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Know the West

Ice Bump survives congressional ax

  For the second year running, the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem Management Project (ICBEMP, or Ice Bump) has survived an attempt on its life in the U.S. Congress.

The plan is the federal government's most ambitious ecosystem management plan ever, covering 72 million acres of public lands sprawling across seven states. The $40 million environmental impact statement (EIS) took five years and has produced as much criticism as answers (HCN, 11/23/98).

Critics representing timber, ranching and local governments say it relies on "one-size-fits-all prescriptions' and fails to provide certainty to industries, while environmentalists say it strays from scientific findings on a wide range of issues.

In September, Northwest Republican lawmakers attached riders to appropriations budgets that would have ended the program, shifting management responsibility to local BLM and Forest Service offices. The Republicans appeared to have the votes, but as public support continued for Clinton despite "Monica-gate," emboldened administration officials said President Clinton would veto the appropriations bill if the ICBEMP rider remained. Congress blinked.

But Northwest Republicans also received assurances from Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt and Agriculture Secretary Glickman that ICBEMP would respond to congressional concerns. Issues that are local, such as management of species that occur in limited areas, will be kicked down to the local planning offices. However, regional issues like salmon and steelhead protection and forest health will be decided at the regional level, though, "we're leaving specifics of how you get to outcomes to the people on the ground," says ICBEMP spokesman Andy Brunelle. The new approach will be spelled out in a supplemental EIS due in 2000.

Will the changes satisfy critics? "This may be one of those issues where you still leave people less than happy," says Brunelle.

* Chris Carrel