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U.S. Unveils Plan for Columbia Basin

by Associated Press
Seattle Post-Intelligencer - February 24, 2003

Local officials in 4 states will select projects

WASHINGTON -- After nearly a decade of study, federal officials have completed a sweeping effort to manage land and wildlife on 64 million acres in the Columbia River Basin.

The goal of the plan, proposed by President Clinton in 1993, was to develop a long-term strategy to improve the health of the national forests in eastern Oregon and Washington.

The Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project, an interagency agreement to protect parts of the Columbia River Basin, was born of that idea and quickly expanded to include parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

A detailed environmental impact statement released in December 2000 proposed guidelines for management of federal lands in the four states.

The result, announced last week, is an 11-page memorandum that will guide decision-makers in various federal agencies responsible for environmental regulation -- the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, NOAA Fisheries, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Forest Service spokesman Rex Holloway called the agreement a step forward for the 9-year-old project, known as the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan.

In the name of environmental restoration, the plan suggests lighting prescribed fires, limiting grazing and eliminating roads to protect old forests, sagebrush, endangered salmon and a host of troubled species.

Local officials would decide what projects to undertake, with reviews at the state and regional level.

The Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had been expected to issue a formal decision incorporating the 2-year-old environmental impact statement, Holloway said. But officials decided instead to use the best available environmental science as it emerges to update land use plans, he said.

"It sets a consistent application of science across the basin," Holloway said. "Without it, each (agency) would develop its own strategy" for land use and planning.

Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne said he was pleased that the project will allow decisions to be made at the local level.

"In our July 2000 four-governor agreement on salmon recovery, we noted the interior Columbia River Basin needs a balanced strategy that can provide for stable and predictable multiple-use management on federal lands . . . while permitting needed flexibility. The existence of such a strategy is long overdue," Kempthorne said in a statement.

Former Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber also endorsed the agreement.

Some environmentalists and Indian tribes have criticized the project as overly vague, while loggers and ranchers have said it will likely cost them jobs by creating a bureaucracy unfriendly to their livelihoods.

Associated Press
U.S. Unveils Plan for Columbia Basin
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 24, 2003

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