Q & A for the Final Environmental Impact Statement
Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project December 2000
Q What is the status of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project?
A The Interior Columbia River Basin Ecosystem Management Project (Project) is releasing a Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The Final EIS responds to the 83,000 public comments received on the Supplemental Draft EIS and cumulatively, the two Draft ElSs released in June 1997. The Final EIS focuses on critical broad-scale issues related to: landscape health; aquatic and terrestrial habitats; human needs; and products and services.
Q Why is the Project needed?
A Changed conditions over the last century and new information and understandings indicate that the ecosystems of the interior Columbia River Basin are declining in health. Ecosystems must be healthy, diverse, and productive to meet the needs of society today as well as those of future generations. A long-term, integrated strategy is needed to consistently and adequately address aquatic and terrestrial species; landscape health issues such as noxious weeds, forest health, and catastrophic fire; and the social and economic needs of communities. Federal court decisions have affirmed the need to replace interim strategies for fish (PACFISH and the Inland Native Fish Strategy) and old forests (Eastside Screens) with a long-term, comprehensive strategy for addressing these issues. Providing consistent direction at regional and subregional levels to assist federal managers in making decisions at a local level within the context of broader ecological considerations will improve the agencies ability to address basin-wide ecological and socioeconomic concerns.
Q What is the proposed decision?
A Alternative S2 from the Supplemental Draft EIS represents the proposed decision. The alternatives considered included the seven alternatives from the Draft EISs released in June 1997 and the three alternatives in the Supplemental Draft EIS. Changes made in Alternative S2 from the Supplemental Draft EIS to the Final EIS include clarifying the implementation process, adding information to ensure the direction is consistent with science and revising the aquatic direction based on updated field information.
Q How does the proposed decision differ from current management?
A The proposed decision provides consistent, broad-scale direction in an integrated fashion for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to address the following critical basin-wide issues: aquatic and terrestrial species that are in decline, forest and rangeland health, and socioeconomic and tribal issues. Currently, these issues are addressed on a unit by unit (National Forest or BLM District) basis.
The proposed decision uses basin-wide information on resource and social economic conditions to guide and prioritize restoration activities where there is a potential to have the greatest benefit. This broad-scale prioritization would augment and inform the restoration priorities that are currently determined on a unit by unit basis.
The direction in the proposed decision also institutes an analysis process whereby broad-scale information is considered at finer scales through subbasin review and ecosystem analysis at the watershed scale.
Q What factors are influencing landscape health?
A It has taken more than a hundred years to reach the present condition of upland areas which are characterized by increasingly larger and more severe wildfire, increased invasion of noxious weeds, more insect and disease problems, and changes in the mix of vegetation types on the landscape that once provided for a balance of wildlife species that use them. Currently, the movement away from historical regimes is proceeding rapidly with a great momentum. Because it took a long time to reach this condition, remedies will not be easy, inexpensive, or quickly achieved. When restoration activities are concentrated into High Restoration Priority Subbasins local results are expected to be positive. However, even in the High Restoration Priority Subbasins there will be a considerable time lag involved in moving vegetation closer to historical conditions. Higher amounts of restoration activities applied to forests and rangelands alike are expected to result in greater improvements over the long-term.
Q How will the proposed decision effect the risk of wildfire?
A The proposed decision attempts to reduce the severe effects of wildfire by balancing wildfire levels with prescribed fire. Although wildfire will continue to occur under all alternatives, uncharacteristic wildfire effects are expected to decline by 15% under the proposed decision in the long-term on BLM and Forest Service-administered lands. In High Restoration Priority Subbasins, the effects of restoration activities would further reduce the uncharacteristic wildfire effects under the proposed decision. The proposed decision would also reduce the wildfire danger in the urban-rural/wildland interface through many of the same restoration activities.
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on rangeland health?
For the proposed decision, vegetation and soil conditions will trend toward historic conditions over extensive portions of the project area. This trend toward historic conditions is particularly evident in High Restoration Priority Subbasins where there is a greater concentration of restoration activities (such as prescribed fire treatments). The wheatgrass bunchgrass, fescue-bunchgrass, and mountain sagebrush vegetation types, which have declined substantially in geographic extent from historic conditions, would increase in extent where the reintroduction of fire achieves reduction in woody species encroachment (such as western juniper).
