[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 40 (Thursday, February 28, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 13618-13621]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-04642]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Shasta-Trinity National Forest; California; Elk Late-Successional 
Reserve Enhancement Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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

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SUMMARY: The Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) to evaluate and disclose the predicted effects of the 
Elk Late-Successional Reserve Enhancement project, which would treat 
natural

[[Page 13619]]

stands and plantations on approximately 2,930 acres to reduce the 
current and future risk of large-scale disturbance events within early, 
mid and late-successional habitat within the Elk Flat Late-Successional 
Reserve and nearby stands. Additional benefits from risk reduction 
treatments include increasing the resilience and promoting continued 
development and connectivity of late-successional forest habitat within 
the Elk Flat Late-Successional Reserve. Objectives include improving 
forest health; increasing resiliency to natural events such as drought, 
insect and disease infestations and high severity wildfire; and 
restoring unique habitats. Forest stand treatments would be completed 
using commercial and non-commercial thinning and regeneration 
prescriptions. Fuels reduction would be completed using mechanical and 
hand methods and prescribed fire. Proposed road actions include 
maintenance and reconstruction of National Forest System roads, 
construction of temporary roads to complete project activities, and 
closure and decommissioning of National Forest System roads and 
existing routes. The project is located in Siskiyou County, California 
on the McCloud Ranger District of the Shasta McCloud Management Unit, 
Shasta-Trinity National Forest. The project's legal location is: 
Township 40 North, Range 1 West, Sections 4 and 5; and Township 41 
North, Range 1 West, Sections 27 to 34, Mt. Diablo Meridian. The 
project area is approximately nine miles northeast of the town of 
McCloud, California, and 70 miles northeast of Redding, California.

DATES: Submit comments concerning the proposed action on or before 
April 1, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Christine Jordan, USDA Forest 
Service, Shasta McCloud Management Unit, P.O. Box 1620, McCloud, 
California 96057. Electronic comments and other data may be submitted 
via email to comments-pacificsw-shasta-trinity-mtshasta-mccloud@fs.fed.us or via facsimile to (530) 964-2938.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Christine Jordan, Natural Resources 
Planner, at (530) 964-3771.
    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:

