Science Questions & Answers

Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project

December 18, 1996

Why are you doing this project?

New information regarding several natural resource issues such as forest health, rangeland health, and listed and candidate species, has surfaced. Federal land managers are required to deal with significant new information and incorporate it into natural resource management. These issues prompted the need to develop a comprehensive, long-term management direction that transcends administrative boundaries and deals with broader issues from a "big picture" perspective.

What is the benefit of doing this Project?

Consolidating efforts, bringing together specialists from multiple agencies and geographic areas reduces duplication of effort and provides a catalyst for comprehensive, more defensible assessments, Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) and decisions by land management agencies. As a result, a better product is expected for a reduced cost of about 50% than what could occur unit by unit. In addition, administrative units will have more consistent and coordinated information and approaches to use in managing natural resources.

The scientific data generated by this project standardized data from a variety of sources for the entire analysis area. This data will be updated and used by many Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service administrative units (BLM districts and National Forests) for future management.

This approach should reduce vulnerability to legal challenges. If each of the 45 administrative units within the analysis area plans independently of the other units, inevitable inconsistencies between the plans, new information, and issues of cumulative effects can create legal vulnerabilities. More frequent and aggressive administrative appeals and litigation, often involving larger areas and more complex issues are evolving.

What are the resource benefits?

Ecosystem health problems can be more successfully resolved by using the best available science to design plans dealing with these overarching issues. A basin-wide perspective allows the agencies to develop and prioritize goals among their various administrative units which would not be possible if each unit develops independent plans.

Assessment results and EISs will define the capabilities of the land and provide information about sustaining healthy ecosystems and the goods and services (i.e., recreation, timber, grazing) they provide.

A more effective analysis of cumulative impacts will be available.

What do you show in the science assessment?

The science assessment recognizes that significant change has occurred in forestlands, rangelands and watersheds. The assessment shows conditions, status, and trends associated with ecologic, economic, and social systems. Broad descriptions of future options are provided together with results, outcomes, and potential consequences.

What is the credibility of the science documents?

The science documents have undergone an extensive peer review process. An independent peer review board had oversight of the process to lend credibility to the scientific analysis and findings. A double-blind peer review was used; the science team was not informed who the reviewers were and the reviewers were not informed who the authors were. Internal and external groups were allowed to provide names of potential peer reviewers to the review board for consideration.

Who was involved in developing the science documents?

Over 300 scientists and technical specialists were involved representing the Forest Service, BLM, Bureau of Mines, Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US Geological Survey, universities, and consultants. Most of them have experience in the analysis area and could draw from experience of other scientific efforts like Forest Ecosystem Management Team (FEMAT) and the Eastside Forest Ecosystem Health Assessment.

How much and what kind of data and information were available for the science effort?

The science assessment used a mix of existing data from a variety of sources as well as creating new datasets. No field inventory or extensive research was conducted to gather new data. The assessment interprets work already done and synthesized and integrated existing information. Some characterization work was necessary using aerial photography to fill gaps and get a common, consistent set of data. Over 170 different Geographic Information System (GIS) data layers were developed in support of the scientific assessment.

Some data for use in the scientific assessment came from agency sources, such as Forest Service, BLM, US Fish and Wildlife Service and US Geological Survey, states, Indian tribes and public sources such as county economic data. Data existed in a combination of reports, databases, research, and geographic information systems (GIS) data.

Numerous existing studies, such as the Eastside Forest Ecosystem Health Assessment (Everett, et al.) and the Eastside Forests Scientific Society Panel (Henjum, et al.), were used extensively in the Scientific Assessment.

How adequate was the existing data?

There were significant gaps in the existing information. Much of the information was not consistent across the various regions and states. All data has been documented individually as to its quality, reliability, or limitation.

How did you deal with information gaps?

When needed information was missing, models were developed or expert panels were organized to provide projections where possible. Other information gaps were noted and referred for further work.

Was there a differentiation made between hard scientific data and expert opinion?

Yes. Each science document includes a discussion of methods that outlines the approach used. Where expert opinion was used, it is documented in the write up. The use of models and results from scientific investigations were also documented.

How will this data improve on-the-ground management?

The data sets developed for the project will be available to field offices of the BLM and Forest Service for use in project level planning (where applicable), modeling of vegetative futures, and for looking at the impact of watershed level decisions upon the overall landscape.

The computer mapped data themes are available to agency employees, tribes and other governments, interest groups, and the public for use. Information about the data themes is currently available through the project homepage on the internet.

What are the percentages of state, federal, and private land within the analysis area?

The Interior Columbia Basin analysis area is approximately 144,480,000 acres. This geographical area includes the interior Columbia River Basin and portions of the Klamath and Great Basins.

Total BLM and National Forest lands: 74,777,000 acres (52%)
Total state and other Federal lands: 9,845,000 acres ( 6%)
Total Tribal lands: 5,473,000 acres ( 4%)
Total private lands: 54,375,000 acres (38%)

Totals: 144,480,000 acres (100%)