March 1, 1999
Edwin J. Singleton
Via FAX (541) 573-4411; 38 pages
Dear Mr. Singleton and Mr. Hansen:
Below are the comments of the Oregon Natural Desert Association, National Wildlife Federation, American Lands Alliance, ONRC Action, ONRC Fund, and Northwest Environmental Defense Center on the Bureau of Land Management's Draft Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on this important planning document. If you have any questions about these comments, please feel free to call Gillian Lyons at the Oregon Natural Desert Association at (503) 525-0193. Any written response or other correspondence may be addressed to ONDA, 732 SW 3rd Avenue, Suite 407, Portland, OR 97204.
A. The BLM does not evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives in the DEIS. While the stated purposes of the five alternatives appear to be different, the management direction for the various resources in Alternatives A through D is often quite similar. Therefore, the BLM has not met the NEPA requirement to evaluate a reasonable range of alternatives. For example:
1. In Alternatives A through D, "current grazing levels (Appendix E) would be maintained" (3-94), without any evidence that the land and water are capable or suitable for maintaining current grazing levels. Alternative E would eliminate grazing. Therefore, the BLM has only evaluated two alternatives with respect to the grazing use -- all or nothing.
2. The no action alternative to address noxious weeds is to "apply approved noxious weed control methods in an integrated weed management program" (EA at 3-19). Alternatives A, C, and D would adopt the same current program as Alternative B, without any evidence that the current program is effective. Alternative E would treat only limited infested areas to protect adjacent private property. Again, the BLM has evaluated only two alternatives -- all or nothing.
3. For water quality, Alternatives A through D do not differ in treatment of streams with water quality limited segments. 3-23. Alternatives A through D also allow activities to occur where water quality standards are not being met, so long as the uses allow progress toward attainment of water quality standards. 3-23. Alternative D adds "at the same or greater rate than if the use or activity were absent." This is not any different than the standard in Alternatives A through C. If uses would slow the rate of progress, then the uses would be contributing to lack of attainment of water quality standards, in dereliction of the BLM's obligations under the Clean Water Act.
Cumulative impacts must be discussed. 40 CFR 1508.25(a). Cumulative impact is the impact on the environment which results from the incremental impact of the action when added to other past, present, and reasonably foreseeable future actions regardless of what agency or person undertakes such other actions. Cumulative impacts can result from individually minor but collectively significant actions taking place over a period of time. 40 CFR 1508.7. Nowhere in the DEIS does the BLM assess the cumulative effects on resources of maintaining the existing grazing levels. Rather, in reliance upon "adaptive management," BLM merely sets out optimistic expectations and contingent plans. NEPA does not allow the agency to defer or avoid taking the requisite hard look now, before the decision is made. The fact that Alternatives A through D would allow maintenance of current grazing levels without any analysis of the cumulative effects of that decision is also representative of the shell game the BLM continues to play with regard to where it makes its grazing management decisions. Each new decision, at the planning levels all rely upon "adaptive management" at some later decision-making point. Where grazing levels are challenged at a finer scale, the BLM relies upon the RMPs to indicate that the grazing level has already been decided. Thus, the BLM cannot avoid its obligation to evaluate the cumulative effects of grazing in this DEIS.
The congressional intent of NEPA and CEQ regulations mandate consideration of all of these actions to provide a full and fair analysis of the proposed action. The draft EIS must address reasonably foreseeable significant impacts, even if information about them is unavailable. The draft EIS fails to appropriately evaluate reasonably foreseeable significant adverse effects. If the BLM's failure to address a subject comes from a lack of available information on the subject, NEPA requires the BLM to state such information is unavailable. 40 CFR 1502.22. Furthermore, if the BLM cannot obtain relevant information, it must at least include a summary of existing credible scientific evidence and the agency's evaluation of foreseeable impact based on theoretical approaches. 40 CFR 1502.22 (b).
The primary goal of the Draft Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan (the Plan) is "to develop management practices that ensure the long-term sustainability of healthy and productive land, consistent with principles of ecosystem management" (Chap. 1, p. 1). Other more specific objectives are to "restore, protect and enhance the diversity and distribution of desirable vegetation communities, including perennial native and desirable introduced plant species (Chap. 3, p. 16). Similarly, the objective for water resources and riparian/wetland areas is to "Ensure that surface water and groundwater influenced by BLM activities comply with or are making progress toward achieving State of Oregon water quality standards for beneficial use as established per stream by ODEQ" (Capt. 3, p. 23). These and other objectives presented in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) are commendable.
The purposes of the DEIS are also to describe the condition of BLM lands in the three resource areas and explain how they will be managed. The Plan, however, fails to do so in several important ways. It fails to describe the 6.3 million acres of planning area; it fails to discuss the major causes of degradation; and it fails to describe how the agency will manage these lands to achieve stated objectives. The following comments refer primarily to rangeland sections of the DEIS, but are also relevant to most of the other sections.
A. The BLM fails to disclose the assessment of acres suitable for livestock grazing. The BLM states in the DEIS that, within the 6.3 million acre planning area, 66,182 acres have been set apart from grazing allotments to improve or maintain resource values or because they were found unsuitable for livestock grazing. DEIS Table 2-18 at 2-59. Alternative A proposes allocating an additional 8,730 acres as not suitable or not available for livestock grazing. DEIS at 3-95. Alternatives C and D propose allocating an additional 8,836 acres as not suitable or not available for livestock grazing. Nowhere in the DEIS does the BLM reveal its criteria or assessment for its determination of which acres are not suitable for livestock grazing. Nor does the DEIS disclose the BLM's criteria, assessment, or determination of which acres are suitable for livestock grazing in violation of NEPA, FLPMA and the Taylor Grazing Act.
B. The BLM fails to determine which areas are "chiefly valuable" for grazing or forage before allocating those areas to grazing in violation of the Taylor Grazing Act, FLPMA, and NEPA.
C. The DEIS does not candidly or adequately describe the affected environment. Neither does it honestly discuss the causes of degraded conditions. Without a thorough discussion of the environment, neither the public nor decision makers can evaluate the adequacy of the management plans.
1. Soils (Chap.2, p. 10): The DEIS fails to adequately reveal the extent of degradation of the soils of the planning area. These soils suffer from compaction, erosion, reduced infiltration, and loss of fertility. The location, acreage, and causes of these degraded soils are either completely left out of the DEIS or minimized. Neither are the area and location of soils in good and excellent condition reported. All problems are attributed to uses 60-100 years ago, while current management practices were said to have "reduced erosion and begun the healing process". The DEIS must give evidence for these assertions since current management practices are known to degrade upland and riparian soils (see attached papers by Fleischner (1994), Belsky, Matzke, and Uselman (1999), and Belsky and Blumenthal (1997)). The DEIS must inform the reader how far current soil conditions deviate from their potential natural conditions, how far the healing process has gone, what specific activities led to the "healing", and how long managers anticipate it will take for these current activities to restore soils to normal function. Authors of the DEIS have to provide monitoring data to support their contention that the soils are improving. They've had since 1995 to collect and analyze these data, much of which are available on databases.
2. Microbiotic crusts (Chap.2, p. 10): microbiotic crusts are a major indicator of healthy rangelands. They stabilize the soil, fix nitrogen, increase soil fertility, increase growth of higher plants, and in some areas increase water infiltration into the soil. Except for one short paragraph, the DEIS ignores these biotic crusts, which are essential components of arid land ecosystems and major indicators of rangeland health. The excuse given for ignoring microbiotic crusts in the planning area was that there is little data on microbiotic crusts from the Northwest and that most studies have been taken from the Great Basin. These excuses are without foundation (see discussion and references in attached Comments on the Draft Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Plan (ICBEMP) by Joy Belsky, Oregon Natural Desert Association) or are irrelevant. Studies carried out in Texas showing the harmful effects of cigarette smoking do not have to be repeated in Arizona to be valid there. Idaho BLM experts on microbiotic crusts in the Northwest, Dr. Roger Rosentreter and Julie Kaltenecker of Boise BLM, and two scientific evaluations written for ICBEMP repeatedly stated that the microbiotic crusts of the ICBEMP planning areas must be actively managed by federal agencies and restored for the recovery of Northwest shrublands and grasslands. The DEIS must discuss the importance of the crusts, evaluate their current status over the entire planning area, give the causes of their degradation, and discuss concomitant losses of ecosystem function.
3. Rangeland Vegetation (Chap. 2, p. 13): the DEIS does not adequately describe the condition of the rangelands. We know from increases in weed cover, number of water quality limited streams, decline of native species such as pronghorn and sage grouse, high number of sensitive species, high shrub cover, and low native grass and forb productivity that the grasslands and shrublands of the planning area are in poor condition. But this was barely mentioned in the DEIS and not at all discussed in a way for the pubic to become fully aware of current problems. In addition, all environmental problems were attributed to past heavy use. The extent of rangeland degradation and the lack of adequate recovery over the 6.3 million acres of the planning area strongly point to current management as being the problem. So does the vast range science literature (see discussions and references in attached papers by Mack and Thompson (1982), Belsky (1996), and other attached papers). The numbers of acres reported for the different vegetation types in Table 2-4 does not inform those members of the public who are unfamiliar with high desert vegetation that a large portion of these communities are extremely degraded. The vegetation types that are obviously degraded (that is, obvious to those of us familiar with these communities) are big sagebrush/annual grasslands, annual grasslands, and rabbitbrush/annual grasslands (Chapt. 2, p. 15). They cover 17% (over 1,000,000 acres) of the planning area. This widespread loss of wildlife habitat and watershed integrity should have suggested to BLM that there are severe environmental problems in the planning area. In fact, this 17% is only the tip of the iceberg. The degraded conditions over the rest of the planning area were obfuscated or completely left out. Open and closed shrub communities, as well as big bunchgrass and Poa sandbergii communities, were combined in Table 2-4, giving no hint that most of these lands were in poor condition. Closed shrub and Poa sandbergii communities represent degraded conditions; open shrub and big bunchgrass communities represent healthier conditions. By combining the different communities, the true status of the rangelands were not disclosed. The authors of the DEIS clearly knew that the planning area was in much worse condition than stated the following information:
· In 1996 and 1997, ICBEMP scientific assessments and the ICBEMP DEIS reported that 70% of the rangelands in the Interior Columbia Basin were rated as having "low ecological integrity" and only 5% were rated as having "high ecological integrity". The BLM lands in SE Oregon are included in this assessment.
