Interpreting Environmental Documents

Cover of the BLM Draft Environmental Assessment for East Travel Management Plan.

blm ea

For the past several weeks, there has been an advertisement in the Island Park News encouraging people to participate in the process for the new proposed Bureau of Land Management (BLM) travel management plan for Eastern Idaho. The BLM is accepting public comments on the proposal. The comment period is typically 30 days, and in this case should have closed on May 5th. However, the BLM has extended the comment period. “The Bureau of Land Management prepared an environmental analysis for a proposed travel management plan in the Upper Snake Field Office. The BLM seeks input through July 10, 2023 on proposed alternatives and resource analysis. This will assist the BLM in identifying appropriate areas for motorized and non-motorized recreation.”

This column can serve as a heads up—if you are interested in this topic, you should read the Draft EA and comment on the proposals—but when you download the document and your eyes begin to glaze over at just the thought of reading 253 pages of governmenteze, it might be useful to understand what you are looking at and how to navigate it. Here is a simplified version of the process.

First, this is the draft environmental assessment or DEA. It is not the first step in the process. The process begins when the BLM (or Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service or other federal agency) determines, based on current plans in place, that there is a purpose and need for the proposed action. Teams of specialists convene and discuss the current situation and potential problems and solutions. That is followed by a scoping period where the agency basically presents the purpose and need to the public and requests input so the agency can then formulate the environmental assessment—the current step in the process. If the issues are large enough, an Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, will be prepared, with significantly more effort involved.

At some point, a draft EA is completed. Inside that DEA is a lot of information that the agency has considered. Some of this information includes direction from current planning documents such as a Resource Management Plan or a Forest Plan. Anything proposed in the DEA must comply with the existing plans. Other agencies will have also been consulted and their comments, when appropriate, included in the document. There will also be a lot of definitions, descriptions of different segments of property and the resources that they contain. The objective is how to best utilize and protect the resource in question.

Using all this information, several scenarios are developed, usually called alternatives. Typically, Alternative A is the, No Action alternative. It states that there will be no changes to the current situation. This is seldom a viable option because a purpose and need for the action has already been determined. Alternatives B, C and even D are differing iterations of the action—the action being what is being addressed—in this case, motorized and non-motorized travel on existing roads. Under the different “action” alternatives, diverse scenarios are presented. This is what an interested public will want to carefully review and comment on. Usually there is a preferred alternative, the one that the agency believes best meets the needs of the resource and the public, and without input from the public, this is the one that they will select to implement.

Once comments are received, cataloged and reviewed, the EA team addresses each and every comment (or groups of similar comments). Each one will receive a response in the final EA as to how that comment was implemented or why the comment was not pertinent or has already been addressed and where.

After the comment period, the alternatives may be changed to reflect the comments. If the changes aren’t huge, the final EA will be developed and the alternative that best addresses the issues, both from the public and from the agency itself, will be selected and finalized. Sometimes, if the changes are significant, a second round of a draft EA may be published with another comment period.

This is a BLM project and ONLY affects BLM holdings. This does not influence access on Forest Service or Idaho Department of Lands properties. The Bureau of Land Management can only make rules for properties that it is responsible for. Of the nearly 2.8 million acres in the planning area, only five percent, or 126,378 acres, is BLM land and subject to this proposed travel plan.

Next time I will give you some more tips on how to navigate through the document and how to make meaningful comments.

Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho