Though politics may delay and water down the final plans of the Interior Columbia Basin Management Project, the science documenting the condition of the basin is strong and available.
In late December, the scientists
working on the project released Status of the Interior Columbia
Basin: Summary of Scientific Findings, described by its writers as
a readable synopsis of the region's current ecological, social and
Illustrated by charts, maps
and color photographs, the 144-page report depicts a landscape that
has been dramatically altered by human settlement over the past 150
years. Among the findings:
* More than half of
the national forests, rangelands and rivers in the Northwest - with
the exception of wilderness areas, parks and remote canyon lands -
are badly wounded from an ecological
* Major river systems are choked
with sediment, harming fish habitat and killing
* 128,000 miles of dirt and gravel roads
traverse the region, serving as conduits for sediment-laced runoff
and exotic plants.
* Highly effective
fire-suppression efforts have snuffed out the historically cyclical
influence of wildfire, creating in many places a tinderbox ready to
* Noxious weeds and non-native grasses,
spread by roads and cattle grazing, have smothered millions of
acres of rangelands.
Though it stops short of
specific suggestions, the report's conclusion favors "aggressively
restoring ecosystem health through actively managing resources."
Without such decisive action, habitat for endangered species will
decline, noxious weeds will spread farther, and intense forest
fires will increase, it says.
say they are disappointed by the report's lack of specific
recommendations, but pleased with its thrust. "It confirms what
we've been saying," says Pat Ford of the Northern Rockies Campaign.
"The healthiest areas in terms of ecological integrity are the
wilderness areas and the millions of acres of surrounding roadless
Ford, who is based in Boise, Idaho,
says he is also pleased the scientific team concluded that the
economic health of the region depends on the ecological health of
the forests and
"There's no doubt
that some communities are dependent on logging," says Ford. "But
overall it is the quality of life that drives the region's
economics. That is the basis for the recreation and tourism
industries and the reason many new businesses want to locate here."
For a free copy of the report, write the
Pacific Northwest Research Station, 333 SW First Ave., P.O. Box
3890, Portland, OR 97208-3890, or call the Interior Columbia Basin
Ecosystem Management Project at
" Paul Larmer,