· The Annual Rangeland Report for Oregon and Washington for 1992 (Table 2, Range Condition, attached) reported that less than 1% of native grasslands and shrublands in eastern Oregon were in excellent condition; 69% were in unsatisfactory condition.
· Finally, a BLM report by BLM biologist Larry L. Walker in January, 1997 (Some Major Rangeland Potential Vegetation Types and the Community Classes in the Interior Columbia River basin and Northern Great Basin) indicates that over the ICBEMP planning area, approximately 15% of public rangelands are dominated to some extent by exotic weeds, that native perennial grasslands have declined from 17% to 3%, and that there had been major conversions of open shrublands to closed shrublands.
There is no excuse for the lack of disclosure of the extent of rangeland and soil degradation. Information for a complete analysis of the planning area was available to the DEIS planners. Of the 6.3 million acres of rangelands in the planning area, 85-90% have been mapped. The GIS Ecological Site Inventories that were started in 1976 give the condition of the vegetation and soils. The DEIS should not hide this information
4. Livestock: There is no discussion of the dominant large herbivores in the planning area - cattle and sheep. We are not informed about the number of these animals, the AUMs allocated to livestock in different areas, or how many livestock are currently grazing public lands compared to the past. Finally, we are not informed about the impacts on livestock on various plant community types or wildlife species. This information is critical for informed decisions since livestock grazing and trampling are the dominant forces degrading the shrublands, grasslands, streams, soils, and wildlife of the planning area (see attached papers and comments). No where is this disclosed.
1. Noxious weeds: Noxious weeds are a major threat to the health and sustainability of rangelands in the planning area; nevertheless, there is no description of the extent of weed infestations, how fast they are now spreading, what weeds are problematic, or the major causes of their spread. The rapid spread of exotic weeds in arid rangelands has been identified in the scientific literature as being due to (1) transportation of weed seeds into new regions and then throughout the landscape, (2) loss of vigorous native species that otherwise outcompete the weeds, (3) disturbance of the soil surface, creating a seed bed for weeds, (4) loss of the microbiotic crust, which prevents establishment of weed seeds, and (5) loss of soil mycorrhizae, which are essential for growth and vigor of native species, but not exotic weeds. There is an extensive scientific literature concluding that cattle and sheep are the major causes of weed introductions, loss of native plant vigor, and disturbances to the soil, microbiotic crust and mycorrhizae throughout the arid West (see attached ICBEMP comments by Joy Belsky and attached draft paper, Livestock Grazing is Primary Cause of Exotic Plant Invasions in Rangelands of the Intermountain West, by Jonathan L. Gelbard and Joy Belsky.). Where off-highway vehicle (OHV) use and off-trail hiking are extensive, they are also major causes of weed introductions and disturbance to the soils, microbiotic crust, and mycorrhizea. These factors must be discussed in the DEIS.
2. Vale Project: Because the plan includes the planting of non-native species such as crested wheatgrass, the DEIS must describe the costs, successes, and failures of the Vale Project. It must also disclose the acreage that will be planted to non-native species. This enormously expensive project permanently altered the flora and fauna over vast areas of BLM lands. What is being done to restore those lands, how will new non-native plantings differ from this project so that they are less destructive?
D. The DEIS contains few objective, numerical standards for management of the rangelands and their soils.
NEPA requires that resource management plans inform the public and decision makers how the resources will be managed in the future. Descriptions of these activities are called standards. These standards allow the public to determine whether the proposed management activities are effective, equitable, legal and non-destructive.
Unbelievably, there are no numerical, objective standards for the management of rangelands, fire, soils, and other resources in the DEIS. BLM personnel have identified five sections in the DEIS that they say present the standards: (1) Management Directives in Table 3-1; (2) Detailed Descriptions of Management Directives in Chapter 3; (3) Best Management Practices in Appendix O; (4) Standards for Rangeland Health and Guidelines for Grazing Management, in Appendix Q; and (5) Effects of Intensity and Season of Grazing in Appendix R. None of these sections contain numerical, descriptive standards. The following are a few typical "standards" from these sections:
1. The Management Directives given in Table 3-1 (Chapt. 3, p. 10-50) do not include objective, numerical standards.
· Fire: Stating that BLM will "provide an Appropriate Management Response on all wildfires" is not a standard. BLM managers and scientists have been working on this DEIS since 1995. During that time, they could have figured out Appropriate Management Responses for different vegetation types, seasons, and management areas instead of making the public guess what they might do.
· Rangeland vegetation: Stating that BLM will "maintain or restore natural values while providing for forage production" (Chapt. 3, p. 16) is neither a standard nor a directive. It tells us nothing on how the public lands will be managed. Most of the other directives, such as " Manage big sagebrush habitat to emphasize plant and animal community health at the landscape level", also fail to inform us how the land will be managed. Some directives are more descriptive and are closer to real standards, such as "Rest burned areas for one full year and through a second growing season, at a minimum, or until monitoring data indicate that desired vegetation has recovered to levels that are adequate to support and protect upland functions." This standard shows that the authors of the DEIS can write numerical standards when they want to. The DEIS needs to describe management activities, where they will be carried out, the acreage to be treated, and what will occur if the objectives are not met.
· Juniper management: Stating that BLM will "design treatments to enhance resource values and maintain commodity production by emphasizing treatments in riparian/wetland, etc." is not a standard. These treatments should have been designed before the DEIS was issued so that the public could be adequately informed. Since current livestock grazing is the major cause of the continued spread of juniper (see attached paper by Belsky (1996)), changes in livestock grazing must be included.
· Water resources and riparian/wetland areas: Statements such as "Consider uses and activities occurring in surface waters and their entire associated watershed, etc." are neither standards nor directives.
· Wildlife and wildlife habitat: Statements such as "Emphasize habitat management that highlights the requirements of communities of game and non-game birds" are not standards.
2. The "detailed descriptions of management directives" given for each alternative in Chapt. 3, p. 51-228, also provide no objective, numerical standards. A few examples from this section are given below:
· Rangeland vegetation: "Upland native rangeland communities would be managed to attain a trend toward desired future range of conditions (DRFC) based on management objectives and site potential". This so-called descriptions does not even hint at management activities. None of the other descriptions are any more informative.
· Weed management: Statements such as "The distribution and density of noxious weeds would be reduced through the application of approved control methods in an integrated program, etc." fails to inform the public what actions will be taken to control the weeds.
· Juniper: Statements such as "Juniper management would be implemented to maintain commodity production and enhance resource values" give not a hint of how juniper will be managed. Will they be logged, logged and left in place, logged and branches lopped, burned, grazed, etc.? Over what acreage?
· Wildlife and wildlife habitat: The "detailed description" of proposed wildlife management was "to manage for desired future habitat conditions that emphasize structure, forage, or other riparian habitat elements important to game and nongame species of wildlife". This contains no management information.
3. The section entitled Best Management Practices (Appendix O, p. 371) was referred to as management directives, but they also provide no objective, numerical standards for most management activities. They do suggest good management practices for road design and maintenance, but contain no directives for livestock grazing management, weed control, or other issues. For example:
· Livestock grazing management: This section only refers to the use of adaptive management to reduce resource management conflicts and achieve multiple use management objectives (see analysis of adaptive management below). There is no description of proposed management activities.
· Noxious weed management: This section suggests a few minor actions, such as contractors who move large equipment should clean their equipment before and after use on public land, and ranchers should consider the possibility of quarantining their livestock after use of weed infested areas. These BMPs are voluntary, will be ignored, and do nothing to stop the movement of weed seeds, damage to native grasses, disturbances to the soil surface, and disturbance of microbiotic crusts and soil mycorrhizae throughout rangelands. Without limiting the major factors disturbing soils and carrying seeds into rangelands, these BMPs are totally ineffective.
4. The section, Standards for Rangeland Health and Guidelines for Livestock Grazing Management for Public Lands in Oregon and Washington (Appendix Q, p. 389), also provides no objective, numerical standards. This document was prepared by Oregon and Washington Resource Advisory Councils (RACs), but it contains no clear standards or management directions to guide BLM personnel on land and resource management. BLM retains its responsibility of carrying out statutory responsibilities such as NEPA and the Taylor Grazing Act. Major problems with this section are as follows:
· Most of the document reads like a summary of an introductory range science text book and the objectives (not the standards) of every rangeland management plan that has ever been written. For example, the text states that "standards that address the physical components of rangeland ecosystems [must] focus on the roles and interactions of geology and landform, soil, climate, and water as they govern watershed function and soil stability". Someone should have explained the definition of 'standard' to the RACs! A few typical so-called standards follow:
1) Standard 1: Watershed Function - Uplands: this standard states that upland soils [must] exhibit infiltration and permeability rates, moisture storage and stability that are appropriate to soil, climate, and landform. This is a nice objective, but it is not a standard. Calling this a standard is especially perfidious since none of these variables is known for any of the soils, climates, and landforms in eastern Oregon. It is a good way to avoid any management since managers will never be able to determine appropriate rates and characteristics under all edaphic and climatic conditions. A true standard would have to give an infiltration rate in mm/sec (± SD) for all major soil types on all major landforms. It will take BLM years to establish appropriate infiltration and permeability rates, moisture storage, and stability for every vegetation and edaphic type. If the BLM has any intention of carrying this standard out, they need to inform us how they will do it.
2) Standard 2: Watershed Function - Riparian/Wetland Areas: this states that riparian/wetland areas must be in properly functioning condition appropriate to soil, climate, and landform. As above, this is not a standard. It is an objective. However, it is meaningless since we do not know what is the properly functioning condition appropriate to every combination of soils, climate, and landforms in the planning area. If the authors of the DEIS already know, than they are remiss in not presenting the information.
3) Standard 3: Ecological Processes: this states that healthy, productive, and diverse plant and animal populations and communities appropriate to soil, climate, and landform are supported by ecological processes of nutrient cycling, energy flow, and the hydrologic cycle. This is also not a standard. It is nice that the RAC members got an high school level introduction to range science, but they were supposed to be designing standards, not parroting old paradigms. Someone should be sued for wasting the time of the RAC members and the federal and state officials who were paid to be there.