Purpose and Need for Action

    The primary purpose of the Elk Late-Successional Reserve 
Enhancement project is to reduce the current and future risk of large-
scale disturbance events within early, mid and late-successional 
habitat within the Elk Flat Late-Successional Reserve (LSR) and nearby 
stands. This is consistent with Objectives I and III that guide the 
development and application of treatments within the Forest's Late-
Successional Reserves (Forest-wide Late-Successional Reserve 
Assessment, LSRA). We recognize that natural disturbance is an 
important process within late-successional forest ecosystems, but both 
human and natural processes have altered the disturbance regime within 
the Elk Flat LSR such that without action, further stand and structural 
composition loss would result from the combination of continued 
overstocking and density-related mortality, root disease, insect 
attacks and predicted lethal fire effects. Approximately 15 percent of 
the Elk Flat LSR is currently comprised of large pockets (10 to 80 
acres) of standing dead trees that are a current and future threat to 
both the surrounding habitat, due to increasing fuel loads, and members 
of the public visiting and recreating in the project area. Smaller 
mortality pockets range from groups of 5 to 10 trees up to \1/2\ acre, 
primarily in the ponderosa pine component, with additional root 
disease-related mortality occurring in white fir stands. Additional 
benefits from risk reduction treatments include increasing the 
resilience and promoting continued development and connectivity of 
late-successional forest habitat within the Elk Flat LSR (LSRA 
Objectives II and IV). The Elk Flat LSR, designated as RC-360 in the 
LSRA, comprises approximately 90 percent of the project area, with the 
remaining 10 percent in matrix allocation.
    Within the dry forested landscape of the California Cascades 
Province where the project area is located, fire suppression has 
resulted in significant increases in accumulated ground and understory 
fuels, while also making forested stands much more vulnerable to 
insects and disease impacts due to resultant overstocking. Because of 
the fire suppression history and lack of a natural fire regime in the 
project area, approximately 80 percent of the forested stands in the 
Elk Flat LSR are highly to extremely dense, particularly in relation to 
the survivability of pine. Current stand conditions reflect an increase 
in a shade-tolerant understory and midstory, composed primarily of 
white fir and incense cedar. Without low intensity fire or other 
disturbance, stand densities have increased as trees have continued to 
grow larger, with slowed tree growth as stands approach and reach a 
maximum carrying capacity. For most species, density-related tree 
mortality increases as stands reach and exceed 60 percent of a maximum 
stand density index, or SDI. An exception to this 60 percent standard 
is ponderosa pine. Research has repeatedly observed widespread 
mortality in ponderosa pine stands resulting from pine beetle outbreaks 
at densities below what had been considered 60 percent of maximum SDI. 
Stand exams completed in 2007 within the natural stands proposed for 
treatment measured densities above an SDI of 230, with many exceeding 
an SDI of 365. Additionally, older plantations (> 40 years) are near or 
above an SDI of 365. Based on the relationship with bark beetles, as 
ponderosa pine stands reach and exceed an SDI of 230 (or 60 percent of 
the SDI of 365), pine mortality from beetle outbreaks is increasingly 
likely.
    Dense stocking also stresses trees as they compete for limited 
nutrients and moisture, especially during dry conditions, and it is 
often the larger, older trees that are most susceptible to this stress. 
It is important to note that the density-related mortality is not 
limited to the understory trees in the project area; the large dominant 
and pre-dominant ponderosa pine trees have also died, or are dying. 
This is reflected in the existing conditions of large mortality pockets 
described above, which are located in both the natural stands and 
plantations within the project area. Reducing tree densities in the 
lower and mid-level canopy layers with thinning can reduce fire 
behavior, improving both direct suppression efforts and reducing the 
potential for large-scale habitat loss from a running crown fire. 
Underburning after thinning can reduce surface and maintain ladder 
fuels at levels that do not allow for ground fire to transition into 
the upper canopy.
    Without action, the density-related mortality, further exacerbated 
by drought, disease and future insect attacks will continue to spread 
throughout the project area, contributing to more standing and dead 
fuels and increasing the risk of a stand-replacing fire. Current ground 
fuel loadings in the Elk Flat LSR range from 5 to 10 tons per acre and 
are expected to increase to 20 plus tons per acre in the mixed conifer 
stands. Ground fuel loading is approximately 10 to 15 tons per acre in 
the ponderosa pine-dominated stands, where there are high levels of 
existing and ongoing mortality, and is expected

[[Page 13620]]

to increase to 35 to 100 plus tons per acre when these dead and dying 
trees fall. Forest Health specialists have also assessed the LSR for 
the presence of black stain and Heterobasidion root disease, locating 
it in several proposed treatment units.
    Additional project benefits and objectives include increasing the 
resilience and promoting continued development and connectivity of 
late-successional forest habitat within the Elk Flat LSR and restoring 
forest stand and meadow conditions on adjacent matrix lands to allow 
for a natural fire regime. Through risk reduction and habitat 
restoration treatments, the potential for high severity fire effects on 
adjacent private lands and within Wildland Urban Interface associated 
with the Mt. Shasta Forest subdivision would be reduced, stream channel 
and Riparian Reserve function along Ash and Swamp Creeks would be 
improved and hardwood species diversity would be increased.

