[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 178 (Friday, September 13, 2013)]
[Notices]
[Pages 56650-56653]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-22289]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National 
Grassland; Wyoming; Thunder Basin National Grassland Prairie Dog 
Amendment

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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

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SUMMARY: The Forest Service intends to prepare an environmental impact 
statement to analyze and disclose the environmental effects of amending 
the 2001 Thunder Basin National Grassland Plan to modify Categories 1 
and 2 of the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy. The amendment is 
being proposed to address continuing concerns regarding prairie dog 
management, raised by the

[[Page 56651]]

State of Wyoming (April 17, 2013). The Forest Service also proposes to 
make minor modifications to the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy, 
as detailed below in the Proposed Action section.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by October 28, 2013.

ADDRESSES: Written comments concerning this notice should be addressed 
to Responsible Official, Douglas Ranger District, 2250 East Richards 
Street, Douglas, Wyoming 82633. Comments may also be sent via email to 
comments-rm-mbr-douglas-thunder-basin@fs.fed.us or via facimile to 
(307) 358-7107.
    All comments, including names and addresses when provided, are 
placed in the record and are available for public inspection and 
copying. The public may inspect comments received at the address 
provided above. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead (307-358-4690) to 
facilitate entry into the building.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Thomas Whitford, District Ranger, 
Douglas Ranger District, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and 
Thunder Basin National Grassland. Telephone: (307) 358-4690.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through 
Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: In 2009 the Douglas Ranger District 
completed a Black-tailed Prairie Dog (BTPD) Management Strategy (2009 
Strategy) for the Thunder Basin National Grassland (TBNG). The 2009 
Strategy was developed collaboratively with the Thunder Basin Grassland 
Prairie Ecosystem Association (TBGPEA--a landowner/grazing association 
group), Wyoming Game and Fish Department, Bureau of Land Management, 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other groups and required an 
amendment to the 2001 TBNG Land and Resource Management Plan (Grassland 
Plan). The amendment included a variety of management tools to provide 
for the conservation of black-tailed prairie dogs and their habitat on 
the TBNG and expanded the use of rodenticides beyond the strict 
limitations provided for in the 2001 Grassland Plan. These tools were 
intended to promote the expansion of prairie dogs in designated areas 
while allowing alternative approaches to reduce the impacts to private 
lands. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIS) was 
released on October 16, 2009 and the Record of Decision (ROD) was 
signed November 12, 2009. Although the ROD was appealed by two ranchers 
and one grazing association, the Decision was upheld in February 2010.
    Categories were developed in the 2009 Strategy to ensure prairie 
dog management at different levels to: (1) Accommodate potential black-
footed ferret reintroduction; (2) provide adequate habitat and broad 
geographic distribution to sustain viable populations of prairie dogs 
and their associated species across the TBNG; (3) distribute prairie 
dog populations to both mitigate the effects of a potential plague 
epizootic and provide a source for natural dispersal; and (4) 
accommodate differing levels of prairie dog control.
    The Category 1 area was designed to be of an adequate size and 
spatial configuration to sustain viable populations of prairie dogs to 
support a population of potentially reintroduced black-footed ferrets. 
The primary objective of the Category 2 areas was to provide for viable 
populations of prairie dogs and their associated species, promoting 
ecological diversity at broader spatial scales on the grassland. 
Category 3 and 4 areas are similar in that they were intended as source 
areas for BTPDs in the event of a plague epizootic that could serve as 
natural dispersal populations. Categories 3 and 4 are made distinct by 
their geographical locations (i.e., Category 3 areas are south of 
Highway 450 and Category 4 areas are north of Highway 450). Prairie dog 
control measures are most highly regulated in the Category 1 area and 
become less regulated in the subsequent Categories.
    Decision screens were also developed in the 2009 Strategy to 
identify ``Decision Points'' for the use of lethal and non-lethal 
management tools to control unwanted prairie dog population expansions 
off National Forest System lands. ``Decision Points'' were identified 
depending on the Category (1-4) and issues within the Category (e.g., 
proximity to private land and threats to public health and safety). The 
purpose of the decision screens was to provide a visual account of how 
decisions would be made in reference to the 2009 Strategy and to 
provide a clear and consistent decision-making process.
    The 2009 Strategy further established control colonies to address 
human health and safety concerns around residences, as well as colony 
expansion onto private land outside of and near the boundaries of 
Categories 1, 2, 3, and 4. The control colonies were a product of 
negotiations with TBGPEA and the Forest Service; colonies are managed 
on a priority basis using a variety of control tools, with 
translocation being used when possible to augment colonies in 
Categories 1 and 2.
    The Douglas Ranger District has been implementing the 2009 Prairie 
Dog Management Strategy for the last four years. Translocation, 
vegetation management through prescribed burns, fencing, and other non-
lethal control and enhancement activities have been used. 
Implementation activities have generated conflict and controversy with 
some local landowners and grazing permittees, including a group called 
Rochelle Community Organization Working for Sustainability (RCOWS). 
RCOWS includes approximately 15 of the 175 permit holders on the TBNG. 
Although not wide-spread, these landowners have engaged actively with 
congressional staffs, the Governor's office, state agencies, county 
weed and pest control districts, and county commissions regarding 
concerns with how the Strategy is being implemented.
    In February of 2012, a representative of RCOWS highlighted an error 
found in the text of the 2009 ROD under the description of the Category 
3 colonies. The reference in the ROD to Category 3 areas falling 
``south of Highway 450 and East of R67W'' does not match the maps 
provided in either the Final EIS or the ROD; these maps depict Category 
3 areas West of R67W. After investigation, it was determined that the 
language, as stated in the ROD (``East of R67W''), is a typographical 
error that was consistently used throughout the Final EIS, ROD, and 
2009 Strategy to describe the location of Category 3 areas. Since the 
error was brought to light, the Forest Service has been working with 
the State of Wyoming and other affected landowners to address the error 
and to highlight additional measures that could be taken to modify the 
2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy.
    In April of 2013, the State of Wyoming submitted a proposal to the 
Forest Service requesting an amendment to the 2009 Prairie Dog 
Management Strategy. Specifically, the State's proposal requests the 
establishment of a \1/4\ mile buffer around all private and state lands 
within and adjacent to Category 1 and 2 areas. The proposal further 
requests that all management tools be available for use within the 
buffer (including the expansion of poisons) to control and prevent 
unwanted prairie dog colonies from encroaching onto adjacent private 
and state lands. The State's proposal goes beyond just fixing the 
identified East/West error and highlighting additional measures that 
could be taken to modify