· The RAC established "potential indicators" for each standard, but they are not true indicators. They are general characteristics of the habitat. Amount and distribution of plant litter and plant cover, soil organic matter, and thickness of the "A" horizon are characteristics of all plant communities and soils. They are not indicators of anything. Similarly, water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity are characteristics of all water bodies. A nose is a characteristic of a human. A red nose is an indicator of ill health.
· The Standards for Rangeland Health, etc., established by the RACs were also rendered meaningless by the insistence that all parts of the landscape be managed with site heterogeneity in mind. Soils, plant communities, and streams differ with soils, climates and landforms. The edaphic and biotic communities are so diverse that nearly every square meter of the 6.3 million acres of the planning area differ from every other square meter. If each meter, or acre, has to be managed differently, as suggested by the RACs, tens or hundreds of thousands of management directives must be determined. This will never happen. The DEIS effectively prevents any meaningful management since the proper functioning conditions for each combination of soil, climate, vegetation, and landform will never be known.
· Even the guidelines for livestock grazing management in the Standards for Rangeland Health are diffuse and only restatements of the objectives. Stating that management should not increase and spread noxious weeds is not giving a directive that managers can follow; neither is telling managers to maintain or restore plant communities to promote photosynthesis throughout the potential growing season.
5. The section, Effects of Intensity and Season of Grazing (Appendix R, p. 403-413), also presents no standards that guide managers or inform the public of actual management activities. It is once again a nice summary of a chapter on grazing systems in an introductory range science. But it doesn't inform us which of these systems will be used or what will happen if the method doesn't improve key characteristics (which are not defined).
E. Adaptive Management is poorly described and designed for failure.
The Plan frequently refers to adaptive management as the way most of the 6.3 million acres will be managed (Chapt. 3, p.4-5; p.96). Although the concept of adaptive management is well accepted because it provides flexibility and allows management to change as new information is discovered, it cannot, as in this Plan, be substituted for real descriptions of management activities. The authors of the DEIS are avoiding writing true standards by saying that management will be changed if monitoring indicates it necessary.
Adaptive management requires that well developed and statistically valid monitoring programs be in place to identify the positive and negative effects of management. This requires that initial conditions be known and quantified; that a sufficient number of samples be taken to identify significant changes; that the results of different management activities be compared; that a reasonable time-line be established so that management can be changed before the resource degrades; that the data be evaluated in a timely fashion; and that management be changed when indicated.
The DEIS doesn't provide for any of these actions. It simply says that resources will be monitored and changed. There are plenty of reasons for the public to be skeptical.
1. BLM has a long history of not doing required monitoring studies. In 1992, the General Accounting Office (GAO) issued a report (GAO/RCED-92-51) on rangeland management finding that Interior's monitoring program had fallen short of agency requirements (see attached Executive Summary). It found that required monitoring was not occurring on most grazing allotments; that BLM was not making decisions with the available monitoring data; and that grazing decisions were often not adequately documented. Insufficient funds and staff for time-consuming monitoring were the reasons given for the failure of BLM's monitoring programs.
2. The DEIS provides no monitoring data to support any of its assertions in the document. It is easy to conclude they have no well designed, statistically adequate monitoring program now. It is also easy to conclude that BLM managers in the three resource areas wouldn't know how to put one together.
3. In the past, funds for monitoring were often the first item to be eliminated from BLM budgets. Instead of halting all potentially damaging actions when monitoring funds were withheld, BLM continued with the activities. This gives the public little confidence that BLM managers are committed to monitoring and to stopping harmful activities.
According to US Forest Service scientist, Bruce Marcot (draft book chapter, attached), adaptive management has seldom been applied successfully or fully. He describes the following problems with adaptive management:
(a) Administrators seldom have the political will or explicit procedures for accepting new knowledge or for changing management activities;
(b) Managers are more concerned with the status of their careers than with the status of the land;
(c) Management options disappear before monitoring shows that a species has gone extinct or land has been degraded beyond repair;
(d) Indicator variables cannot be readily identified or measured,
(e) Monitoring may be so complex and costly that it cannot be completed with adequate sample sizes and intensity of study; and
(f) Objectives and expected effects are not clearly articulated and quantified.
There is nothing in the DEIS suggesting that these problems will not hamstring attempts at adaptive management in the planning region. (We are attaching selected references on adaptive management.)
In a discussion of adaptive management by Noss, et al. (Noss, F.R., M.A. O'Connell, and D. D. Murphy, 1997. The Science of Conservation Planning. Island Press, Washington D.C.), the authors concluded that "relatively few plans of any kind have well-developed and statistically valid monitoring programs. In few cases has monitoring been implemented adequately. In many cases recovery plans either lack monitoring programs altogether or have extremely vague requirements for how plans should be modified on the basis of data derived from monitoring. "Under these circumstances learning from experience in any rigorous way is impossible" (p. 134).
Adaptive management is effective but complex and expensive. It has to be well designed to withstand legal challenge. We are attaching an example of an adaptive management approach to establishing instream flows for spring chinook spawning. The DEIS has to include such detailed descriptions of how they plan to implement adaptive management to protect every resource in the planning area. The heterogeneity that the DEIS demands be attended to will make this implementation very difficult.
We fear that the loose description of adaptive management in a plan that presents no standards, no description of monitoring activities, no time-line, and no requirement that management be changed is just a crude attempt by BLM to guarantee that they can continue with current activities. There is nothing in the Plan that can assure us otherwise.
We ask that all harmful activities, such as livestock grazing, OHV use, spring development, etc. be stopped until meaningful monitoring programs are in place. If there is no monitoring using a credible, statistically reliable design, than activities harmful to the environment have to stop.
F. Conclusions and statements in DEIS are not supported by the best available science.
1. Livestock grazing #1: Statements in the DEIS finding current livestock activities to have led to the healing of the environment are not only unsupported with any kind of monitoring data or peer-reviewed papers, but they are rebutted by a large scientific literature. Although it is true that some livestock management activities are less harmful than others, only the complete elimination of livestock grazing can allow resources to fully recover (Belsky, Matzke, and Uselman 1999, attached).
2. Livestock grazing #2: The preferred alternative, as well as most of the other alternatives, does not include a reduction of livestock; still, the DEIS concludes that all rangelands, soils, and environmental problems will improve. There is no evidence given for these assertions. In fact, most range scientists conclude that streams and riparian zones must be rested for 2-15 years before they can begin to improve (Belsky, Matzke, and Uselman (1999), attached). Management schemes suggested in the DEIS such as altered season of use, deferred grazing, rest-rotation, etc. have not been successful at restoring damaged rangeland ecosystems without reductions of livestock (see attached comments on ICBEMP by Joy Belsky for detailed discussion of the problems with different grazing systems, season of use, etc. and references).
3. Wildlife: The DEIS say that "elk have been shown to prefer areas that sustain periodic livestock grazing to those that receive no livestock use over a long period of time". This statement cannot be substantiated by recent peer reviewed research, which shows that (1) elk avoid cattle; and (2) cattle reduce the amount of available forage by up to 90%. Elk may prefer less fibrous grasses after they have resprouted following livestock grazing, but this grazing is harmful to the grasses (see attached paper by Painter and Belsky (1993) and there is significantly less food for the elk.
4. Weed spread: The DEIS states that integrated weed management action would slow the spread of established stands of noxious weeds and reduce the establishment of infestations. This statement isn't supported by the literature (see attached paper by Gelbard and Belsky). Only reduction or removal of disturbances will reduce the spread of weeds.
G. The DEIS doesn't analyze cumulative effects.
The cumulative affects of livestock grazing, extensive OHV use, increased recreation, prescribed burning, etc. must be analyzed to determine cumulative effects of proposed management.
H. The costs and benefits of the different management alternatives have not been analyzed.
Continued high levels of grazing carries a financial cost to the public. These must be presented. The number of jobs created by different uses of the land, i.e. grazing vs. recreation, must be presented.
I. Proposed management will increase weed infestations.
The new White House Executive Order on Invasive Species (Feb. 3, 1999, attached) states that a Federal agency cannot carry out actions that it believes are likely to cause or promote the introduction or spread of invasive species in the United States or elsewhere unless, pursuant to the guidelines that it has prescribed, the agency has determined and made public its determination that the benefits of such actions clearly outweigh the potential harm caused by invasive species, (Section 2, (3).) Federal agencies must also (I) prevent the introduction of invasive species; (ii) detect and respond rapidly to and control populations of such species in a cost-effective and environmental sound manner; (iii) monitor invasive species populations accurately and reliably; (iv) provide for restoration of native species and habitat conditions in ecosystems that have been invaded; etc. (Section 2, (2)).
None of the alternatives in the DEIS are in compliance with this new act. By maintaining high levels of livestock grazing and OHV use over nearly the entire planning area, BLM is promoting the introduction of weeds; disturbance to soils, microbiotic crust, and mycorrhizae; and preventing the recovery to the soils and native plants necessary to halt this spread (see Gelbard and Belsky (draft) and Comments on ICBEMP by Joy Belsky).
J. The DEIS has one main purpose: to continue and facilitate livestock grazing on 6.3 million acres of public land.
The strong bias towards the livestock industry over all other uses and resource values are evident:
1. There seems to be a concentrated effort in the DEIS to hide this bias. In the summary comparison of Draft SEORMP/EIS alternatives (Table S-1, p. xv), livestock grazing was the only resource use not presented. Neither is the total number of AUMs in each alternative given anywhere. In fact, there were no changes in grazing intensity proposed for any of the alternatives except Alternative E, which is a sham alternative designed to be rejected.
2. The environmental impacts of grazing were never disclosed (see above).
3. In spite of the documented degradation by current levels of livestock grazing in the planning area, the only change in grazing in alternatives A-D was to increase livestock grazing by authorizing temporary nonrenewable grazing in areas not currently grazed.
4. Evaluation of the different alternatives (Chapter 4) states that livestock management in Alternative C will result in increased forage, with presents no evidence.
5. The DEIS says that current grazing levels will continue, even though they are causing significant environmental degradation.
