INTERIOR COLUMBIA BASIN ECOSYSTEM
BOISE, IDAHO; MISSOULA, MONTANA; SPOKANE, WASHINGTON; PORTLAND, OREGON -- April 23, 1997 -- Federal officials in the Pacific Northwest today revealed a draft preferred strategy for the management of more than 72 million acres of Forest Service- and Bureau of Land Management (BLM)-administered land in the Interior Columbia River Basin and portions of the Klamath and Great Basins. They announced the Eastside and the Upper Columbia River Basin Draft Environmental Impact Statements (EISs), one covering eastern Oregon and eastern Washington, and the other covering much of Idaho, western Montana, northern Nevada, and parts of Utah and Wyoming. The "preferred alternative" was identified among seven alternatives in each draft EIS. Federal officials also issued a strong call for public review of the Draft EISs, which will be available in late May.
"We have identified Alternative Four as the 'preferred alternative' in the Draft Environmental Impact Statements," stated Idaho State BLM Director Martha Hahn. "The preferred alternative allows citizens to share the many values and uses of the Federal public lands. Among the seven alternatives, it strikes the best balance of actively restoring forest, rangeland and watershed resources, while providing resource goods and services to people. It also seeks to involve the public, other levels of government, and tribes in the decision making that affects public lands." Hahn chairs a panel of Federal executives in the Pacific Northwest who oversee the effort known as the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project.
The Project was launched in 1993 by the Forest Service and BLM to address environmental and economic issues that affect larger areas than traditional administrative boundaries, such as recovery of Snake River salmon, declining forest and rangeland health, and changing economies and social conditions of local communities. Comprehensive science reports were issued in December 1996. The Draft EISs respond to the scientific information as well as over 10,000 public comments.
"The two DEISs are based largely on a scientific assessment of the Interior Columbia River Basin, an unprecedented comprehensive evaluation of the ecological, economic, and social conditions that was released in December 1996," said Tom Mills, Director of the Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station. Mills pointed out that the scientific assessment's information was compiled and synthesized by over 300 scientists and technicians from federal and state agencies, universities and private contractors. "I am pleased to see science have such an important role helping professional land managers make better decisions."
"We are confident the proposed management strategy is firmly based on science and meets the requirements and spirit of the nation's environmental laws," said Regional Forester Dale Bosworth. "A 'big picture' strategy for Federal lands is necessary to prevent further declines of fish and wildlife, address the threat of catastrophic wildfires, and support people and communities. Without it we face continued litigation and gridlock."
The preferred alternative in the Draft EISs features aggressive restoration of forests, rangelands and watersheds through active management. It emphasizes actions such as thinning over-dense forests and setting controlled fires during cooler seasons to decrease risks of large and more severe wildfires which have plagued the region in recent years. Also highlighted is an increased effort to stem the tide of noxious weeds which are spreading across range and forest lands in the northwest. Actions are proposed to restore both stream side riparian areas -- as well as larger watersheds -- to healthier conditions.
The preferred alternative provides a special focus on conserving populations of native fish like bull trout, salmon and steelhead. The overall land management strategy also emphasizes managing watersheds and ecosystems rather than just a small patch of ground. This management strategy is expected to provide a more predictable and sustainable supply of goods and services from Forest Service- and BLM-administered lands, thereby providing economic support to rural areas of the Pacific Northwest.
The preferred alternative came after months of listening to governments and advisory committees, and sets the stage for continued dialogue. "The proposed management strategy will ensure that affected people have a say in what happens in the landscapes they live in," said BLM Oregon-Washington State Director Elaine Zielinski. "The preferred alternative features strong interagency collaboration with states and counties, and better consultation to see that tribal treaty and government trust responsibilities are fulfilled. We also want public participation at the watershed and local level."
Federal officials noted that much work remains to be done. "Today's decision is one giant step forward for good stewardship of our Federal lands," said National Marine Fisheries Service Regional Director Will Stelle. "We are plowing new ground here, and it could be wonderfully significant. Success will turn, however, on implementation."
Release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statements in late May will be followed by a 120-day comment period. Federal officials were quick to point out that public comments are essential to mold the final strategy, due to be completed by the summer of 1998. "These are draft documents," said Forest Service Northern Regional Forester Hal Salwasser. "The final direction will reflect your comments. There will be many opportunities to ask questions about the documents and give comments over the next few months."
For more information contact:
Andy Brunelle, ICBEMP Project Office, (208) 334-1770 ext. 128
Rex Holloway, ICBEMP Project Office, (509) 522-4046
Brenda Lincoln, Bureau of Land Management, (503) 952-6347
Patty Burel, U.S. Forest Service, (503) 326-2221
Mark MacIntyre, Environmental Protection Agency, (206) 553-7302
David Klinger, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (503) 231-6121
Brian Gorman, National Marine Fisheries Service, (206) 526-6613
Ken Burton, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, (202) 208-5657
Comparison of Alternatives
Findings of the Scientific Assessment
General Questions and Answers for the Announcement of the Preferred Alternative
Preferred Alternative Questions and Answers
Preferred Alternative Statement - Alternative 4
Project History - A Summary