[[Page 56652]]

the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy, as described in the previous 
paragraph. It is a revised strategy designed to ``increase management 
flexibility, protect landowners, and support prairie dog populations on 
the TBNG'' (State of Wyoming, April 17, 2013).

Estimated Dates

    The draft environmental impact statement is expected in April 2014 
and the final environmental impact statements is expected in August 
2014.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The purpose of this project is to:
    (1) Respond to specific concerns from the State of Wyoming relative 
to prairie dog management on the TBNG;
    (2) Ensure habitat requirements are met and necessary acreages are 
provided to support viable populations of prairie dogs and their 
associated species on the TBNG;
    (3) Correct an error identified in the 2009 Prairie Dog Management 
Strategy ROD (p. 6) under the description of Category 3 areas (i.e., 
The reference in the ROD to Category 3 areas falling ``south of Highway 
450 and East of R67W'' does not match the maps provided in either the 
Final EIS or the ROD; these maps depict Category 3 areas West of R67W); 
and
    (4) Clarify elements of the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy 
and consolidate Prairie Dog Management Strategy Categories 3 and 4 into 
a single `Category' with corresponding management objectives.
    The project is needed to:
     Decrease the potential expansion of prairie dog colonies 
onto adjacent private and/or state lands in Prairie Dog Management 
Categories 1 and 2 through boundary management;
     Ensure consistency with the current Wyoming Game and Fish 
Department Prairie Dog Translocation Policy;
     Maintain sufficient acres of prairie dog habitat: (a) To 
support black-footed ferret reintroduction; (b) to support other 
dependent species; and (c) to maintain Region 2 sensitive species, 
consistent with Forest Service policy and direction;
     Ensure that lands added through future land exchanges and/
or acquisitions would be managed in relation to the Prairie Dog 
Management Strategy; and
     Eliminate designated control colonies, as identified in 
the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy.

