Notice of intent to prepare UCRB EIS (59 FR 63071)

Forest Service
Upper Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Strategy, Northern and Intermountain Regions

Bureau of Land Management,
Upper Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Strategy, States of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada

AGENCIES: Forest Service, USDA; Bureau of Land Management, USDI.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) and conduct planning activity which may amend Forest Service Regional Guides and will amend Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management land use plans.

SUMMARY: The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) propose to develop a scientifically sound, ecosystem-based strategy for management of the lands under their jurisdiction in the Upper Columbia River Basin (UCRB) in Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada, Wyoming, and a small part of Washington that is administered by Region 1 of the Forest Service. This strategy will modify existing land use plans. The modification will include a coordinated ecosystem management strategy for National Forest System and BLM public lands. This strategy will be consistent with the "Framework for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin" that is being completed by the Scientific Integration Team of the Eastside Ecosystem Management Project. The EIS that will accompany this strategy will use the information from the "Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin" and information received from the public as a basis for issue determination and for evaluating alternative strategies. Additional information may be collected as necessary.

The strategy will be adopted in the form of decisions about desired ranges of future conditions for ecosystems, and related standards and guidelines for management of National Forest System and BLM public lands on all or parts of the UCRB. The EIS will consider alternative strategies for management of National Forest System and BLM-administered lands and their effects in the entire UCRB. At a minimum:

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis should be received in writing by 30 days following the date of the last scoping meeting to receive full consideration in the development of alternatives. Dates of those meetings will be published in local and regional newspapers.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments concerning this proposal to Stephen P. Mealey, Project Manager, 304 North 8th St., Room 253, Boise Idaho 83702.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Gary Wyke or Cindy Deacon Williams, EIS Team Co-leaders, 304 North 8th St., Room 253, Boise, Idaho 83702, phone (208) 334-1770.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The purpose of this action is to develop and analyze a scientifically sound, ecosystem-based strategy for management of lands administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service and the United States Department of Interior (USDI) Bureau of Land Management that are in the UCRB in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada and that portion of Washington administered by the Forest Service's Northern Region. The strategy will focus on ecosystem health, including its forest, rangeland, and aquatic/riparian, landscape, and social/economic components, with emphasis on population viability and the sustainability of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species.

The EIS team will prepare a proposed action that responds to problems described in the statement of purpose and need. Formal scoping meetings will follow the development of the proposed action. The purpose and need statement and proposed action will serve to focus formal scoping meetings by giving the public a better understanding of the agencies' early thoughts about, or initial approximations of, what the UCRB ecosystem strategy might be. The theme of the proposed action will be the restoration of ecological resiliency in forest, rangeland, and aquatic/riparian ecosystems within the UCRB. (Aldo Leopold, in his essay The Land Ethic, defines the health of the land as "the capacity of the land for self-renewal." We speak of ecological resiliency as the capacity of an ecosystem, including its physical, biological and human components, for self-renewal. We do not imply that all human wants will be satisfied by a resilient ecosystem.) Alternatives to the proposed action will be developed largely in response to public comments on the proposed action in formal scoping meetings.

This EIS will address all BLM lands within the Columbia River Basin east of Oregon and Washington and all National Forest System lands in the Columbia River Basin within the agency's Northern and Intermountain administrative Regions. (This includes National Forest System and BLM public lands in all of Idaho except the southeast corner that drains into the Great Basin. It also includes the portion of the Panhandle National Forest in Washington, that portion of Montana west of the Continental Divide, a small portion of west-central Wyoming, the north-west corner of Utah, and the northeastern corner of Nevada.) The selected alternative may result in amendment to the Forest Service Regional Guides for the Northern and Intermountain Regions and amendment of the land use plans for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management as follows:

Forest Service: Boise, Bridger-Teton, Caribou, Challis, Humboldt, Payette, Salmon, Sawtooth, and Targhee National Forests in the Intermountain Region; and Panhandle, Clearwater, Nez Perce, Kootenai, Lolo, Flathead, Helena, Deerlodge, and Bitterroot National Forests in the Northern Region.

Bureau of Land Management: Boise, Burley, Idaho Falls, Salmon, Shoshone, and Coeur d'Alene Districts in Idaho; Butte District in Montana; Rock Springs District in Wyoming; Salt Lake District in Utah; and Elko and Winnemucca Districts in Nevada.

The BLM Challis Resource Area (Salmon District), Bennett Hills Resource Area (Shoshone District), and Owyhee Resource Area (Boise District) now are preparing Resource Management Plans (RMPs) that are expected to incorporate ecosystem management strategies. Similarly, the Targhee National Forest is revising its forest plan, and the Clearwater National Forest expects to revise its forest plan. The schedule for the Clearwater forest plan revision process will be announced at the time a notice of intent for that purpose is published. These five planning efforts will continue. The Challis, Bennett Hills, and Owyhee RMPs are expected to be completed in 1995. The Targhee forest plan revision is expected to be complete in 1996, and the Clearwater forest plan revision is expected to be completed sometime after the completion of the UCRB EIS. To the extent possible, those planning efforts will be coordinated with development of the UCRB ecosystem management strategy. The UCRB EIS may lead to a Record of Decision that amends one or more of those five plans following completion of on-going planning efforts. If the UCRB EIS is completed prior to completion of any of these five on-going efforts, adjustments may be made to on-going efforts to insure consistency with the UCRB ecosystem management strategy.

BLM lands subject to potential plan amendments through the UCRB effort total approximately 14 million acres in five states. The National Forest System lands subject to potential plan amendment total approximately 31.5 million acres.