Proposed Action

    The following acreages and distances are approximate. The proposed 
action would thin natural stands ranging from 60 to 120 years of age on 
1,520 acres and 10 to 40 year old plantations on 680 acres. These 
treatment areas will also include radial thinning around legacy pine to 
protect this stand component and regeneration and group selection in 
existing mortality and root disease pockets. Removal of encroaching 
conifers, predominantly ponderosa pine, to restore meadow conditions in 
Elk Flat is proposed on 730 acres with follow-up underburning. 
Hardwoods, including aspen and California black oak, would be released 
to increase hardwood species diversity across the project area.
    Within all treatment units, surface and activity generated fuels 
would be treated with a combination of machine piling and burning in 
areas with heavier mortality, hand piling in sensitive areas as needed, 
lop and scatter, mastication and/or underburning (or any combination 
thereof) to meet the desired condition for fuel objectives. The entire 
project area is proposed for underburning after initial thinning 
treatments are completed. Underburning the entire project area would 
reduce the need to construct control lines, with the exception of 
private property boundaries and where control lines are needed to 
protect resources. While existing roads would be used as control lines 
as needed, fire would be allowed to cross unit boundaries and creep 
into adjacent treated and untreated stands within the project area. 
Where resource protection is required, such as to retain large down 
logs, within sensitive Riparian Reserve areas, or near cultural sites 
or plant populations, line may be constructed in accordance with the 
developed resource protection measures.
    The proposal includes road reconstruction on four miles of National 
Forest System roads to improve drainage and reduce erosion impacts. 
Closure and decommissioning of 13.5 miles of System roads and 
unauthorized routes is proposed to reduce impacts to wildlife 
connectivity, stream channels and floodplain function. Approximately 
two miles of temporary roads, which would be decommissioned after use, 
may be required to complete project activities. No new National Forest 
System roads would be constructed.
    Approximately 120 landings up to 0.75-acre in size (some landing 
areas in heavy mortality zones may be one acre or more in size) would 
be located within or near unit boundaries. Landings and skid trails 
would be rehabilitated when no longer needed for the project.
    Project implementation is currently proposed for completion under a 
stewardship contract. Proposed underburning activities and the site 
preparation of group selection areas, planting and monitoring is 
expected to be completed by Forest Service staff and/or service 
contracts. Contracts may take anywhere from one to five years from 
award to completion. Proposed road closures and decommissioning would 
occur upon completion of project activities. While the entire project 
area is a priority for treatment to slow the progression of existing 
mortality and loss of late-successional habitat, priority treatment 
areas have been identified. They include those areas of large standing 
dead material, the older plantations that are densely stocked, units 
with known black stain and heterobasidion root disease pockets and 
natural stands that contain larger pockets of mortality.
    Approximately 90 percent of the project area is within Late-
Successional Reserve allocation where a minimum of 10 percent of each 
thinned unit would remain unthinned to retain processes and conditions 
such as thermal and visual cover, natural suppression and mortality, 
small trees, natural size differentiation and undisturbed debris. In 
addition to the ten percent un-thinned areas, approximately 380 acres 
of natural stands within the Elk Flat LSR have been excluded from 
thinning treatments as field review either identified that they are not 
currently at risk or to maintain current late-successional habitat 
conditions for the northern spotted owl and northern goshawk. The 
latter stans will remain at high stocking densities where fire hazard 
and density-related mortality will remain high while continuing to 
function as habitat for these species. This is one element of an 
overall spatial and temporal strategy to provide habitat and address 
forest change over time in the advent of disturbance events and is 
consistent with Recovery Action 10 of the Revised Recovery Plan for the 
Northern Spotted Owl. The remaining 10 percent of project area is 
within matrix allocation with a commercial wood products emphasis, 
including the majority of Elk Flat meadow. There are approximately 280 
acres of Riparian Reserves associated with intermittent and ephemeral 
streams within the project area; overlapping both LSR and matrix lands.
    Thinning prescriptions were specifically developed to reduce the 
risk of losing late-successional habitat, increase conifer species 
composition and diversity in plantation areas and natural stands to 
increase resilience to disease and stocking pressure, treat black stain 
and/or heterobasidion root diseases and reduce the risk of future 
mortality areas. Within natural stand units, existing mortality pockets 
of pine and fir may be removed to create openings or be retained to 
reserve snag habitat and future coarse woody debris for wildlife. 
Retention/removal areas will be dependent on the objectives for the 
specific treatment unit, safety considerations of the public and 
operations and meeting fuel load objectives.
    The proposed action is the result of field reviews, data 
acquisition and analysis including reviews and use of best available 
science by resource specialists on the project Interdisciplinary Team. 
Coordination and consultation with Tribes, the United States Fish and 
Wildlife Service, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and 
collaboration with local watershed and restoration groups and adjacent 
landowners has been ongoing and will continue. The proposed action was 
guided by direction and objectives embodied in the Northwest Forest 
Plan, the Forest Plan, the Forest-wide Late-Successional Reserve 
Assessment and recommendations in the McCloud Flats Ecosystem Analysis. 
It is designed to be consistent with the Aquatic Conservation Strategy 
objectives and the Revised Recovery Plan for the Northern Spotted Owl. 
It incorporates guidance from the National Fire Plan, the Forest's Fire 
Management Plan and the Forest's Record of Decision for Motorized 
Travel Management. A project consistency

