Scoping and baseline studies are activities that are undertaken at early stages in an environmental impact assessment (EIA). It is difficult to overemphasize the importance of these activities since the success of an EIA will depend largely upon how well they are conducted. Scoping refers to the process of identifying, from a broad range of potential problems, a number of priority issues to be addressed by an EIA. In other words, it is an attempt to focus the assessment on a manageable number of important questions. Baseline studies, in turn, are designed to provide information on the issues and questions raised during the scoping exercise.
The importance attached to both scoping and baseline studies arises from the fact that environmental assessments are almost always conducted under serious limitations of time and resources. Any priority-setting activity, therefore, should improve efficiency and provide a more focused product for decision makers. In this paper, scoping and baseline studies are discussed mainly with respect to biological components. It should be stressed, however, that similar considerations relate equally to other environmental attributes.
The term scoping has recently appeared on the environmental impact assessment scene as a result of the 1979 regulations under the US National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which require lead agencies to undertake ‘an early and open process for determining the scope of issues to be addressed and for identifying the significant issues related to a proposed action’ (Council on Environmental Quality 1980). The agencies should achieve this objective through careful consideration of existing information relevant to the assessment as well as the organized involvement of other agencies and consultations with the general public.
This is a somewhat belated recognition of the need to establish clearly the focal point for an assessment at the outset; failure to do so severely limits the probability of obtaining useful and credible results. Scoping, in effect, provides