Concurrent with this EIS, a basin-wide assessment known as the "Scientific Assessment for Ecosystem Management in the Interior Columbia River Basin" is under development. (The "interior Columbia River Basin" has been defined as the lands in the continental United States tributary to the Columbia River east of the crest of the Cascade Mountain Range.) This Scientific Assessment will cover broad ecosystems, and describe social, economic, and biophysical processes and functions. The natural resources within this broad geographic area have been altered over time by many factors including drought, fire suppression, global climate change, livestock grazing, mining, timber harvest, urbanization, and water uses. The results of the Scientific Assessment will be used, in part, to analyze the effects of past management and present management under current land use plans as a baseline to help determine the need to change management direction, and to determine the effects of different approaches to ecosystem management.

The EIS will analyze a number of alternatives. One will be no action, defined as current land use plan direction without modification of any decision resulting from the Environmental Assessment for the Implementation of Interim Strategies for Managing Anadromous Fish-producing Watersheds in Eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, and Portions of California (commonly referred to as the "PACFISH" strategy). Another will be current management direction as modified by any decision issued as interim direction resulting from the "PACFISH" environmental assessment. As indicated, further alternatives will be developed in response to issues identified during the public scoping process as defined in the Council on Environmental Quality's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) implementing regulations to identify a range of reasonable alternatives.

Issues that are expected to be addressed in detail through the development and analysis of alternatives (in addition to the management of anadromous fish habitat) include ecosystem health and its forest, rangeland, and aquatic/riparian components with emphasis on population viability and long-term sustainability of threatened, endangered, and sensitive species. The use of public lands and resources in the production of goods and services within the context of sustainability will also be examined. The evaluation of these alternatives and others will consider people's expectations for public lands and resources, along with the capability of the ecosystems to provide and sustain these values through time. Information will be used from the basin-wide Scientific Assessment, Tribal governments, state and local governments, other federal agencies, and other appropriate sources.

The direction being developed through this process will serve as an ecosystem management strategy to move from current conditions to more ecologically sustainable and socially desirable conditions, leaving options available for future generations. The strategy will, at least, establish desired ranges of future conditions for broad forest, rangeland, and aquatic/riparian habitat types and inter-related social, economic and landscape systems. Achievement of desired ranges of future conditions by practices and activities developed and implemented at the national forest and BLM district level, will result in restoration of ecosystem health and restoration of ecological processes that maintain ecosystems over time. Ecosystem restoration to, and maintenance within, sustainable ranges by identifying appropriate goals and objectives and management practices, can also help promote viability of associated social and economic systems. The strategy will be based on integration of social values, ecological capabilities, and economic relationships, and will recognize treaty rights reserved by various Native American Tribes on ceded lands and will fulfill United States government trust responsibilities to the Tribes. The strategy will (1) assure habitat condition needed to support species viability within the context of desired ecosystem function and structure; (2) address the needs of species and habitats of concern (currently listed or being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act or designated as sensitive species by the Forest Service or BLM); (3) support the needs of dynamic ecosystems that change over time and space; and (4) recognize the role that disturbance mechanisms play in the evolution and maintenance of ecosystems.

Scoping meetings are tentatively planned for Coeur d'Alene, Moscow, Orofino, Grangeville, McCall, Salmon, Challis, Idaho Falls, Pocatello, Twin Falls, Ketchum, and Boise in Idaho; Missoula, Libby, Kalispell, Hamilton, Helena, and Butte, in Montana; Jackson, Wyoming; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Elko, Nevada. Specific dates, times and locations for the meetings will be announced in local newspapers of general distribution.

The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service will act as joint lead agencies to prepare the EIS. The two agencies will consult with Tribal Governments and coordinate with state and local governments and other federal agencies. The Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service will be consulted pursuant to the Endangered Species Act.

The responsible officials for National Forest System lands will be the Regional Foresters for the:

The responsible officials for public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management will be the State Directors for:

The draft EIS is expected to be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency in October, 1995, and will be available for public review at that time. A public comment period of 90 days will be provided for the draft EIS.

The UCRB EIS Team (Team) believes it is important to give reviewers notice at this early stage of several court rulings related to public participation in the environmental review process. First, reviewers of draft EISs must structure their participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewer's position and contentions. [Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 553 (1978)]. Also, environmental objections that could be raised at the draft EIS stage but that are not raised until after completion of the final EIS may be waived or dismissed by the courts. [City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 1016, 1022 (9th Cir.1986) and Wisconsin Heritages, Inc. v. Harris, 490 F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980)]. Because of these court rulings, it is very important that those interested in this proposed action participate by the close of the 90-day comment period on the draft EIS, so that substantive comments and objections are made available to the Team at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and respond to them in the final EIS.

To assist the Team in identifying and considering issues and concerns on the proposed action, comments on the draft EIS should be as specific as possible. It also is helpful if comments refer to specific pages or chapters of the draft statement. Comments also may address the adequacy of the draft EIS or the merits of the alternatives formulated and discussed in the statement. Reviewers may wish to refer to the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 40 CFR 1503.3 in addressing these points.

It is expected that the final EIS will be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency approximately 6 months after the draft EIS is published. The record of decision for National Forest System Lands will be issued with the final EIS and will be subject to Forest Service appeal regulations (36 CFR 217). The BLM's proposed plan amendment decision will be published with the final EIS and will be subject to BLM protest regulations (43 CFR 1610.5-2). The BLM's record of decision will be published following resolution of any protests.

David F. Jolly,
Regional Forester, Northern Region

Dale N. Bosworht,
Regional Forester, Intermountain Region

Alan R. Pierson,
Acting, State Director, Idaho

Larry E. Hamilton,
State Director, Montana