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review with the Regional Ecosystem Office for the specific proposed 
thinning treatments and resultant stand conditions may be required.
    The project Interdisciplinary Team developed Resource Protection 
Measures common to all action alternatives to minimize or eliminate 
potential environmental effects while achieving the desired condition. 
Development was guided by Forest Plan direction as well as other 
applicable law, regulation and policy, project-specific objectives and 
resource concerns identified by resource specialists. These measures 
complement the project design criteria developed as part of the 
proposed action, including species and age class retention preferences, 
microsite thinning and fuels treatment modifications in suitable 
habitat for late-successional species and within Riparian Reserves and 
cultural resource protections. Best management practices for 
maintaining, protecting and monitoring water quality and soils will 
also be utilized.

Responsible Official

    J. Sharon Heywood, Forest Supervisor, Shasta-Trinity National 
Forest.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The Forest Supervisor will decide whether to implement the proposed 
action, take an alternative action that meets the purpose and need, or 
take no action.

Permits or Licenses Required

    A permit would be required from the State of California prior to 
burning piles. The appropriate regulatory agencies will be consulted 
regarding national or state required permits associated with roads used 
during project implementation. All required permits will be obtained 
prior to implementation.

Scoping Process

    The project is included in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest's 
quarterly schedule of proposed actions (SOPA). Detailed information on 
the proposed action, including maps, that will aid in the informing 
comments will be available on the Forest Web site at http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=31312. Scoping notice 
will be published in the Redding Record Searchlight and the Mount 
Shasta Herald.
    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of issues (cause-effect relationships that highlight 
effects or unintended consequences), alternatives and analysis for the 
environmental impact statement. It is important that reviewers provide 
their comments at such times and in such a manner that they are useful 
to identifying issues, developing alternatives, conducting resource 
analysis and preparing the environmental impact statement. Therefore, 
comments should be provided prior to the close of the 30-day comment 
period and should clearly articulate the reviewer's concerns.
    Please include the following information with your comments: Your 
name, address and telephone number, the project name: Elk Late-
Successional Reserve Enhancement project and site-specific comments 
about the proposed action, along with supporting information you 
believe will help identify issues, develop alternatives or predict 
environmental effects of the proposal. The most useful comments provide 
new information or describe unwanted environmental effects potentially 
caused by the proposed action. If you reference scientific literature 
in your comments, you must provide a copy of the entire cited reference 
and include rationale as to how you feel it is pertinent to the Elk 
Late-Successional Reserve Enhancement project.
    A public information meeting will be held on March 5, 2013 from 
6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the McCloud Ranger Station conference room, 
located at 2019 Forest Road in McCloud, California. At this meeting, 
members of the project Interdisciplinary Team will present information 
on the purpose and need, existing conditions and the developed proposed 
action to meet the desired conditions in the project area. Written 
comments may be submitted at this meeting in addition to submitting 
them via mail and electronically as described in the ADDRESSES section 
above. Comments received in response to this solicitation, including 
names and addresses of those who comment, will become part of the 
public record for this proposed action.

     Dated: February 14, 2013.
J. Sharon Heywood,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2013-04642 Filed 2-27-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-11-P