[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 22 (Friday, February 1, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 7391-7393]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-02199]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Motorized Travel Management Plan, Tonto National Forest; Gila, 
Maricopa, Pinal, and Counties, AZ

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

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SUMMARY: The Tonto National Forest will prepare an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) to disclose the effects of designating a system of 
roads, trails, and areas for motorized vehicle use, thereby developing 
a motorized travel management plan. Such a plan is needed to meet 
National travel management regulations and to improve the management 
and enforcement of motor vehicle use on National Forest Service lands. 
This notice describes the components to be included in the motorized 
travel plan, proposed forest plan amendment, decisions to be made, 
estimated dates pertaining to the project, information concerning 
public participation, and the responsible agency official. The project 
area is defined by the boundaries of the Tonto National Forest, and 
includes the Cave Creek, Globe, Mesa, Payson, Pleasant Valley, and 
Tonto Basin ranger districts.

DATES: Written comments to be considered in the preparation of the 
draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) should be submitted on or 
before March 4, 2013. The DEIS is expected to be published in June 
2013. The final environmental impact statement (FEIS) and record of 
decision (ROD) is expected to be available by November 2013.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Neil Bosworth, Forest Supervisor, 
ATTN: Travel Management, 2324 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85006. 
Comments may also be sent via email to comments-southwestern-TMRTonto@fs.fed.us, or via facsimile (602) 225-5295.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Anne Thomas, Tonto National Forest 
NEPA Coordinator, 2324 E. McDowell Rd., Phoenix, AZ 85006, (602) 225-
5213.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: On November 9, 2005, the Forest Service 
published final travel management regulations governing off-highway 
vehicles (OHV) and other motor vehicles on national forests and 
grasslands. The regulations amended part 212, subpart B of part 251, 
subpart A of part 261, and removed part 295 of title 36 of the Code of 
Federal Regulations (CFR). These three regulations are referred to 
together as the Travel Management Rule. This rule was developed in 
response to the substantial increase in use of OHVs on National Forest 
System lands and related damage to forest resources caused by unmanaged 
OHV use over the past 30 years. The regulations implement Executive 
Orders (EO) 11644 and EO 11989 regarding off-road use of motor vehicles 
on Federal lands.
    The regulations provide ``for a system of National Forest System 
(NFS) roads, NFS trails, and areas of NFS lands that are designated for 
motor vehicle use. Motor vehicle use off designated roads and trails 
and outside of designated areas is prohibited'' (36 CFR 212.50). 
Designated routes and areas shall be identified on a motor vehicle use 
map (MVUM) and made available to the public. Currently, motor vehicles 
may drive on any open road on the Tonto National Forest. The Tonto 
National Forest does not currently manage trails for motorized use. In 
the 1985 Tonto National Forest Plan, approximately 700,004 acres were 
identified as open to cross-country travel in the Payson and Pleasant 
Valley ranger districts. In addition, the 1985 Tonto National Forest 
Plan identified over 2,170,000 acres closed to cross-country OHV travel 
in the Cave Creek, Mesa, Globe, and Tonto Basin ranger districts.
    In order to comply with the travel management regulations, the 
Tonto National Forest participated in a forestwide travel analysis 
process beginning in 2007 that was facilitated by a contractor. The 
intent of this process was to help the forest determine the minimum 
transportation system necessary to provide safe and efficient travel 
and for administration, utilization, and protection of NFS lands (36 
CFR 212.5(b)). Based on internal scoping, the Forest Supervisor 
determined that the Tonto National Forest would prepare an 
Environmental Assessment (EA) to complete the analysis required to 
comply with the Travel Management Rule. In October 2009, the forest 
released a proposed action. Seven public meetings were held throughout 
the communities within and proximate in November and December 2009 to 
gather public comments about the proposed action, including roads and 
trails proposed for motorized use. Comments to the proposed action were 
accepted through December 4, 2009. A draft version of the EA was 
released for public comment on January 6, 2012, for a 30-day comment 
period. Due to the length and complexity of the Environmental 
Assessment and requests from the public, an additional 30-day comment 
period began on February 5, 2012. Approximately 300 letters were 
received during these two comment periods.
    After initiating compliance with the Travel Management Rule under 
an EA, the Tonto National Forest determined that the level of 
significance reached a point that environmental analysis for travel 
management under an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) would be more 
appropriate. All comments provided throughout the process thus far, 
including those to the 2009 proposed action, the 2012 Environmental 
Assessment, and public meetings, will continue to be considered and may 
be incorporated into either the proposed action for the EIS or 
alternatives to that proposed action.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The purpose of this project is to comply with the Travel Management 
Rule by providing a system of roads, trails, and areas designated for 
motor vehicle use by class of vehicle and time of year on the Tonto 
National Forest. There is a need to determine which, if any, authorized 
National Forest System (NFS) roads currently open should be closed to 
motorized travel. In addition, there is a need to determine which, if 
any, authorized roads currently closed should be open to motorized 
travel. There is also a need identify any restrictions on allowed uses, 
classes of vehicles, and/or seasons of use for specific routes. There 
is also a need to determine which, if any, unauthorized routes should 
be added to NFS as trails and roads open for motorized access. In 
addition, there is a need to determine if, when, where, and how far 
motor vehicles may be driven off designated roads for the sole purpose 
of motorized dispersed camping or big game retrieval. And finally, 
there is a need to amend 1985 Tonto National Forest Plan to prohibit 
motor vehicle use off designated NFS roads, trails, and areas on two 
ranger districts (Payson and Pleasant Valley) except as shown on the 
Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) and to