The rate of spread of noxious weeds and other exotic undesirable plants on BLM- and Forest Service-administered lands would be slowed under the proposed decision. Although the rate of spread would be slowed, the geographic extent of noxious weeds and other exotic undesirable plants would continue to increase under all alternatives for the project area as a whole. There are exceptions to this within portions of the project area, including the Aquatic A1 and A2 Subwatersheds, the Terrestrial T Watersheds, and High Restoration Priority Subbasins, where the geographic extent would decline in the long-term. Some reasons for the continued increase in the extent of noxious weeds and other exotic undesirable plants are the widespread distribution of these plant species (such as cheatgrass) combined with a lack of weed control and prevention techniques and technology that are proven to be effective at control at the watershed scale.
Q What are the effects of the on forest health?
A The proposed decision is expected to achieve forest conditions and trends that are more in balance with historic disturbance (i.e., fire, insects, and disease) regimes on BLM-and Forest Service-administered lands within the project area. This trend toward historic conditions is particularly evident in High Restoration Priority Subbasins. The proposed decision would increase the extent of dominance by the shade-intolerant trees such as ponderosa pine, western larch, and western white pine, which are adapted to those regimes and would trend toward historic conditions. The proposed decision would also increase the extent of large trees and old forests, especially in the single story structures. The focus of the proposed decision is to promote cover types and structural stages in patterns where, over the long-term, they are most sustainable. The result is expected to be a decline in uncharacteristic wildfire effects, a decline in uncharacteristic insect and disease, a better mix of forest habitats, and an improvement in forest health and landscape health in general.
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on old forests?
A In the short-term (10 years), the management direction in the proposed decision would maintain old forest characteristics and prevent loss of old forest conditions from both natural and human-caused disturbances. This short-term strategy allows managers to actively protect these scarce habitats from natural disturbances such as wildfire, insects, and disease. The proposed decision also directs managers to pursue a long-term strategy to increase the extent of old forests in locations that are consistent with the landscape and disturbance patterns, and where they would be more sustainable through time. In order to protect and promote old forest habitats activities such as stewardship thinning and prescribed fire would be applied. The effects would be increases in the scarcest types of old forest under the proposed decision. While the historic range of old forest types is not likely to be achieved in the long-term, the trend is toward historic.
Q How would roadless areas be managed under the proposed decision?
A Under the management direction in the proposed decision, new road construction will be reduced from past levels. New road building would rarely occur in watersheds that are currently unroaded or have very few roads. The proposed decision specifically limits road construction in identified important fish and wildlife habitat (Aquatic A1 Subwatersheds and Terrestrial (T) Watersheds). Many of these important fish and wildlife habitats coincide with roadless areas.
Q Will there be a decrease in road densities under the proposed decision?
A The proposed decision promotes a higher level of road closure compared to current management. Road closures are anticipated to occur in areas classified as having high road densities and these areas currently account for approximately 19.5 million acres within the project area.
Fish and Wildlife
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on wildlife?
A In general, the proposed decision would result in better habitat conditions for wildlife on BLM- and Forest Service-administered lands. The intent is to improve conditions for groups of species through the management and protection of habitat. Terrestrial (T) Watersheds have been identified where habitats that have declined substantially in geographic extent from historical to current periods would receive the greatest focus for conservation and restoration efforts. There are 14 million acres of T Watersheds identified in the proposed decision (9.5 million of these acres are within Congressionally designated Wilderness Areas or Wilderness Study Areas). The intent is to maintain and secure terrestrial wildlife species habitats that have declined significantly over time and are in short supply; and to increase the extent and connectivity of these "source" habitats within T Watersheds. These habitat types include old-forests, riparian areas, sagebrush and grassland habitat types.
Conditions for rangeland species (such as sage grouse) are expected to be stable or declining in part due to a lack of restoration technology and available resources for active restoration. Continued declines in habitat for some rangeland species would be less under the proposed decision. Habitat conditions for species dependent on multiple vegetation types would generally remain the same. Habitat conditions for species dependent on old-forests would generally increase. Wide-ranging threatened and endangered wildlife species (woodland caribou, gray wolf, and grizzly bear) would move toward recovery within designated recovery areas but basin-wide, conditions would remain greatly reduced from historical levels.
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on aquatic habitat?