6. All activities, such as reducing juniper woodlands, burning shrublands, developing springs, etc., are designed for one purpose: to increase forage for and sheep. All other species, including sensitive plant and animal species, would do much better without the livestock. In spite of this, less than 1% of the land base has been withdrawn from grazing.
7. In most of the large allotments, 95-99% of the available forage is set aside for livestock.
This isn't multiple use; it is livestock management.
K. Recommendations for a true conservation alternative:
1. All rangelands in poor or fair condition shall be withdrawn from livestock grazing until they have developed an adequate herbaceous layer and a healthy microbiotic crust.
2. All rangelands in excellent condition shall be permanently withdrawn from livestock grazing to allow baseline conditions to be studied and to act as a genetic reservoir of native species that are necessary for future reintroductions into degraded rangelands of the region.
3. All Temporary Non-Renewable permits shall be permanently withdrawn.
4. Rangelands shall only be replanted with native species.
5. Livestock grazing shall be terminated or otherwise reduced unless it can be shown that grazing does not cause the destruction of cryptobiotic crust or retard the restoration of cryptobiotic crust.
6. Livestock grazing shall be terminated or otherwise reduced unless it can be shown that grazing does not cause or contribute to the spread of invasive weeds.
7. Whenever adequate monitoring is not carried out, or evaluation of the monitoring cannot take place within a year of data collection, or managers are unwilling to change management directions based on these data, then livestock grazing must be immediately terminated.
8. Fires shall not be fought in WSAs or special management areas.
9. Prescribed burning shall occur in the summer, when wildfires normally occur.
10. Bulldozers and other large equipment that has the ability to disturb the soil and cause new invasions of weeds shall be avoided during fire fighting unless property or human lives are at stake,
11. Burned areas must be rested from livestock grazing and other activities for at least 10 years following a fire.
12. Livestock grazing will be allowed only where it has been found to be suitable and the lands chiefly valuable for livestock grazing.
13. No grazing shall be allowed in Special Recreation Management Areas.
14. True standards having a definite time line shall be incorporated. The following are examples of simple but numerical standards that must be included in a conservation alternative:
Upland Rangeland Community Standards (derived from Desired Range of Future Conditions for Alternative 4, ICBEMP DEIS, Chapter 3, pp. 29-35)
In dry grass potential vegetation group, 60-80% of the area is dominated by large native perennial bunchgrasses and forbs without conifer and shrub encroachment. (See "meeting standard" below.)
In dry shrub potential vegetation group, 50-70% of the area in this group is dominated by large native perennial bunchgrasses and forbs with an open shrub canopy; 10-25% is dominated by native bunchgrass and forb communities without shrubs. (See "meeting standard" below.)
In cool shrub potential vegetation group, 60-80% of the area is dominated by large native perennial bunchgrasses and forbs with an open shrub canopy; 15-40% contains mixtures of perennial bunchgrasses and forbs without shrubs. (See "meeting standard" below.)
Meeting standard: If community or allotment is meeting standard, continue present management. If not meeting standard, determine if adequate progress is being made toward meeting the standard. "Adequate" progress is defined as progress that is detectable at a statistical significance level of P<0.15. If progress is not adequate, adjust grazing management (see "substandards", below).
If progress towards standards is not adequate, grazing during grass-stem elongation (boot to flower) should occur no more frequently than once out of any three consecutive years and utilization should not exceed 30% at any time. If these criteria do not lead to improvement within five years, than grazing during stem elongation will be eliminated. If there is still no progress (within three years), than area shall be closed to grazing.
Standards during Droughts:
If water-year precipitation falls to <70% of average annual precipitation by start of, or during, authorized period of grazing, then area will be closed to grazing.
If water-year precipitation falls to <85% average for three consecutive years, then area will be closed to grazing.
Riparian Community Standards (the following are derived from OR, WA, and ID's criteria used for listing waterbodies as water quality limited (303(d)) and CRITFC Technical Report 94-4, Dec. 1994, by J.J. Rhodes, D.A. McCullough, and F.A. Espinosa, Jr. For greater explanation of the following standards, see Rhodes, et al. 1994.)
Standard #1: Surface fine sediment levels must on average be < 20%, sediment delivery must average <20% over natural, and cobble embeddedness must average <30%; 90% of streambanks must be stable; temperatures must be <64oF (<56 oF during times of salmon spawning and fry emergence); and existing state and federal water quality standards for toxics, turbidity, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, and other parameters mist be met.
Meeting standard. If stream is meeting standards, continue present management. If not meeting standards, on-going activities that cause the problems will be suspended and no new activities initiated until conditions meet standards or a statistically significant (p<0.10) improving trend over at least 5 years is documented through monitoring and total sediment delivery from anthropogenic sources is <20% over natural.
Standard #2: Livestock will be restricted from access to spawning reaches during and after the spawning season.
Standard #3: Grazing will be eliminated from environments where it is clearly incompatible with protection of aquatic resources. (For example, grazing in wet meadows with fine-grained, non-cohesive soils and little woody bank vegetation almost always leads to stream damage.)
Standard #4: After degraded conditions have improved to the standards discussed in Standard #1 above, grazing must be tightly controlled and closely monitored. If monitoring show that conditions are beginning to deteriorate (at a significance level of p<0.4), than grazing must be reduced or eliminated. (See Rhodes, et al. 1994 for discussion of significance levels.)
There are 35 water quality limited stream segments within the SEORMP's planning area. Nineteen of these streams fail to meet water quality standards along their entire length (mouth to headwaters). In almost every one of these streams or stream segments, livestock grazing is known to contribute significantly, if not exclusively, to water quality problems. Meanwhile, on p. 4-45 of the SEORMP, the BLM writes, "Grazing schedules and actions associated with authorizing livestock use would be developed or revised through the adaptive management process where determined not to be consistent with accepted riparian and water quality standards and practices."
Given the current state of water quality in Southeast Oregon, "adaptive management" is not enough. The BLM already has the data it needs to revise grazing schedules and actions; the BLM already knows the details of the relationship between livestock grazing and non-point source water pollution. The evidence linking domestic grazing to riparian degradation and water quality problems is overwhelming and conclusive. Why the BLM finds it necessary to side-step this well-established connection by hiding behind vague references to future implementation of adaptive management, is beyond us. We urge the BLM to include in its final SEORMP specific directives to achieve water quality standards as rapidly as possible. More often than not, this will entail removing cows from riparian areas.
On p. 3-23 of the SEORMP, in its detailed discussion of the alternatives, the BLM says of Alternative C, regarding Water Resources and Riparian/Wetland Areas, "Where state water quality standards are not being met due to management on BLM-administered land, management activities and uses could occur in its associated watershed if they allow progress toward the attainment of State water quality standards." Again, this is inadequate. The BLM is obliged under INFISH to go beyond "allow[ing] progress toward the attainment of...standards;" instead, the BLM is directed to "not retard attainment" of these standards. The distinction between "allow progress" and "shall not retard" is significant. There are many management activities that may allow progress toward attainment of water quality standards over time, but these same activities may actually delay the attainment of standards when compared with alternative methods, such as removing livestock from riparian areas. Clearly, the BLM is obliged to maximize the speed with which water quality standards are met.
Study after peer-reviewed scientific study tells us that the removal of streamside grazing pressures is the fastest, most effective method for the timely attainment of water quality standards. If the BLM finds itself without the political will to mandate the removal of livestock from the beds and banks of water quality limited streams, the agency may also find itself in violation of the federal standards and guidelines it is mandated to meet and uphold. On behalf of American taxpayers, the BLM must hold itself to the highest possible standard when it comes to improving the currently pathetic state of water quality in Southeast Oregon.
The BLM's optimism with respect to fish and aquatic habitat will never cease to amaze us. On p. 4-63 of the SEORMP, the agency states in its conclusion of the environmental consequences of Alternative C (regarding Fish and Aquatic Habitat), "The fish objective would be met. Short-term impacts may result from several surface-disturbing management activities, but most of these impacts could be minimized or eliminated through mitigation." The fact that this "environmental impact statement" makes no effort to analyze, let alone describe, what these surface-disturbing activities might consist of, is alarming. Even more distressing to us is the SEORMP's flip and casual reference to mitigation of aquatic habitat disturbances. The SEORMP fails completely in its efforts to adequately assess the plan's impacts on fish habitat, and what, if anything, the BLM plans to do to prevent the demise of native fish populations throughout the planning area.
We would like to see concrete evidence of how the BLM intends to recover at-risk fish populations and how the agency plans to prevent the demise of currently healthy populations. Vague allusions to mitigation and proper management are wholly inadequate.
The Catlow Conservation Agreement management direction explained in Appendix T is nothing more than an attempt to satisfy NEPA obligations post facto because the BLM has already signed the Conservation Agreement. Moreover, the public is not properly on notice that the scope of the RMP would include a detailed decision on where to build a
particular fence. Finally, the BLM already has decided to build the Lauserica fence and Stephens Fence extension (EA-OR-026-98-033), rendering the NEPA discussion in this DEIS a thinly veiled attempt to cure the failure to comply with NEPA prior to making its final decision.
The SEORMP fails to meet agency and Endangered Species Act objectives for Special Status Animal Species. Guidance set forth in the BLM manual at section 6840 emphasizes the agency objective to conserve special status animal species. The BLM manual is presently going through its first major revision since 1988, and although the revised manual is not yet completed, a significant evolving trend should be more fully emphasized
in the EIS. Jeff Aardahl, endangered plant and animal species contact person in the D.C. BLM office, stated in a phone conversation on February 17, 1999 that one of the most overreaching changes in the new manual will be an increased emphasis on BLM's duty to conserve. For federally-listed species, this duty to conserve is set forth at section 7(a)(1) of the ESA. This section epitomizes congressional intent to institutionalize caution and infuse agency decision-making with an obligation to consider the needs of specific species. The ESA provides an unqualified mandate requiring attention to micro-level requirements of individual species.
Unfortunately, Alternative C fails to provide adequate attention to the specific requirements of individual species. The management objective related to special status animal species for Alternative C is to "[e]mphasize management that fosters plant/animal community health, habitat integrity, and landscape-level issue resolution rather than emphasizing the requirements of individual species". (DEIS at 3-27). Failure to recognize, emphasize, and manage for the specific needs of individual special status animal species contradicts evolving guidance on the agency's duty to conserve, and is not in accordance with the requirements of the ESA.
