Subcommittee on Forests and Public Land Management Hearing Testimony:  

Hearing: The purpose of this hearing is to conduct oversight on the United States Forest Service’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment, and Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan.
Date and Time: June 29, 2000 at 10:00 a.m.
Location: SD-366
Witness Name and Title: Dale Bosworth, Regional Forester, Northern Region, Forest Service, USDA
Testimony:

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for the opportunity to provide you with an update on the progress of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project.  I am Dale Bosworth, Regional Forester for the Northern Region of the Forest Service.  Accompanying me today is Susan Giannettino, Project Manager of the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project. 

The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP) has recently released a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement or SDEIS.  The SDEIS was significantly shaped by the 83,000 public comments received on two Draft ElSs released in June 1997.  The SDEIS responds to the public, agency, scientific and Congressional input received and focuses only on critical broad-scale issues related to landscape health, aquatic and terrestrial habitats, human needs, and products and services. 

Improving the health of the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management administrated lands in the basin is not going to be easy.  Human uses and past management practices have significantly altered the dynamic processes of fire, drought, and vegetation that once worked together to promote healthy forests, grasslands and fish and wildlife in the basin.  Habitat is fragmented and many of the plants and animals that have historically called the basin home are in decline. 

Just leaving things alone will not work.  Science has underscored the need for restoration of roads that are bleeding sediment, of streambanks that are eroding, of forests at risk of uncharacteristic wildfire and disease, and rangelands infested with noxious weeds.  Current policies and interim direction for such things as anadromous fish and old forests are only stop-gap measures. 

The Forest Service believes 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.  Providing consistent direction at regional and subregional levels will assist federal managers in making decisions at a local level that are informed by broader ecological considerations.  This improved decision-making will enhance the agencies' ability to effectively and efficiently address basin-wide ecological and socio-economic concerns. 

The SDEIS, which outlines three alternatives for 63 million acres of public land in eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho and western Montana, is currently available for public review and comment.  The public comment period on the SDEIS ends July 6, 2000. 

Of the three alternatives presented, Alternative S2 was identified as the preferred alternative because it provides the best strategy for protecting and restoring fish and wildlife habitats, improving the health of forests and rangelands, and providing a more predictable level of goods and services from public lands.  The preferred alternative provides a vision of public land health and a blueprint for achieving it.  Alternative S2 is a long-term, restoration strategy that recognizes the diversity of the basin, the complexity of the forest and rangeland health problems facing federal lands, the needs of tribes and local communities, and the fact that budget levels for dealing with these weighty issues are not likely to increase. 

Restoration is needed to promote the health of forests, rangelands and aquatic systems and the species that depend on them.  Science and results of management efforts have shown that reintroducing fire to the ecosystem through prescribed fire, removing noxious weeds, eliminating roads, and thinning unhealthy and diseased forests are steps that must be taken to promote such things as salmon recovery and the conservation of forests and rangelands so that human uses can be sustained into the future. 

Under Alternative S2, areas that are healthy - clear streams, healthy grasslands, and resilient old forests - would be maintained and protected.  The preferred alternative provides a basin-wide blueprint for both restoration and protection of these areas. 

Areas that are not healthy and functioning and would be of significant benefit if they were, would receive priority for treatment.  The preferred alternative is sensitive to budget realities and sets priorities for investing in restoration where there is the greatest potential for achieving desired outcomes.  Where restoration is conducted under the direction called for in the preferred alternative, there are decreases in the threats of noxious weeds, catastrophic fire and disease and insect infestation, as well as benefits to tribes and communities.   

Partners in the development of this strategy include the National Marine Fisheries Service, Environmental Protection Agency, and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Public comments received on the Supplemental Draft EIS will be considered in the development of a Final EIS and Record of Decision, which will amend land use plans for the 32 National Forests and BLM administrative units within the project area.  We strongly support the preferred alternative proposed in the Supplemental Draft EIS and look forward to implementing a proactive, long-term strategy for this region. 

Relationship to Roadless Rule-making 

The ICBEMP SDEIS identifies and protects unroaded lands (including inventoried roadless) that provide important habitat for fish and wildlife.

The intent of the preferred alternative of the SDEIS is that road construction in roadless areas and unroaded watersheds would rarely occur.  This direction does not preclude the use of vegetation management within inventoried roadless areas where there is a need to address large-scale environmental damage or public safety.  

Relationship to the Pending Roads Policy 

The proposed management direction for ICBEMP was built to be consistent with the concept of watershed or roads analysis which is reflected in the pending roads policy.  These types of analyses are the tools used to assist land managers in balancing road system objectives.   ICBEMP has not incorporated specific direction from the pending Forest Service road policy beyond the use of the concept of roads analysis. 

Relationship with the Pending Planning Regulations 

The Forest Service's pending planning regulations would not affect ICBEMP decisions given the current timelines for completion of ICBEMP Final EIS and Record of Decision and the adoption of the proposed planning regulations. 

Relationship to the Draft Cohesive Strategy 

The draft report, A Cohesive Strategy for Protecting People and Sustaining Resources in Fire-Adapted Ecosystems, is a framework for setting overall priorities and programmatic emphasis.  It is based on risk mapping that provides a broad scale estimate of acres by fire regime and condition class.  That data will continue to be refined as it is stepped down to the forest and district scale.  One critical source in the step down process will be regional assessments, forest and watershed level analysis, as well as project level planning.  The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem assessment is a key element of this process.   While the actual number of acres requiring treatment may change over time with refinements in analysis, the draft Cohesive Strategy is clearly in step with the needs and purposes in the ICBEMP assessment.  

Summary

The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Project is an important effort, as it is addressing significant issues in the Interior Columbia Basin.  We will continue to integrate the best science into natural resource management and work collaboratively with others, to ensure sustainable environmental, economic and social conditions to meet the needs of people both now and in the future. 

This concludes my testimony.  I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.