Proposed Action

    The Forest Service proposes to amend the 2001 Grassland Plan to 
modify Categories 1 and 2 of the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy 
based on continuing management concerns raised by the State of Wyoming 
(April 17, 2013). Specifically, the Forest Service will consider:
    1. Establishing a \1/4\ mile buffer around all private and state 
land and control prairie dogs within the buffer;
    2. Modifying existing management tool options to allow shooting and 
the use of rodenticides, including anticoagulant rodenticides, within 
the \1/4\ mile buffer;
    3. Removing or modifying decision screens associated with the 2009 
Prairie Dog Management Strategy such that the use of controls in the 
\1/4\ mile buffer would not be contingent on any trigger or management 
tool; and
    4. Extending the poisoning season to reflect timeframes identified 
on the poison labels.
    The Forest Service met with the State of Wyoming to clarify 
elements of the proposal. Based on those discussions, it was determined 
that acceptable management tools could include: Approved rodenticides 
(zinc phosphide); shooting; land exchanges; land acquisitions; third-
party solutions (e.g., financial incentives, conservation agreements, 
and conservation easements); translocation; dusting; vegetation 
management (e.g., mowing, prescribed burning, livestock management); 
predator enhancement (e.g., raptor perches and reduced predator control 
in prairie dog colonies); and use of physical barriers (e.g., fencing 
and vegetative barriers).
    The Forest Service also proposes to make the following minor 
modifications to the 2009 Prairie Dog Management Strategy:
     Correct the East/West township reference error by 
combining Categories 3 and 4 into a single Category (Category 3);
     Delete the reference to the 4.35 mile translocation 
distance outlined in an obsolete Wyoming Game and Fish Department 
Translocation Policy (WGFD 2004);
     Develop language to address how lands added through future 
land acquisitions and/or exchanges would be managed in relation to the 
Prairie Dog Management Strategy (e.g., if lands are acquired in 
Category 1, they would be managed consistent with Category 1 land 
management strategies); and
     Eliminate designated control colonies, as identified in 
the 2009 Prairie Dog Strategy.
    The scope of this proposal is limited to those actions described 
above. Other issues related to black-tailed prairie dog or black-footed 
ferret conservation and management in the project area are outside the 
scope of this proposed action.

Lead and Cooperating Agencies

    The Forest Service has invited the United States Fish and Wildlife 
Service (USFWS) to be a cooperating agency; we are waiting on their 
reply.

Responsible Official

    Phil Cruz, Forest Supervisor, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests 
and Thunder Basin National Grassland, 2468 Jackson Street, Laramie, 
Wyoming 82070 is the official responsible for making the decision on 
this action. He will document his decision and rationale in a Record of 
Decision.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The Thunder Basin National Grassland Prairie Dog Amendment 
environmental impact statement will evaluate site-specific management 
proposals, consider alternatives to the Proposed Action, and analyze 
the effects of the activities proposed in the alternatives. It will 
form the basis for the Responsible Official to determine:
    1. Whether the Proposed Action will proceed as proposed, as 
modified by an alternative, or not at all; and
    2. Design criteria and monitoring requirements necessary for 
project implementation.