Section 7 of the ESA also requires that the BLM consult on the action of adopting the SEORMP. Such consultation must occur before a decision is made and any modifications of the selected alternative must be disclosed to the public and the public given an opportunity to comment on the modifications, in accordance with NEPA.
The SEORMP fails to analyze and disclose the impacts on California bighorn sheep of all management alternatives. The DEIS says that no licensed sheep grazing permits overlap with bighorn range, DEIS at 2-55, but map WLDF-2 shows a significant amount of bighorn sheep range and domestic sheep range as "overlapping." The DEIS acknowledges that domestic sheep carry a bacteria called Pasteurella that is pathogenic to bighorn sheep, DEIS at 2-55, but it says nothing about BLM internal guidance requires the physical separation of the species, by something in the order of 15 miles, to ensure that ranging bighorn rams do not have physical contact with domestic sheep and then die or, even worst, return the herd to spread the bacteria. The FEIS should fully explain this relationship and analyze and disclose eliminating domestic sheep grazing in actual and potential bighorn sheep habitat. Moreover, the DEIS should fully evaluate and disclose whether the BLM may or should allow domestic sheep grazing in potential bighorn sheep range.
1. Sage Grouse Status and Distribution
The distribution of western sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in western North America has been reduced since at least 1900 with extirpation of populations at the periphery of the historic range. Sage grouse no longer occur in Arizona, British Columbia, Kansas, Nebraska, New Mexico, and Oklahoma and have reduced distribution within the remainder of their original range. The historic population size of sage grouse is unknown anywhere in western North America. Populations are known to have decreased, especially since at least 1950. Recent (1980 to present) declines are estimated to be in the range of thirty-five to eighty percent. The present size of the breeding population is estimated to exceed 140,000 individuals scattered in two Canadian provinces and eleven western states. (C. Braun, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Historic and Present Distribution/Status of Sage Grouse in North America, Western Sage Grouse Status Conference, Boise, Idaho, 14 January 1999).
2. Sage Grouse Population Viability
Factors that are important in maintaining viable sage grouse populations include size of area, quality of habitat, potential interchange (corridors), genetic diversity, and number of breeding individuals. Although 500 individuals in a breeding population may be adequate to avoid genetic drift, managers need to understand that in sage grouse populations most individuals do not breed. Consequently, a viable population for sage grouse is believed to be at least 1,000 birds, based on estimates of productivity, survival recruitment, male mating success, and male:female sex ratio. (M. Schroeder, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Population Viability and Conservation Planning for Sage Grouse, Western Sage Grouse Status Conference, Boise, Idaho, 14 January 1999). The long-term problems with small populations have been illustrated by research on greater prairie-chickens (Tympanuchus cupido) in Illinois. Because the breeding population remained below 500 for a period of at least 35 years, they were faced with declining genetic heterogeneity and productivity (Westemeier et al., 1998, Tracking and long-term decline and recovery of an isolated population, Science 282: 1695-1698).
3. Sage Grouse Habitat Requirements
Sage grouse use different seasonal habitats throughout the year, and many sage grouse populations are migratory and birds may move 100 km or more between seasonal ranges. The breeding range contains leks and provides habitat for nesting and early brood rearing. Nesting habitat has two major components: the sagebrush overstory and a grass/forb understory. Generally, a 15-25% canopy cover of sagebrush and similar canopy cover of herbaceous plants with an average height of at least 18 cm provides adequate nesting habitat. Early brood rearing habitat is occupied by hens with broods until the chicks reach 6-8 weeks of age. Its components are similar to that of nesting habitat but abundant insects are also necessary for chick survival.
Usually when chicks are 6-8 weeks old the hen begins a movement to summer range. This seasonal habitat consists of an interspersion of forb-rich areas and stands of sagebrush. Forb-rich areas are often agricultural fields, wet meadows or riparian areas.
Good winter range provides sage grouse with access to sagebrush under all snow conditions. Sage grouse only eat sagebrush during the winter and often use relatively open habitats with 10-25% sagebrush canopy cover and an average height of 25-35 cm above the snow.
The quality and quantity of breeding and winter habitat have declined during the 1980's and 1990's because of prolonged drought, fires and agricultural development. Vast areas that were once sagebrush/bunchgrass habitats are now dominated by cheatgrass with little or no sagebrush overstory making population recovery difficult. (J. Connelly, Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Population Ecology and Habitat Needs, Western Sage Grouse Status Conference, Boise, Idaho, 14 January 1999).
4. Status of Sage Grouse in the Draft SEORMP/EIS
The sage grouse is a Bureau of Land Management sensitive species, and the Draft SEORMP/EIS acknowledges the BLM's responsibility to manage the grouse accordingly. (Draft 2-50). Under each alternative, the sage grouse is grouped with other Special Status species and vague but limited rules are laid out for their management. This is regrettable as it lacks aspiration for habitat improvement. The current planning process represents a premier opportunity to assess and adjust past habitat management and prescribe new ecosystem management strategies. Given their extensive range in southeast Oregon (the sage grouse is a documented breeder in the Andrews, Malheur and Jordan districts (Draft 2-50), and their importance to the ecosystem (sage grouse are considered a "keystone species" (Scutro, The Last Dance of the Sage Grouse, 7 Boise Weekly 32: 14), the Draft should elevate the sage grouse to a special management or indicator species equal to the California bighorn sheep. The new designation would bolster sage grouse populations and provide better opportunities for agency staff, university researchers, and the public to monitor the effects of system-wide impacts on sage grouse, including livestock grazing, fire suppression, invasive species, agriculture, development and mining.
5. Sage Grouse Habitat Management under the Draft SEORMP/EIS
Under each of Alternatives A, B, and C, the authors suggest that "[a]ll Special Status species habitats or populations would be managed so that BLM actions would not contribute toward the need to list the species as Federally threatened or endangered." (Draft 3-89). The Draft also acknowledges that sage grouse populations in the planning area are declining. (Draft v2 320). Given the extensive areas and variety of habitats needed to sustain sage grouse, it is unlikely that current/prescribed levels of livestock grazing under the Draft will allow the sage grouse to recover. Sage grouse require the same early-, mid-, and late-stage big sagebrush habitat that are ravaged by livestock grazing (see Draft 2-42). As noted above, the best nesting and rearing habitat must contain grasses and forbs at least 18 cm high, vibrant insect life, and untrammeled sagebrush for cover. Unless grazing practices are drastically revised, livestock grazing will continue to degrade these habitats, and a listing under the Endangered Species Act will be inevitable. (see Scutro, The Last Dance of the Sage Grouse, 7 Boise Weekly 32: 14).
Off-Highway Vehicle use in Oregon is on the rise. On p. 327 of the SEORMP's Appendices, the BLM predicts an increase in OHV use of at least 200% over the next 20 years in Oregon. The SEORMP offers a great opportunity to pro-actively address the complex issue of OHV use, especially as motorized backcountry recreation becomes increasingly prevalent and controversial. But instead of taking advantage of this unique opportunity, the BLM has shirked its duty to protect wildlife habitat by designating a mere 22,000 acres as closed to OHV use. That's less than 1% of the 6.3 million acre planning area.
Open OHV use is simply incompatible with the BLM's stated objective of properly functioning ecosystems. OHVs are known to: disturb wildlife in all habitat types, including ground-nesting birds, reptiles, young animals, and ungulates such as deer; compact and alter soil structure, sometimes leading to a 90% loss of soil moisture -- a loss arid lands can ill-afford; and compromise the recreational experience of anyone within ear-shot of an OHV.
We urge the BLM to revisit its OHV policy. Specifically, we request that the final SEORMP reflect the following changes:
· All areas should be closed OHVs, unless posted open. The BLM lacks the resources to patrol and monitor the 99% of the planning area that, under the current draft SEORMP, is designated as either "open" or "limited" OHV usage.
· All vehicle routes should be classified as "designated," rather than "existing." This will hopefully provide the BLM with more control over the use of OHV areas, and allow for better oversight and monitoring.
· Do not cooperate in the organization of OHV events. This is an absurd and destructive use of public funds; the BLM is in no position to spend its very limited resources on planning events that benefit a minute subset of the public -- particularly when this subset is engaged in an activity that gravely threatens a resource belonging equally to 260 million Americans.
· OHVs should be restricted to small areas. No more than 1% of the planning area should be open to OHV use.
The Federal Lands Policy and Management Act specifically prohibits unnecessary and undue degradation of our national lands. To open 99% of the SEORMP's planning area to unsupervised OHV use will clearly lead to unnecessary and undue damage to a sensitive ecosystem characterized by fragile soils. Oregon's sage-steppe community is no place for OHVs to run rampant. The Vale and Burns Districts must learn from their colleagues in Utah and elsewhere; catering blindly to OHV special interest groups will only lead to compromised wildlife populations, degraded habitat, and violated environmental laws.
Alternative C would recommend that a mere 43 river miles be added to the federal Wild and Scenic River System. Meanwhile, the BLM's own assessments and inventories of potential wild and scenic rivers resulted in a list totaling 289 river miles. We urge the BLM to recommend that each of these 289 river miles be added to the Wild and Scenic River System. The streams and stream segments represented here enjoy virtually no formal protection at the present time, and without WSR designation, many of them are at continued risk of riparian degradation, water pollution, and dewatering. As it stands, many of these waterways are struggling to support healthy fish populations and other aquatic and riparian-dependent species.
BLM's own inventories indicate that these river miles are suitable for inclusion in the WSR system. What stands between their being eligible or ineligible for inclusion is the BLM's recommendation. We hope the agency can find the will to recommend all 289 river miles - a small fraction of the planning area's total river mileage - as Wild and Scenic Rivers.
1. General Comments
Sadly, the BLM's track record with respect to managing wilderness areas and wilderness study areas (WSAs) is not a proven one -- far from it, in fact. The BLM in Oregon has virtually no experience in wilderness area management, so it should come as little surprise that the agency is ill-equipped -- in terms of both resources and internal philosophy -- to manage lands for wilderness values. Like the U.S. Forest Service, the BLM came of age in a context of "multiple use," and in the United States, multiple use has always been pursued at the expense of wilderness values.