A The aquatic strategy would improve aquatic habitat, water quality and water quantity for salmon and native inland trout. The objective is to conserve and restore the health of aquatic systems and aquatic and riparian dependent species. The proposed decision identifies geographic areas for aquatic protection and restoration. Under the proposed decision, 6.5 million acres are proposed for protection in what are referred to as Aquatic A1 Subwatersheds (3 million of these acres are within Congressionally designated Wilderness Areas or Wilderness Study Areas.) These areas have important, strong populations of fish and the intent is to conserve and maintain these areas. There are also areas where there are important, strong populations of fish but the habitat conditions are not optimal. These areas are known as Aquatic A2 Subwatersheds and under the proposed decision 7.1 million acres of these types of subwatersheds have been identified for aquatic habitat restoration.
The proposed decision also calls for the identification of Riparian Conservation Areas which would be managed to maintain and improve riparian areas over time. The proposed decision describes a process for delineating these areas based on local, site-specific conditions. Under the proposed decision an estimated 15.1 million acres would be identified as Riparian Conservation Areas.
Outputs and Activities
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on timber harvesting and grazing?
A In the first ten years of implementation, we estimate a 22% increase in timber harvest volume over current levels. While total timber harvest volumes would increase under the proposed decision, the size and quality of the logs produced would decline somewhat due to the types of restoration activities needed in the forests and woodlands such as thinning and timber harvest. Timber outputs would come primarily from commercial thinning and other harvest activities designed to promote forest ecosystem restoration.
In the first decade of implementation, we estimate a decline of 10% in animal unit months (AUMs) for livestock grazing on agency lands. There are no specific levels of, or limits on, AUMs that are required by direction in the final EIS. Rather, expected reductions would come about indirectly as a result of implementing objectives and standards for watershed and rangeland protection and restoration.
Q How will the proposed decision affect restoration activities?
A We estimate that there would be a 40% increase in treated forest/woodland acres, an 8% increase treated rangeland acres, and a 700% increase in the amount of acres treated with prescribed fire/fuels management.
Activity Proposed Decision
Forest/Woodland Restoration (acres) 199,000
Rangeland Restoration (acres) 3,339,000
Prescribed Fire/Fuels Management 1,456,000
Q What analysis processes are called for by the proposed decision?
A The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are currently required to conduct subbasin analyses under terms and conditions within biological opinions that have been issued for listed fish species by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The analysis process proposed under the proposed decision would simply put into place a more unified and integrated approach to subbasin and ecosystem analysis at the watershed scale. Under the proposed decision, Subbasin Reviews would need to be completed for all of the subbasins within the project area. These Subbasin Reviews would be completed within three years in High Priority Restoration Subbasins and within seven years for the remaining subbasins.
Ecosystem Analysis at the Watershed Scale (EAWS) is an issue-driven process. It is intended to be used as a tool for identifying management actions needed to meet overall management objectives, and at the same time provide information useful in managing the mix of short- and long-term risks to resources that occur within the watershed. It is intended to be conducted where it adds value by contributing information needed for planning, locating, and designing activities across a watershed.
In the proposed decision, EAWS are required where there is a potential to negatively impact threatened, endangered, or proposed aquatic species or their habitats, or the source habitats that have declined substantially from historic to current within identified Terrestrial (T) Watersheds. The only exception is where impacts are anticipated to be negligible, short-term, and localized in scope. In those areas where Subbasin Reviews and EAWS have already occurred, additional analysis would not be required unless new information is available or conditions warrant re-evaluation.
Q How will this proposed decision affect people and communities?
A The proposed decision will provide a long-term vision for public lands in the basin, promote the health and sustainability of these forest, rangeland and aquatic systems and provide a more consistent and predictable flow of goods and services. Although the social and economic effects of the proposed decision are thought to be small at the broad-scale; geographically isolated communities, whose economies are specialized in sectors that depend on outputs from federal lands, economic and social effects may be more pronounced.
The Final EIS displays the environmental, social, and economic consequences of all of the alternatives in a geographically specific manner. The effects in the Final EIS are displayed by 12 Resource Advisory Council and Provincial Advisory Committee areas which vary in size but on average include 2-3 BLM Districts and National Forests.
Q What are the effects of the proposed decision on employment?
A Direct employment generated from Forest Service and BLM-administered lands can be classified as wood products, livestock grazing, forestry services, mining, federal employment and recreation related retail trade and services. It is estimated that there are approximately 95,000 jobs associated with these types of activities across the project area (81% in recreation, 9% in timber harvest, 1% in livestock grazing, and 8% in forestry related services).
