The Bureau of Land Management's Western Oregon Plan Revisions comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement officially came to a close at midnight, Jan. 11. This effort generated a lot of interest. In fact, we received 2,000 comments through the new interactive Web forum, 7,000 through e-mail, 16,000 letters forwarded to us by the conservation community, 2,000 postcards and 2,300 letters — for a grand total of approximately 29,500 comments.

The Bureau of Land Management's Western Oregon Plan Revisions comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement officially came to a close at midnight, Jan. 11. This effort generated a lot of interest. In fact, we received 2,000 comments through the new interactive Web forum, 7,000 through e-mail, 16,000 letters forwarded to us by the conservation community, 2,000 postcards and 2,300 letters — for a grand total of approximately 29,500 comments.

This planning effort, covering 2.5 million acres in Western Oregon, has been the result of the most detailed and comprehensive analysis ever completed on these BLM-managed lands in Western Oregon. The analysis that we used was supported by the latest biological studies, updated resource data, and new modeling tools used to facilitate rational decision-making.

Throughout this process we made a concerted effort to meet early and often with our formal cooperators. These included federal agencies, the state of Oregon, and county governments. We also worked closely with the public in the preparation of the analysis. During the planning process, we held 170 meetings with a variety of groups, organizations, and public officials. Representatives of the Coquille Indian Tribe sat at the table with the BLM steering committee because the management of their tribal forest lands is legislatively tied to the management of surrounding public lands.

While this process is not a vote-counting exercise, it is the process that we use to get a better understanding about the public's concerns and thoughts regarding the draft plan. To that extent, I want to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who submitted comments and especially to those who took the time to carefully examine the 1,672-page document and submit detailed comments and suggestions. These comments will help us improve the analysis of impacts and make better decisions at the end of the planning process.

It should come as no surprise that we received a wide array of comments. We heard everything from —¦ Don't cut any more old growth trees" to —¦ Produce more timber to support our local mills" and everything in between. No matter what the comment is, this information is important because it helps us understand the needs and desires of our neighbors and focus our decisions on the issues that matter to Oregonians.

Our job now is to bear down and work through these comments to craft a final plan that fully realizes that balance between timber production and species protection. This will be a challenging and time-consuming process, and I am confident that we are up to the task. Our interdisciplinary team comprised of scientists, planners, and other specialists will be working hard to evaluate information provided and make necessary changes to the analysis over the next few months. In some cases, we may be working closely with those agencies that provided substantive comments, and especially with our Federal regulatory agency partners.

With the improved analysis, we'll be better equipped to produce a Proposed Resource Management Plan and Final Environmental Impact Statement this summer.

No matter what the final plan looks like, we remain committed to interagency involvement in this plan revision effort, and whatever our final decisions may be, the revised plans will comply with all applicable federal laws including the O&C Lands Act of 1937, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act.

Edward W. Shepard is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's state director for Oregon and Washington.