It's quite likely that the only way to improve the BLM's wilderness management skills is to do so legislatively -- to change the agency's mandate in such a way that the BLM no longer feels compelled to graze WSAs and other special management areas into a state of near-oblivion. But such a shift in management priorities lies beyond the scope of the SEORMP.
2. Monitoring of WSAs
The Draft SEORMP contains no evidence that the BLM has conducted any monitoring or environmental analysis of WSAs. We urge the BLM to ensure that such an analysis is included in the Final SEORMP.
3. Grazing in WSAs
Something that does lay squarely within the scope of the SEORMP is the manner in which the BLM deals with livestock grazing inside WSAs. As has been pointed out earlier in these comments, the SEORMP's preferred alternative would not lead to the removal of one head of cattle from 10,000 square miles of BLM lands in Southeast Oregon. The choice to forgo an opportunity to actually improve the ecological condition of these lands -- especially those acres within WSAs -- is inexcusable for the following reasons:
Perhaps we'd be less disturbed if the inequities between wilderness values and livestock grazing weren't quite so vast. If the BLM had allocated, for example, 50% of its Burns and Vale Districts to livestock grazing, maybe we could understand the agency's choice to leave livestock numbers completely unchanged. However, according to Table 2-18 (SEORMP, p. 2-59), the BLM has allocated 98.95% of the Burns and Vale Districts to livestock grazing -- including WSAs. This means that wilderness values are bound to be compromised by the sheer ubiquity of domestic livestock distributed across this arid corner of the state. We've seen evidence of this for decades.
WSAs are lands of national significance, not only because of their potential for inclusion in the federal wilderness system, but also because they represent some of the last vestiges of roadless wildlands and intact wildlife habitat left in the United States. These same lands are being compromised by livestock grazing, and that the draft SEORMP makes no attempt to improve this status quo is baffling. Thus, we urge the BLM to adopt an alternative in its final SEORMP that adequately addresses grazing pressures within WSAs; specifically, we request that:
4. Off-Highway Vehicles in WSAs
Off-highway vehicles (OHVs) should be prohibited from use within WSAs. Please see our comments specifically regarding OHVs for more details.
5. Lands Adjacent to Wilderness Study Areas
We support the BLM in its recommendation that lands adjacent to WSAs be acquired and annexed to existing WSAs. We urge the BLM to continue acquiring lands that it has identified as possessing wilderness qualities. The best scientific data tells us that "size does matter;" the agency will be far more effective in its efforts to manage for wilderness values when WSAs are expanded to accommodate wildlife and natural ecosystem functions. The studies of conservation biology and biogeography indicate that larger, contiguous tracts of protected wildlands are more capable of supporting healthy ecosystems.
We request that the BLM continue to aggressively acquire and annex non-federal lands, and that the Burns and Vale Districts actively identify additional parcels for future acquisition. Many state and private inholdings within the planning area are highly vulnerable to a range of threats, including but not limited to: livestock grazing, mineral exploitation, water quality violations, and ORV use. Pro-active acquisition by the BLM is the best way to begin the process of securing meaningful protection for these lands.
6. Restoration and Reclamation within WSAs
Thanks in large part to livestock grazing, many WSAs are degraded or home to human-made structures, such as fences and off-stream water developments. We urge the BLM to generate a list of restoration/reclamation priorities for WSAs within the planning area, and to actively pursue ecological rehabilitation of these areas. Such restoration activities should include removing permanent structures and returning said WSAs to a "primitive" state in anticipation of these areas' inclusion in the federal wilderness system. WSA restoration goals should be addressed in the SEORMP planning process.
7. WSA Release Language
We support the BLM's decision to continue to apply Visual Resource and ORV classes to lands that are released from wilderness consideration. However, we request that similar release language be drafted for mineral and energy exploration and development. Mining's impacts are at least as devastating as those of ORVs; if BLM's objective is to extend protection to areas that are recognized as possessing special, valuable qualities, regardless of their wilderness status or lack thereof, then an extension of ORV and Visual Resource release language to energy and mineral exploration and development is clearly a logical next step, and one that is in the best interest of those lands released from wilderness consideration.
8. Wilderness Reinventory
A decade has passed since the last time BLM inventoried its roadless lands in eastern Oregon. The time has come for the agency to conduct a reinventory of these lands. Such an inventory, which is provided for in the Federal Lands Policy and Management Act (Section 202), should exclude those areas already designated as WSAs and focus instead on other lands that were overlooked or deemed ineligible during the first inventory.
It is crucial that any wilderness re-inventory also assess newly acquired state and/or private inholdings. During BLM's original wilderness inventory, some potential WSAs were deemed ineligible due to management issues resulting from large private inholdings. In situations where those inholdings have since been acquired, BLM must reconsider the eligibility of those lands as WSAs. We are confident that the BLM may be able to identify additional lands that should be protected under the Interim Management Policy (IMP).
As Vale and Burns District staff are undoubtedly aware, the BLM recently completed a wilderness re-inventory in Utah. The result of this effort was a significant increase in the number of acres the BLM will recommend for wilderness status. In Utah, the BLM contracted with a team of experts from outside the agency. We recommend a similar arrangement here in Oregon. By employing outside experts, we feel the re-inventory report might stand a better chance of being honest and unbiased; we understand that it can be challenging for BLM personnel residing within the district(s) to render a candid opinion about increasing WSA acreage.
We are firmly opposed to the BLM's proposal to construct the Lauserica and Stephens fences through Home Creek and South Fork of the Donner und Blitzen WSAs. These projects will result in about 20 miles of new fences, located squarely within WSAs. These structures will drastically alter the natural character of these WSAs, and as such, may be in violation of the BLM's own Interim Management Policy.
We strongly object to the construction of these fences, and urge the BLM to abandon its plans to erect them. If the purpose of the fences is to facilitate the management of livestock within the WSAs, then we must question the overall compatibility of domestic grazing within these WSAs; that is, if the agency cannot adequately manage cattle grazing within the Home Creek and South Fork of the Donner und Blitzen WSAs, then the obvious, reasonable solution should be the removal of livestock, not the construction of fences. We implore the BLM to exercise a modicum of common sense in this situation.
Finally, we are compelled to question why, in a massive planning document rife with generalities, sweeping statements, and vague management "directives," one of the few instances where the agency decides to offer specific details about its preferred alternative appears on p. 3-27 of the SEORMP; here, juxtaposed against such general statements as, "Emphasize management that fosters plant/animal community health...," is a paragraph about the construction of two specific fences. While we are vehemently opposed to the construction of fences in WSAs (and the Lauserica and Stephens fences in particular), we only wish the BLM had seen fit to apply the same level of detail to the rest of the SEORMP.
We commend the BLM for its recognition of the Steens Mountain area as a place of significant value to the American public, and we support the agency in its efforts to manage Steens for its wilderness and recreational values. We are also pleased to see that the BLM has proposed to add over 28,000 acres to the Steens Mountain Area of Critical Environmental Concern.
However, the proposed Steens Mountain National Conservation Area as outlined in Alternative C fails to truly protect this remarkable area. We request that the BLM develop a detailed plan to manage increasing recreational activity and protect the natural values which make the mountain and its environs an extraordinary place. Specifically, we urge the BLM to:
While we recognize the BLM has made some strides by recommending, in Alternative C, the withdrawal of lands in the Steens NCA from mineral entry, the rationale behind the recommendation is incompletely reasoned at best and disingenuous at worst. On p. 4-149 of SEORMP, the BLM states, "[The withdrawal of lands from mineral entry and leasing] eliminates the possibility of surface-disturbing activities, which would infringe on natural values. It would also maintain opportunities for solitude." If the agency's goal is to truly prevent the infringement of natural values and maintain opportunities for solitude, then the BLM will need to do much more than simply withdraw lands from mineral entry and leasing.
Livestock grazing, not mining, is the primary threat to both natural values and recreational values on Steens. To address the currently non-existent threat of mining on Steens while completely ignoring the impacts of domestic cattle is beyond cowardly; it is unacceptable. We urge the BLM to eliminate the only real "surface-disturbing activity" on Steens: livestock grazing.
In the SEORMP's conclusion regarding the environmental consequences of a Steens NCA as outlined in Alternative C, the BLM states, "The designation of Steens Mountain as an NCA would determine long-term management direction and establish a clear approach and balance of resource conservation and carefully planned compatible uses (p. 4-149)." With all due respect, this is hog wash. The SEORMP's NCA proposal in no way, shape, or form determines or establishes anything approximating a "clear approach" or "careful planning." It merely reduces the specter of a threat (mining) that is predicted to exist at some undetermined point in the future; current, serious threats (livestock grazing, recreation overuse) are entirely overlooked.
Finally, we must ask whether the SEORMP's reference to "compatible uses" can be taken at all seriously. As the BLM is undoubtedly aware, the evidence supporting the incompatibility of livestock grazing with Steens' ecological/natural values is overwhelming. We wonder if the BLM is prepared to eliminate livestock from its Steens NCA based on this proven incompatibility, or whether the agency intends to manipulate the term "compatible" to its own ends.
The Burns District has its crown jewel: Steens Mountain. The Vale District also has a crown jewel: The Owyhee Canyonlands. While the Owyhee area does not enjoy the same level of visitorship or degree of recognition as the Steens area, it is without question one of the most splendid, remarkable natural areas in the western United States. When a mainstream publication like "Sunset" magazine calls for an area's protection (in this case, national park designation), you know you've got something special on your hands.
Above and beyond the Owyhee Canyonlands' exquisite beauty lies its habitat and wilderness values. Here are some of the largest contiguous roadless lands in the continental U.S. Here, also, is excellent habitat for Bighorn sheep, Western sage grouse, and raptors. Here are some of the most rugged, remote wildlands, offering a degree of solitude found in very few other places.
We urge the BLM to consider a national designation for the Owyhee Canyonlands. As in the case of Steens Mountain, such a consideration must weigh the range of proposals carefully. These proposals, like those for Steens Mountain, include an NCA, national park, and national monument. The BLM is truly fortunate to have such gems as Steens and Owyhee in its custody; we hope the agency will rise to the challenge of protecting these unique, spectacular areas, and that it will do so in ways that are protective of natural values and considerate of the 260 million Americans who co-own these landscapes.