Because no changes in recreation use or mining could be estimated at the broad-scale, no changes in jobs related to recreation or mining were projected. Possible changes in effects on recreation and mining opportunities, and associated employment, would be further assessed during Subbasin Reviews and Ecosystem Analyses at the Watershed Scale.
In the first decade of implementation, livestock grazing on BLM and Forest Service-administered lands and the number of related jobs could decline under the proposed decision. We estimate a possible reduction of approximately 112 to 125 jobs (10-11 percent). While timber-related employment associated with Forest Service and BLM-administered lands has declined in the past several years within the project area, timber output, forest restoration activities and related jobs are expected to increase under the proposed decision. There is an anticipated increase in employment opportunities of 1,300 jobs (21%) in timber-related employment, and 120 jobs (40%) in forest restoration employment. In addition, under the proposed decision, another 2,600 jobs related to prescribed fire and fuels management activities (700% increase) could be expected.
Q How does the proposed decision affect recreation?
A At the broad-scale of the basin and at the Resource Advisory Council and Provincial Advisory Committee Area level, there are no significant changes predicted in the levels of recreation opportunities as a result of the proposed management direction. However, subbasin-level and site-specific changes in road systems, and effects from implementation of Riparian Conservation Area objectives and standards, may be identified at the mid- or fine-scale after Subbasin Review and Ecosystem Analysis at the Watershed Scale, which could affect recreation supply and expected use. Any recreation-related job changes could then also be estimated.
Q How does the proposed decision affect harvestable populations of fish, wildlife, and plants for Tribes?
A In general, habitat conditions for wildlife species that depend on forested habitats, habitats that are a mix of forestland, shrubland, and grassland habitats, or riparian habitats improve or remain stable. Although many non-habitat factors can affect harvestability, these trends in habitat conditions tend to support continued harvestability.
In contrast, general habitat conditions for wildlife species that depend on either shrubland or grassland habitats continue to decline. These trends in habitat conditions indicate that harvestability may be reduced for these species. Similar conditions would exist for harvested plants in shrubland or grassland habitats.
Overall, the proposed decision provides an opportunity for addressing protection and restoration of habitats that play a role in sustaining important social and cultural traditions of tribal communities. The management direction's restoration and protection measures provide an improved ability to address tribal access and harvestability concerns.
All the alternatives improve aquatic habitat capacity for anadromous fishes which are of critical importance to tribal cultures. It is uncertain whether harvestable population levels would be attained by the proposed strategy. However, the proposed decision would result in improved aquatic habitat condition, which supports harvestability. The greatest improvements would occur in Aquatic A2 Subwatersheds, High Restoration Priority Subbasins, and areas currently with high habitat capacity (such as wilderness areas and Aquatic A1 and A2 Subwatersheds.) Population modeling for six key salmonids indicate that the proposed decision is expected to result in the greatest improvement. Expected improvements in populations were not as substantial as changes in habitat capacity because many other biological constraints influence population status and distribution. For example, anadromous fish population outcomes, particularly those above several dams in the Snake River and Upper Columbia River, showed minor to no improvements because of the high uncertainty associated with migrant survival.
Q How will the proposed decision affect federal trust responsibilities and tribal treaty rights?
A The proposed decision provides more consistent and effective consultation direction which should lead to improvements in government-to-government consultation. The proposed decision provides more opportunities for tribal involvement in both planning and decision-making processes than currently exist.
The higher rate and intensity of restoration combined with increases in the amount of fine scale restoration is predicted to be more responsive to the social and ecological needs of tribes.
Q What is the cost of the Project?
A The cost of the Project from 1993 through fiscal year 1999 totals approximately $45 million. The fiscal year 2000 budget for completing the Project is $3.5 million for the Forest Service and $1.7 million for the Bureau of Land Management.
Q What is the cost of implementing the proposed decision?
A Currently, the BLM and Forest Service have a budget of approximately $550 million to manage lands included in the project area. Approximately $135 million is directly expended in on-the-ground restoration activities. The proposed decision could be implemented at current budget levels, lower budget levels or higher budget levels. The intent in designing the proposed decision was to design an improved management strategy regardless of funding levels. Funding levels will influence the pace with which management activities are conducted. With more funds, more restoration activities will occur.
For the purpose of analyzing effects, the proposed decision was modeled using a $67 million increase above current budget levels.