsive to your comments and to Secretaries Babbitt and Glickman. It will reflect concerns that we focus on the broad scale, maintain local flexibility, and address the critical issues. As these features are fully developed, future newsletters will provide additional details.

Past Project Managers Honored

Dr. Thomas Quigley and Jeff Blackwood received the prestigious High Desert Museum's Earle A. Chiles Award at a ceremony in Portland, Oregon on December 1 for their pioneering work related to the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. Quigley, a Program Manager with the Pacific Northwest Station in La Grande, Oregon and Blackwood, Forest Supervisor of the Umatilla National Forest in Pendleton, Oregon, were both recognized for their "thoughtful management of the natural and cultural resources of the intermountain west and the resolution of conflicts involving these resources."

Quigley served as the Science Integration Team Leader and Blackwood as the Project Manager for the Project from 1993 to 1997. Both served in their positions from the Walla Walla office.

At the awards ceremony, Peter H. Koehler, chair of the award committee said, "We had an excellent pool of nominations representing many different aspects of thoughtful stewardship of our regions' resources, and the decision was difficult. But ultimately, one nomination stood head and shoulders above the rest for its scope, present and future impact on resource management, and visbility." For the first time the committee choose dual winners for the award.

Quigley and Blackwood were recognized for their leadership skills in finding the most efficient methods of compiling research information and molding broad-scale resource management direction based on that information. Working with partner agencies, State and Federal governments, and interested groups and individuals, they led a team of over 300 scientists and other agency experts. The two, "ensured an open public process that sought input and opinions from all interested parties," said Koehler.

Availability of the Terrestrial Report

The Science Advisory Group announces the availability of their report of the Source Habitats for Terrestrial Vertebrates of Focus in the Interior Columbia Basin: Broad-Scale Trends and Management Implications (Terrestrial Report -M.Wisdom et al, 1998).

This report defines source habitats and assesses the trends of these habitats for 91 terrestrial vertebrate species within the project area. The document also summarizes what is known about species-road relations for each species and maps source habitats in relations to road densities for four carnivorous species (grizzly bear, gray wolf, wolverine and lynx).

The Terrestrial Report was designed to provide technical support for the Project and was completed in five steps, which were:

  1. Identification of terrestrial vertebrate species for which there is on-going concern about populations or habitat status and for which habitats could be reasonably estimated,

  2. Evaluate change in source habitat from early European settlement (historical, circa 1850 to 1890) conditions for groups of species and families of groups,

  3. Summarize the effects of roads and road-associated factors on populations and habitats for each of the 91 species and describe the results in relation to broad-scale patterns for road densities,

  4. Map classes of current abundance of source habitats for four carnivorous species in relation to road density across all 164 subbasins in the project area and use the maps to identify areas having high potential to support persistent populations of these species, and

  5. Use the composite of the results, with previous studies, to describe the broad-scale implications for managing habitats deemed to have undergone long-term decline and for managing species negatively affected by roads or road-associated factors.

Through this analysis, it was determined that the conditions for certain habitats for species, groups and families associated with old forest structure stages, native grasslands, or native shrub lands have undergone declines in the project area. Management implications that could assist in the reversal of this decline are outlined in the Terrestrial Report. Project staff will use the information provided by the Science Advisory Group in the development of the Supplemental EIS and Final EIS.

The Terrestrial Report is going through final edits and layout and will be available in a published format early this summer. Currently, if you would like a copy of the Terrestrial Report (approximately 1100 pages) contact Icon Printing at (509) 552-3831.

The Role of Science

Explaining the role of science versus that of management in the decision-making process has at times been difficult for some people to understand. Yet, each play a distinctive part in the overall design of the Project. From the scientific viewpoint, the Scientific Assessment of the natural resources and socio-economic conditions within the interior Columbia Basin provide a unique opportunity to make land management decisions on a sound scientific base. The Scientific Assessment was used extensively in the development of the Draft EISs. This document, as well as the Draft Science Consistency Evaluation, Terrestrial Report and other scientific information that become available in the next few months will assist in the preparation of the Supplemental EIS.

Unfortunately, not everybody has the same understanding of what it means to "make a science-based decision." Instead of adding clarity to the public's choices, advocates of one position or another have often selectively picked pieces of the extensive Scientific Assessment that supports their particular position. They claim that any other position is not a "science-based decision." That's wrong.

Science provides invaluable information about how complex systems function, the consequences of different management options, the risks of producing the desired outcome, and even insights for designing new management options. Selection among the management options, however, invariably requires the weighing and integration of diverse personal values. The weighing of values is the role of public policy makers, not the role of science. Even though the scientific information is essential in making informed choices, the scientific information in itself does not dictate one decision.

Scientific information does not advocate a particular position, but scientists should advocate that the scientific information be fully considered as the decision is made. To that end, the scientists involved in the Project have develop the Draft Science Consistency Evaluation. This report evaluates whether the Preferred Alternative was fully consistent with the available science, and whether the risks of different outcomes were revealed as being used in that evaluation. The information in this Draft Science Consistency Evaluation will assist in the development of the Supplemental EIS.

Deciding how to manage Federal lands in the interior Columbia Basin within the context of available science is an important question and a valuable opportunity. It's not right to squander this opportunity by improperly using science insights as a weapon in the battle of different values. We can all do better than that. The resources and the people who depend on those resources, both today and in the future, deserve better.

*The preceding is excerpted from portions of a February 8, 1998 letter from the Forest Services's Pacific Northwest Research Station Director Thomas J. Mills to the editor of the Oregonian clarifying the role of science. For a copy of the Draft Science Consistency Evaluation (approximately 270 pages) contact Icon Printing at (509)525-3831.

The Journal of Forestry

Last fall (October 1998) an issue of the Journal of Forestry was devoted solely to the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. The publication featured nine articles on the Project, of which seven were written by present or former Project staff. Six of these articles focused on the scientific research products from the Project; while one article summarized the public comments on the Draft EISs.

Two articles were written by members of the Society of American Foresters, in which they summarized the SAF comments on the Draft EISs, as well as listing several suggestions for revising the ICBEMP.

The Project has a limited number of copies on hand of the October 1998 issue. Readers who are interested in obtaining a copy of this issue of the Journal of Forestry may contact Venetia Gempler at the Project's Boise office at (208) 334-1770 x137 or Lisa Kulisek at the Project's Walla Walla office at (509) 522-4030. We will fulfill requests (one copy per request) until our supplies are exhausted.

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