Incremental military expansion is occurring in airspace over wild lands throughout the West, from Colorado to Arizona to the Enhanced Training in Idaho (ETI) Bombing Range. The ETI proposal directly affects public lands in the Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon. New, louder and nastier planes and training activities are occurring in wild lands removed from population centers where the rural residents, outdoor recreationists, and wildlife bear the brunt of impacts from these activities. In this context, BLM cannot continue to ignore its management responsibilities under NEPA and FLPMA, as has occurred in the Draft SEORMP.
An extraordinary number of Military Training Routes (MTRs) and Military Operating Areas (MOAs) exist in southeast Oregon. MTRS are low-level or access flight pathways through an area, where "aircraft commonly operate at altitudes from 500 to 1000 feet". ETI EIS 1-36. For example, low level overflight occurs along the route MTR VR-316, 319 over the Steens. MOAs are broader areas of special-use airspace, where varying types of training activities Which include air-to-air combat tactics, and intermittent supersonic flight occur. ETI EIS p. 1-33. The Paradise and Saddle MOAs in southeastern Oregon include large portions of the airspace over southeastern Oregon public lands. Supersonic activity, and use of flares and chaff spread over a wide area, occurs in the Paradise MOA in the Owyhee Canyonlands of southeast Oregon.
BLM's own Summary of Recommendations and Findings of April 17, 1998 on consequences of the ETI EIS states:
In the SEORMP, BLM has completely failed to:
1. Characterize, describe and quantify the increases in military use over
southeast Oregon public lands since its last planning process.
2. Assess impacts of increases and expansions on these public lands.
3. Take measures and develop strategies to ensure that ORVs of WSRs are not being degraded.
4. Analyze whether opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation in WSAs continue to exist.
5. Track levels of existing litter, pollution and annoyance from military activities.
6. Assess impacts on sensitive wildlife species (including sage grouse, California bighorn sheep, migratory songbirds and bats) inhabiting public lands, and which are subject to escalating military activity.
7. Determine means to minimize negative effects of military training activities in southeast Oregon over the life of this plan.
8. Aggressively pursue minimizing negative effects - through MOUs or legal action if necessary.
For example, instead of burying its head in the sand and ignoring the whole array of military training impacts in its development of the SEORMP, BLM should have actively acquired data on past, current, and predicted military activities, and assessed direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of military training activities on vegetation, wildlife, water quality, recreational use, and cultural resources on public lands. Following reasoned analysis, BLM should seek MOUs or other agreement with the Air Force, and/or assert its legal duties under FLPMA, to cease use of chaff, flares, supersonic flight over areas with critical wildlife resources, or specially designated management areas - such as WSRs, where recreation is a high priority. BLM must also institute adequate monitoring of overflights and military activities, so that deleterious activities can be curtailed before significant environmental harm occurs.
Our members who use public lands for recreational, spiritual and aesthetic purposes are annoyed, and our recreational experiences are destroyed by loud plane noises, a sky filled with a sea of contrails, and chaff particles littering the earth. We are concerned about pollution and health risks associated with exposure to military training activities while we are recreating in southeast Oregon.
The open high desert sage-steppe and canyonland country of southeast Oregon is a landscape where the intrusion of military and civilian overflights is maximized. Recreational experience of the rich scenery, wildlife, vegetation and cultural resources is impaired by intrusive noise and overflights. Above the canyons on the plateaus it is possible to see hundreds or thousands of square miles of open landscape. Overflights and training activities are particularly intrusive here.
Into this wildland setting, the Air Force in the AFI and ETI proposal has interjected composite force training ( multiple warplanes of multiple types) of up to 85 or more different warplanes maneuvering throughout designated Military Operations Areas (MOAs). Composite force air campaigns would proceed in intensely orchestrated waves of attack two or three times a day for three to five days a month. Composite wing training
activities will result in almost 1000 sonic booms a year down to 10,000 ft. Above Ground Level (AGL) in a 3.2 million acre training complex over southern Idaho, northern Nevada, and eastern Oregon. Eastern Oregon lands -- including the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River, and several WSAs -- will be subject to management guidance under the SEORMP. These lands will be, and are being, significantly affected by military training activities.
Pre-composite wing training activities in this 3.2 million acre training complex averaged two sonic booms per month above 30,000 ft AGL.
Composite force training deposits up to 100,000 bundles of aluminum-coated fiberglass chaff litter per year throughout the MOAs, with each bundle containing between 500,000 and 3 million fibers. Incendiary flares are ignited throughout the MOA. Each flare discharge may deposit up to two ounces of metal debris onto public lands and waters. Flares may also start wildfires in remote areas. A recent Air Force plane crash near the West Little Owyhee River resulted in significant disturbance to soil and vegetation associated with salvage activities.
There are serious potential and real environmental impacts from military training activities -- including effects on wildlife, wilderness study areas, and recreational use in the region. The Paradise MOA lies in the area defined as ETI "Region of Influence 3" in the AFI EIS. The SEORMP fails to acknowledge this, Oregon BLM failed to even provide comments on the ETI proposal. Oregon BLM has fled from any analysis of impacts of the ETI as a reasonably foreseeable event-- (now mandated by Congress), and ongoing activities of composite force training authorized in the AFI EIS.
Increased overflight and noise, including sonic boom activity, together with chaff and flare use, will cause stress to wildlife populations, including sage grouse and bighorn sheep. Wildlife responses to aircraft overflight include: Various fright reactions (panic, fleeing), which vary with species, season, reproductive status, previous exposure to aircraft, aircraft type, distance from the aircraft, and other factors.
Low altitude flight such as occurs in some southeast Oregon MTRs, could cause wildlife to avoid the disturbed areas; sensitive wildlife can be affected adversely by low flying aircraft, particularly at times when they are sensitive to disturbance.
In the Special Nevada Report of September 23, 1991, the Air Force as a co-author stated: "Possible effects of aircraft activities that concern wildlife biologists include sound pressures generated by sonic booms, and death of embryos after panic causing abandonment of the colony or physical damage to eggs. "Also, "it is reasonable to assume that for wildlife populations, negative effects are correlated with the intensity and frequency of noise events. Special Nevada Report at 8-47, -55.
"Major areas of uncertainty with regards to generalized noise effects on wildlife include: 1) the effects of long-term exposure to moderate or intermittent noise; 2) the probability that wild animals experience the same adverse physiological effects as laboratory animals , and the ecological consequences of adverse physiological changes, masking (interference with signal communication and detection), and altering behavioral patterns. (EPA, 1980).
The BLM failed to even identify these areas of concern in development of the SEORMP.
Species such as bighorn sheep and sage grouse require a finely tuned ecological balance. The high number of military sorties, sonic booms, and composite force exercises planned annually could effect Oregon populations of sensitive and rare wildlife species.
The AFI EIS, though sweeping a wide array of public concerns under the rug, does admit: "increased use of military airspace could result in startle effects on some species sensitive to noise [including] bighorn sheep, "more overflights would pass over sensitive areas", and "some increased incidence of solitude or loss of primitive recreation locations along the [MTRs] would occur". The Air Force has not adopted any formal mitigation measures to prevent or reduce adverse noise impacts in Oregon. The Air Force continues to use a faulty NOISEMAP analysis for determining noise levels over wildlands. This model applies HUD guidelines for noise in urban settings as standards for noise over public lands. The Air Force ignores peak or episodic noise annoyances and thresholds, and averages sound over periods of time.
The Air Force itself is well aware that the models it uses to further its plans for activities in southeast Oregon are flawed. The 1996 Final Report on "Requirements Analysis for Noise" from the U.S. Air Force Human Systems Center, Environmental Planning Directorate, Brooks AFB, Texas states: "Because training operations may overfly lands used for outdoor recreation, the Air Force requires the ability to predict the effects of aircraft noise on the outdoor recreationist ...today ... no useful quantitative information of any kind exists." AF analyses are particularly untrue for wildland settings, and other sensitive environments, where "startle effect" and "loss of solitude" are important considerations. The AFI EIS states: "The startle effect and loss of solitude at primitive recreation locations would increase and may present a threat during recreational activities."
Chaff may be used throughout the Paradise MOAs in eastern Oregon. Our members have found chaff littering the ground within the Owyhee Wild and Scenic River corridor. (K. Fite, pers. comm.).
There are important land management policy considerations and conflicts concerning military use of chaff on public lands. BLM has reported that "[c]haff is being dropped on public lands without authorization." BLM, Final Report: Military Use of Public Lands Workshop - March 4 &5, 1997 at 19 (May 1997). According to the BLM, chaff is litter and BLM has recommended several measures in this Report including:
1. Establish policy guidance that states: The droppings of nonbiodegradable chaff on nonwithdrawn lands constitutes littering and potential public health, safety and environmental hazards and will not be authorized.
2. Notify the services that the disposal of nonbiodegradable chaff on public lands is limited to withdrawals consistent with that use.
The 1998 GAO report on chaff, prepared at the request of Senator Reid of Nevada, states about the military's own studies: "Studies carried out by DOD and others, including some carried out years ago, continue to create questions in the public's mind about the health and environmental effects of chaff... 9 of the 10 reports [reviewed by GAO] cited gaps in information on potential effects. Six of the nine made no recommendations but cited missing data, suggested additional studies on long-term monitoring, or cited possible long-term chronic effects."
BLM fails to even mention chaff use in southeast Oregon, let alone address the substantial concerns with chaff use and resultant contamination of public lands, and its impact upon wildland settings, including WSAs, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and other areas with special recreational or wildlife values.
The cavalier attitude taken by the AF in the AFI EIS and ETI EIS (both subjects of various legal challenges) can not be carried forward by BLM. The Air Force in the AFI admits: "impacts associated with military overflights on these specific lands include noise, visual intrusion, and potential impacts to air quality".
The BLM must prepare an adequate assessment of direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of military training activities in southeast Oregon.
Recreationists, already subject to exotic vegetation following in the wake of overgrazing -- such as the whitetop in the Owyhee River WSR, and who must often camp in the stench and unpleasantness of livestock waste here, also are being subject to visual marring of scenery with contrails, and aural intrusion of sonic and subsonic activity while recreating in the Owyhee WSR corridor and associated WSAs. The end result can only be a highly degraded recreational experience. Military training and other overflights will have cumulative impacts to recreational milieu of southeastern Oregon public lands.