[[Page 7392]]

revise wording for consistency regarding definition to comply with 
Travel Management Rule, 36 CFR 261.13.

Proposed Action

    For the purposes of this project and notice, the term ``road'' or 
``trail'' is defined as a National Forest System (NFS) road or trail 
that is designated for motor vehicle use pursuant to 36 CFR 212.51. An 
``unauthorized road or trail'' is not a forest road or trail or a 
temporary road or trail and that is not included in a forest 
transportation atlas. Unauthorized routes have generally developed 
without agency authorization, environmental analysis, or public 
involvement and do not have the same status as NFS roads or trails 
included in the forest transportation system. To meet the purpose and 
need of the project, the actions listed below are proposed. The 
proposed action has been modified based on comments received from the 
2009 scoping period through the 2012 Environmental Assessment comment 
period.
    Roads proposed open to motor vehicles: Approximately 2,567 miles of 
roads would be open to high clearance vehicles and approximately 967 
miles would be open to passenger vehicles. Approximately 1,187 miles of 
roads would be designated for Administrative Use, restricting use to 
federal employees and permitted uses. Approximately 842 miles of 
existing roads would be closed. In this case, close means it would be 
closed to public travel. Some of these roads would be retained for 
periodic administrative use only (maintenance Level 1) and others will 
be decommissioned (removed from the forest inventory). The most 
relevant aspect of this action is closing the road to public travel. 
Decisions to obliterate decommissioned roads are outside the scope of 
this project, because they require further site-specific environmental 
analysis before being undertaken. Approximately 280 miles of user-
created routes would be added to the forest transportation system. 
These routes would be managed as roads and will be open to public 
travel.
    Trails proposed open to motor vehicles: Approximately 251 miles 
would be open to off-highway vehicle (OHV) travel only.
    Areas proposed open for cross-country motorized travel: Four areas 
within the Tonto National Forest would be designated permitting cross-
country motorized travel: Golf Course OHV Area within the Globe Ranger 
District (approximately 17 acres); Sycamore OHV Area within the Mesa 
Ranger District (approximately 1,391 acres); Sycamore Tot Lot OHV Area, 
intended for youth users, within the Mesa Ranger District 
(approximately 3 acres); and The Rolls Tot Lot, also intended for youth 
users, within the Mesa Ranger District (approximately 6 acres).
    This proposed action would result in approximately 3,812 miles of 
designated NFS roads and trails and 1,417 acres of designated areas 
open to motor vehicles on the Tonto National Forest.
    Motorized big game retrieval: Motorized retrieval of big game, elk 
and bear only, would be limited to one mile off either side of NFS 
roads to retrieve a downed elk or bear by an individual who has legally 
taken the animal. This would occur on all open roads in Arizona Game 
Management Units 21, 22, 23, 24A, and 24B, but would not extend into 
wilderness areas or inventoried roadless areas. Unit 22 includes 
approximately 920 acres of the Coconino National Forest. The decision 
for motorized big game retrieval for these 920 acres of Unit 22 will be 
under the authority of the Tonto National Forest decision maker.
    Dispersed camping: Motorized travel for the purpose of dispersed 
camping would not be allowed off designated roads and trails. Vehicles 
would be allowed to park one vehicle length, or up to 30 feet, from the 
edge of the designated road or trail.
    OHV permit zones: Four permit zones would be designated within the 
forest: Bulldog Canyon Permit Zone within the Mesa Ranger District; St. 
Claire Permit Zone within the Cave Creek Ranger District; Sycamore 
Permit Zone within the Mesa Ranger District, and The Rolls Permit Zone 
within the Mesa Ranger District. Within a permit zone, vehicles would 
be required to stay on designated roads and trails. Motorized users 
would be required to obtain a permit and a gate combination code from 
the designated Tonto National Forest office before accessing these 
zones.
    The proposed action would amend the Forest Plan to prohibit motor 
vehicle use off designated NFS roads, trails, and areas on two ranger 
districts (Payson and Pleasant Valley), except as shown on the Motor 
Vehicle Use Map (MVUM) and to revise wording in order to be consistent 
with the language and intent in 36 CFR 212.

