Wednesday, February 22, 2012

BLM Revises Resource Plan: A look at Areas of Critical Environmental Concern

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is revising its Resource Management Plan for approximately 428,425 surface acres in northeastern Oregon and southeastern Washington. In order to make the best decisions for the future of these northeast Oregon BLM lands, they must be viewed in the larger context of our Public lands including the Wallowa-Whitman, Malheur, and Umatilla National Forests, and other conservation lands such as Tribal lands as well.

One of the important areas that will be impacted by this plan revision is the “Areas of Critical Environmental Concern” (ACEC). ACECs are “areas within the BLM public lands where special management attention is required to protect and prevent irreparable damage to important historic, cultural, or scenic values, fish and wildlife resources, or other natural systems or processes, or to protect life and safety from natural hazards.” This plan revision will determine how existing ACECs are managed and if new ones are established. HCPC will be working to protect these vital conservation lands and to protect new areas worthy of designation.

Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs

The BLM land that comprises the Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs is part of an incredible conservation landscape that is still being fully realized. The various federal and state agencies, Tribal lands, private landowners, and NGO’s involved in protecting this area is very impressive and testifies to the region-wide importance of this area (see map below). For the BLMs part, they have done a good job of establishing ACECs in this important area and increasing the size of the Grande Ronde River ACEC from 9,715 acres when designated, to its current size of 16,958 acres.

The Joseph Creek ACEC (mapped in bright green) was established to protect the natural riparian plant communities of Joseph Creek, and to protect wildlife habitat, high scenic qualities, and outstanding geologic system values for education and recreational purposes. The Grande Ronde ACEC (mapped in dark red) was established to protect the area’s unique natural, scenic, geological, ecological, and cultural resource values, and to protect wildlife habitat and enhance recreation opportunities. Geologic system values (i.e., regional uplift and forced entrenchment of the river) of the Goosenecks National Natural Landmark ( are also protected and included within this ACEC.

The Grande Ronde and Joseph Creek ACECs provide protection of a well-connected hydrological system that is in good condition and supports ESA listed fish; Chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout. As the map illustrates above, the Grande Ronde ACEC overlaps a large portion of the Grande Ronde Wild and Scenic River including lands within the Grande Ronde Roadless Area. This ACEC also helps to enhance connectivity between the Wenaha River as it flows from the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness Area, and Joseph Creek and the Snake River. The Joseph Creek ACEC provides a direct link to the Nez Perce Precious Lands (mapped in bright red) which are managed for a very high conservation purpose including no livestock grazing. The Precious Lands tie in with other BLM lands on Joseph Creek and with the over 40,000 acre Joseph Canyon Roadless Area on Forest Service managed Public Land (mapped in yellow). The Joseph Canyon Roadless Area is the largest “unprotected” core habitat area remaining in this area. Moreover, the Nez Perce Precious Lands also form a bridge connecting to the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, and the extensive roadless wildlands therein.

The Joseph Creek and Grande Ronde ACECs play a vital connectivity role in linking these priceless wildlands. It is important that the BLM increases protection for these incredible ACECs through the ongoing Resource Management Plan revisions.

post by David Mildrexler, Ecosystem Conservation Coordinator, HCPC

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