Scoping Process

    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of the environmental impact statement. While public 
comments are welcome at any time, comments received during the scoping 
period are most useful for the identification of issues and the 
development and analysis of alternatives to the Proposed Action. More 
detailed information specific to the Proposed Action (e.g., scoping 
document and maps) is located on the World Wide Web at: http://www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=42753.
    Along with this opportunity to comment, the Douglas Ranger District 
will also be hosting four Open House/Presentation meetings for the 
Thunder Basin National Grassland Prairie Dog Amendment. The Open House/
Presentation meetings will be held on--October 7th, 8th, 9th, and 10th.
     October 7: Douglas, Wyoming--Douglas National Guard 
Armory--315 Pearson Road.
     October 8: Newcastle, Wyoming--USDA Hell Canyon Ranger 
District Office--1225 Washington Blvd.

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     October 9: Wright, Wyoming--Wright Town Hall--201 Wright 
Blvd.
     October 10: Cheyenne, Wyoming--Laramie County Library--
2200 Pioneer Ave.
    The meetings will begin at 6:00 p.m. and generally last until 9:00 
p.m.; the meeting in Cheyenne will end at 8:30 p.m. The meetings will 
start with a 30-minute Open House, followed by a short presentation, 
and ending with allotted time for comments, questions, and answers. 
Forest Service employees assigned to the Thunder Basin National 
Grassland Prairie Dog Amendment will be available to discuss and answer 
questions the public may have about the Proposed Action.
    The Forest Service will be operating under the new Part 218--
Project-level Pre-decisional Administrative Review Process (hereinafter 
referred to as `objection'), 36 CFR part 218 Subparts A and B, for this 
analysis. Per these regulations, individuals and entities who submit 
timely, specific written comments regarding a proposed project or 
activity during any designated opportunity for public comment will have 
standing to file an objection. This includes requests for comments 
during this initial scoping period as well as comments submitted during 
the 45-day comment period for the Draft EIS.
    It is the responsibility of persons providing comments to submit 
them by the close of established comment periods. Only those who submit 
timely and specific written comments will have eligibility (36 CFR 
218.5) to file an objection under 36 CFR 218.8. For objection 
eligibility, each individual or representative from each entity 
submitting timely and specific written comments must either sign the 
comment or verify identity upon request. Individuals and organizations 
wishing to be eligible to object must meet the information requirements 
in Sec.  218.25(a)(3). Names and contact information submitted with 
comments will become part of the public record and may be released 
under the Freedom of Information Act.

Comment Requested

    The comment period on the draft environmental impact statement will 
be 45 days from the date the Environmental Protection Agency publishes 
the notice of availability in the Federal Register.
    The Forest Service believes, at this early state, it is important 
to give reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public 
participation in the environmental review process. First, reviewers of 
draft environmental impact statements must structure their 
participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is 
meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewer's positions and 
contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 
553 (1978). Also, environmental objections that could be raised at the 
draft environmental impact statement stage but that are not raised 
until after completion of the final environmental impact statement may 
be waived or dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 
1016, 1022 (9th Cir. 1986) and Wisconsin Heritages, Inc. v. Harris, 490 
F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980). Because of these court rulings, 
it is very important that those interested in this proposed action 
participate by the close of the 45-day comment period so that 
substantive comments and objections are made available to the Forest 
Service at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and respond to 
them in the final environmental impact statement.
    To assist the Forest Service in identifying and considering issues 
and concerns on the proposed action, comments on the draft 
environmental impact statement should be as specific as possible. It is 
also helpful if comments refer to specific pages or chapters of the 
draft statement. Comments may also address the adequacy of the draft 
environmental impact statement or the merits of the alternatives 
formulated and discussed in the statement. Reviewers may wish to refer 
to the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing 
the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 
40 CFR 1503.3 in addressing these points.

    Dated: September 9, 2013.
Phil Cruz,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2013-22289 Filed 9-12-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-11-P