The cumulative, possibly synergistic, effect of all the potential stresses on wildlife and potential impacts to recreational users must be assessed. Wildlife -- subject to stresses caused by expanded military training and overflight activity -- plus having to cope with ongoing degradation and destruction of habitat caused by livestock grazing - are also being dealt a double blow. It is necessary that the BLM analyze the most prudent management policy towards livestock grazing, to reduce the weight of cumulative impacts to wildlife populations. BLM must fully analyze elimination of livestock grazing from those areas of high wildlife and recreational value subject to impacts from military training.
Further, BLM must, as part of its planning process, develop long-term monitoring of impacts to recreational users. BLM must work to avoid or minimize impacts of military training and overflights to public lands. For example, prohibit chaff releases to prevent accumulation in water bodies within sensitive wildlife habitat, special recreational areas, and monitor accumulation which does occur.
Increased numbers of sorties, or large-scale training exercises which will result over a broad area of public lands as a consequence of ETI will increase the incidence of startle effect and loss of solitude at primitive recreational locations along training routes. BLM has ignored every aspect of this in development of the SEORMP as a long-term plan. BLM has shirked its duties as stewards of these public lands. BLM has failed to protect lands under FLPMA, and the nonimpairment mandate. BLM proceeds to allow impairing activities to occur.
The IMP determination must be made by first ensuring that an activity conforms to the existing management and framework plan for the affected area. BLM must also review the proposed activity through an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement to determine whether it will be nonimpairing and to ensure that approval of such activity will not create a situation in which the cumulative effect of existing uses and the new proposed uses would impair the suitability of the area for designation as wilderness. NEPA documentation for a proposed activity in a WSA must consider under the nonimpairment standard whether: "the addition of this proposal produces an aggregate effect upon the area's wilderness characteristics and values that would constrain the Secretary's recommendation with respect to the area's suitability or nonsuitability for preservation as wilderness." 44 Fed. Reg. At 72023.
The AFI proposal, amplified by ETI, results in multiple warplanes (between 50 and 80) flying at supersonic speeds down to 10,000 ft. AGL and dropping hot flares, firing debris and chaff over and on to WSA lands and waters. Pre-composite-wing activities consisted of subsonic training overflights of two to four aircraft or less with no chaff, flares, debris dropping. There has been no valid assessment of overflight and other activities of past and ongoing AFI activities, and new ETI actions on southeastern Oregon public lands. BLM has also shirked its NEPA and FLPMA obligations in additional ways: Unique ACEC Resources must also be considered, and conflicts between military activities and the WSAs, ACECs, and other areas must be addressed.
A complete analysis of the concerns raised above must be included in SEORMP FEIS sections including Air Resources, Recreation, Special Management Areas, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources. Changes must be made to SEORMP alternatives which reflect this analysis.
The DEIS states that "Zone 1" land contain significant visual, wildlife, watershed, vegetative, cultural and other public resource values, thus they have been identified for retention in public ownership. App-337. Yet, the DEIS would allow land within Zone 1 to be exchanged for other Zone 1 land with "higher" resource values. App-337. Public land within Zone 1 should be retained. If private land within Zone 1 should be acquired, the BLM should do so without disposing of very important Zone 1 land, regardless of their relative values. The DEIS also states that private land within Zone 1 represents potential acquisition priorities. This does not go far enough. Rather than sitting back and waiting for potential acquisition or land exchanges to present themselves, the BLM should take an affirmative approach to acquire these important and critical lands.
The DEIS is insufficient as a NEPA analysis and disclosure document for any revision to the management plan for the Donner und Blitzen WSR or the Owyhee WSR. The DEIS states that four wild and scenic rivers exist within the planning area, and that they are currently "managed according to approved management plans." DEIS 2-71. However, two of the four management plans -- for the Donner und Blitzen and Owyhee WSRs -- have been determined by federal district courts as inadequate under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. As you know, the BLM is currently enjoined from authorizing grazing on public lands along the Donner und Blitzen WSR unless and until the BLM revises the existing plan to fully comply with WSRA. Further, the Owyhee WSR will be reviewed by the court for injunctive relief on March 16, 1999. The Owyhee WSR court decision (ONDA v. Singleton) was rendered on November 3, 1998, three days subsequent to the release of the Draft SEORMP/EIS. Thus, the SEORMP necessarily fails to address the court's specific concerns with the Owyhee WSR Management Plan. The court concluded that "the BLM has violated the WSRA by adopting a management plan which fails to consider whether cattle grazing is consistent with the river's ORVs." Opinion at 28. It is now incumbent upon the BLM to issue another DEIS for the Owyhee WSR that fully addresses the court's order.
It appears that the BLM intends to issue a ROD for the Andrews Resource Area (or another ROD) that revises the Donner und Blitzen WSR management plan by adopting any of the alternatives in the DEIS. DEIS at 2-71. However, the BLM will still be in violation of WSRA and NEPA, because the DEIS fails to perform the analysis and provide the disclosure required under NEPA for such a management plan, and no analyzed alternative adequately complies with WSRA.
The DEIS is in part wrong. The outstandingly remarkable values of the Donner und Blitzen WSR are not limited to those stated at DEIS at 2-71 but, rather, the river's values include riparian and upland vegetation. Compare DEIS 2-71 with DEIS 2-75. The foremost existing report that we are aware of on the status and trends of riparian plants and plant communities along the river is Vander Schaaf, et al. (1991). However, the BLM should collect the data to fully analyze and disclose the condition and trends to the plants and plant communities surveyed prior to that report.
Regarding alternatives, Alternative A cannot be implemented for the Donner und Blitzen WSR. It contemplates reclassifying the Riddle Ranch area from "wild" to "recreational," we presume to facilitate motorized vehicular use and other resource uses. DEIS at 3-39. However, Congress classified the entirety of the Little Blitzen River as "wild" when it designated that segment as a part of the Donner und Blitzen WSR. The BLM may choose to "recommend" the reclassification of that segment, but unless and until Congress alone reclassifies the segment, it remains classified as "wild," and the BLM is required by law to "administer" it as such.
Regarding the adequacy of NEPA analysis and disclosure, the DEIS is inadequate under NEPA as a programmatic for the Donner und Blitzen WSR and Owyhee WSR because it is far too geographically broad and completely lacks the analysis, consideration, and disclosure required in an EIS for a river management plan or its revision. In particular, the BLM has had two successive seasons since the federal court enjoined grazing on public lands along the Donner und Blitzen WSR, and will have one more before the FEIS is performed and a ROD can be issued, during which the BLM should affirmatively gather the data necessary to inform itself and the public of the ramifications of alternative management strategies for the river. Indeed, the DEIS discloses that for certain areas, "data is currently too incomplete to make an accurate assessment" of riparian conditions. DEIS App. N at 360. Reviewing such data gaps in the EA prepared for the Owyhee WSR management plan, the Oregon federal court held that that violates NEPA, because the BLM cannot make affirmative management decisions in compliance with substantive federal law when it doesn't know the condition or trends of the lands it intends to manage.
Similarly, the DEIS states that all riparian sites along the river must have "adequate cover and height of vegetation along the banks and overflow zones to promote natural stream functions," DEIS App. N. at 361, but fails to analyze or disclose what adequate cover and height might be.
The DEIS states that the BLM intends to employ adaptive management strategies including timing, seasons of use, intensity, and frequency, DEIS App. N at 361, but fails to analyze or disclose what any of those broad parameters might or does mean along the river itself.
The DEIS acknowledges that mountain sagebrush are a part of the Donner und Blitzen WSR, and that many are "stressed, dead, or dying," DEIS App. N. at 361, but fails to analyze or disclose anything about the casual relationship between livestock grazing and the mountain sagebrush and its condition.
For the Blitzen Pasture, the DEIS discloses "guidelines" specific to each alternative that prescribe management options that fail to directly restore or protect and enhance the river's values. DEIS App. N at 363, First, alternative C fails to state where the proposed fences would be located. Second, alternative C fails to define what "early season" means. Third, the DEIS fails to analyze or disclose whether "trailing" will or will not inhibit the benefits of full rest or exclusion. Fourth, the DEIS fails to analyze or disclose the range of naturally high water, or whether a proposed three-inch flood zone might reveal or disclose anything about a natural hydrological cycle. Fifth, the DEIS fails to analyze or disclose what "median stubble height" means; it fails to analyze or disclose what the "most palatable species" in the Blitzen Pasture are; it fails to analyze or disclose what relationship there might be between "median stubble height" and the "most palatable species" in the pasture and, if there is any relationship, how any such plant species will be fully protected and enhanced by a standard such a stubble height, and how any other plant species will fare.
For the Little Blitzen Meadows of the Fish Creek/Big Indian Allotment, the DEIS acknowledges that some young and seedling trees are "developing," but fails to analyze or disclose whether that it due to the rest of the meadows from prolonged cattle grazing. DEIS App. N at 364. Alt B for the pasture discusses utilization standards, but the standards are too general and unspecified to restore the vegetation in the pasture, and the DEIS fails to disclose any relationship between the standards and the particular vegetation in the pasture. Alt. C discusses stubble height and a flooding zone of three inches, but fails to analyze or disclose any relationship between stubble height and the plants and plant communities that exist in the pasture, the origin of a three-inch flood zone as an appropriate management standard, or whether there is any relationship between a three-inch "flooding zone" and the natural hydrological flow and fully protected and enhanced values in the Little Blitzen River.
The analysis, consideration, and disclosure on water quality issues on the Donner und Blitzen WSR is inadequate. The DEIS acknowledges that federal law requires the BLM to meet state water quality standards. DEIS 2-30. And the DEIS acknowledges that at least the South Fork Blitzen and Little Blitzen are "water quality limited" for the parameter of temperature. But the DEIS fails to consider and disclose that the designation of a stream as "water quality limited" means that techniques such as "best management practices" have been determined to be inadequate to achieve water quality standards. Rather, for these streams, the BLM must consider, analyze, and disclose new and proven management techniques to restore water quality, including the rest of riparian pastures until streams achieve standards.
Thank you for your thoughtful consideration of our comments on the Draft Southeast Oregon Resource Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement.
enc. Appendices (via regular mail)