Possible Alternatives

    In addition to the Proposed Action, the No Action alternative will 
be analyzed. The Forest Service is required to analyze the ``No 
Action'' alternative under the provisions of NEPA (40 CFR 1502.14). 
Since the original scoping for this project in 2009, several concerns 
and issues were raised concerning travel management on the Tonto 
National Forest. These included the need to increase motorized travel 
opportunities on designated roads, trails and areas, provided greater 
protection for natural resources by decreasing the amount of roads, 
trails, and areas, and provide greater motorized access to dispersed 
camping sites and retrieval of big game. These issues, along with 
issues raised during the scoping period for the EIS, will be used to 
develop alternatives to the proposed action.

Responsible Official

    The responsible official for this project is the Tonto National 
Forest Supervisor.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    Elements in this decision include: Changes to the existing road 
system; changes to existing motorized trails and areas open to cross-
country motorized travel; the distance motor vehicles may travel off 
specific designated routes for the purpose of dispersed camping and big 
game retrieval; and language and content changes to the Tonto Forest 
Plan via a forest plan amendment. The decision will be based on a 
consideration of the environmental effects of implementing the proposed 
action or alternatives developed in response to significant issues. The 
Forest Supervisor may select the proposed action, an alternative 
analyzed in detail, or a modified proposed action or alternative within 
the project's range of alternatives.

Scoping Process

    Scoping is an ongoing procedure used to identify important issues 
and determine the extent of analysis necessary for an informed decision 
on a proposed action. This Notice of Intent serves as formal initiation 
of the scoping process. The Forest Service is seeking comments from 
individuals, organizations, and local, state, and Federal agencies that 
may be interested in or affected by the proposed action. Comments may 
pertain to the nature and scope of the environmental, social, and 
economic issues, and possible alternatives related to the development 
of the motorized travel plan and EIS. When submitting comments, please 
keep them specific to this proposal only. Comments which are not 
specific to the project and project area will be deemed outside the 
scope of the analysis and will not be considered. If you provide 
recommendations for changes to routes or areas, please include route 
numbers or location descriptions, as well as the reasons for your 
recommendations. If you are including references, citations, or 
additional information to be

[[Page 7393]]

considered for this project, please specify exactly how the material 
relates to the project. Also indicate exactly what part of the material 
you would like us to consider (such as page or figure number).
    A copy of the proposed action has been made available 
electronically on the Tonto National Forest's Web site. For those 
wishing to receive a copy of the proposed action or would like to have 
their names added to the project mailing list, please submitted a 
request to: Anne Thomas, Tonto National Forest NEPA Coordinator, 2324 
E. McDowell Rd, Phoenix, AZ, 85006, (602) 225-5213, comments-southwestern-TMRTonto@fs.fed.us

Comment Requested

    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of the environmental impact statement.
    It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times 
and in such manner that they are useful to the agency's preparation of 
the environmental impact statement. Therefore, comments should be 
provided prior to the close of the comment period and should clearly 
articulate the reviewer's concerns and contentions.
    Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names 
and addresses of those who comment, will be part of the public record 
for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be 
accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide 
the Agency with the ability to provide the respondent with subsequent 
environmental documents.

    Dated: January 24, 2013.
Neil J. Bosworth,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2013-02199 Filed 1-31-13; 8:45 am]
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