[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 70 (Thursday, April 11, 2013)]
[Pages 21590-21592]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-08455]

                                                Federal Register

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appearing in this section.


Federal Register / Vol. 78, No. 70 / Thursday, April 11, 2013 / 

[[Page 21590]]


Forest Service

Coconino National Forest; Arizona; Flagstaff Watershed Protection 

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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


SUMMARY: The Forest Service is preparing an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) to document the potential effects of the Flagstaff 
Watershed Protection Project (FWPP). The analysis will evaluate and 
disclose the effects of implementing treatments on the National Forest 
to reduce the threat of high severity wildfire and subsequent flooding 
in two watersheds around Flagstaff. Specifically, two key areas have 
been identified for analysis and treatment under this project: The Dry 
Lake Hills portion of the Rio de Flag Watershed north of Flagstaff, and 
the Mormon Mountain portion of the Upper Lake Mary Watershed south of 
Flagstaff. The project area includes approximately 10,543 acres 
(roughly 7,569 acres in the Dry Lake Hills portion and 2,974 on Mormon 
Mountain), and proposed treatments would include thinning and 
prescribed fire on roughly 8,810 of those acres. The EIS will analyze a 
variety of harvesting methods, including the use of traditional ground-
based equipment, hand thinning, and also methods atypical for the 
region, including cable and helicopter logging, in order to treat 
steep, inaccessible terrain.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by May 13, 2013. The draft environmental impact statement is expected 
in early 2014 and the final environmental impact statement is expected 
in the summer of 2014.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Erin Phelps, Project Leader, USDA 
Forest Service, Coconino National Forest, 5075 N. Hwy 89, Flagstaff, AZ 
86004. Comments may also be sent via email to comments-southwestern-coconino-flagstaff@fs.fed.us, or via facsimile to 928-527-8288. Verbal 
comments can be submitted in person at the Flagstaff Ranger District 
Office, 5075 N. Hwy 89, Flagstaff, AZ 86004 or via telephone at (928) 
527-8240 during normal business hours (8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m.).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Visit our planning Web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/projects/coconino/landmanagement/projects or contact 
Erin Phelps, Project Leader, by phone at (928) 527-8240 or by email at 
    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.


Purpose and Need for Action

    The primary purpose of the Flagstaff Watershed Protection Project 
(FWPP) is to reduce the risk of high severity wildfire and subsequent 
flooding in two key watersheds around Flagstaff, Arizona: In the Dry 
Lake Hills portion of the Rio de Flag Watershed, and the Mormon 
Mountain portion of the Upper Lake Mary Watershed.
    The FWPP analysis area includes portions of the Coconino National 
Forest that have either not been analyzed or not been treated 
previously due to prohibitive costs associated with very steep terrain, 
low value material, and other challenging issues such as potential 
impacts to wildlife and visual concerns.
    There is a need to reduce the risk of high intensity wildfire in 
watersheds that contribute to the drinking water for the City of 
Flagstaff as well as reducing the risk of high intensity wildfire in 
the watershed that drains into the city itself. There is also a need to 
reduce the risk of severe flooding that would likely damage the 
drinking water infrastructure south of town, and which could also cause 
extensive damage to private municipal property should a high-intensity 
wildfire occur in mountainous areas that make-up the Upper Lake Mary 
and Rio de Flag watersheds.
    In general, fire regimes in the analysis area have shifted from 
historically more frequent, lower-intensity surface fires (Fire Regime 
I and III, Condition Class I) to less frequent, higher-intensity crown 
fires (Condition Class III). There is a need to reduce the potential 
for crown fire and high intensity surface fire, and to reduce the 
likelihood of human-caused ignitions. The desired condition is to 
reduce the threat of high severity wildfire and subsequent flooding to 
values at risk within and adjacent to the project area, including the 
City of Flagstaff, outlying communities, the Kachina Peaks Wilderness, 
and Upper Lake Mary. For the majority of the project area, the desired 
condition is to decrease the departure from historic conditions, and 
return the majority of the analysis area in FRI and FRIII to Condition 
Class 1.
    To meet the project's purpose and need, the Forest Service proposes 
a combination of thinning and prescribed burning activities, 
establishing a permanent campfire closure order in the Dry Lake Hills 
area and decommissioning about 34 miles of road in the Flagstaff 
Watershed Protection Project area. To facilitate timber removal, 
approximately 15.5 miles of temporary road are also proposed, and three 
non-significant Forest Plan amendments would be necessarily to 
implement the proposed activities.
    Treatments would include mechanical and hand thinning as well as 
prescribed fire on approximately 8,810 acres. Mechanical tree thinning 
would occur within Mexican spotted owl protected activity centers (MSO 
PACs) with a desired condition of trees greater than 16 inches dbh 
contributing more than 50 percent of the stand basal area and 
maintaining a minimum of 40 percent canopy cover in pine-oak and 60 
percent in mixed conifer per the MSO Recovery Plan (2012), followed by 
prescribed burning. Thinning treatments have been designed in 
coordination with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to occur 
within MSO nest/roost habitat to reduce the risk of high severity 
wildfire. Some treatments proposed within occupied PACs may need to 
occur during the breeding season (March 1-August 31); however 
treatments within PACs would be prioritized to be completed as quickly 
as possible to avoid long-term impacts and would be coordinated with 
    Prescribed fire would include initial pile burning to remove slash

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accumulated through harvesting, followed by broadcast burning. 
Maintenance burning may occur every five to seven years following 
implementation in order to maintain lower fuel loading levels and to 
restore a frequent, low-intensity fire regime. Areas of mixed conifer 
on steep slopes may not receive prescribed burning treatments due to 
the difficulty and safety concerns associationed with implementation in 
these fuel types and terrain, and also because the vegetation type may 
not require as frequent burning due to longer historic fire intervals.
    Three project-specific, non-significant amendments to the Coconino 
National Forest Land Management Plan (Forest Plan; 1987, as amended) 
would be required to implement the proposed action. A site (project) 
specific plan amendment is a one-time variance in Forest Plan direction 
for the project; Forest Plan direction reverts back to its original 
language/direction upon completion of the specified project. The 
language proposed does not apply to any other forest project.
    The Forest Plan is currently under revision; depending on the 
timing of the release of the final Forest Plan document, the final FWPP 
analysis will be consistent with the revised Forest Plan. Additionally, 
a revised MSO Recovery Plan, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife 
Service (FWS) was finalized in December of 2012 (USDI 2012). The 
current Forest Plan is consistent with the previous MSO Recovery Plan 
(USDI 1995). For this project, a Forest Plan amendment would be needed 
to utilize the revised recovery plan direction if it is different than 
what is currently included in the Forest Plan. The proposed Forest Plan 
amendments include:
    Amendment 1: Adding the desired percentage of interspace within 
uneven-aged stands to facilitate restoration in northern goshawk 
habitat (excluding nest areas), add the interspace distance between 
tree groups, add language clarifying how canopy cover would be 
measured, and add a definition to the Forest Plan glossary for the 
terms ``interspaces,'' ``open reference condition,'' and ``stands.''
    Amendment 2: Adding language to allow mechanical treatments in MSO 
PACs beyond 9 inches dbh, treatments in MSO restricted habitat above 24 
inches dbh, and also to allow treatments and prescribed burning within 
MSO nest/cores. The monitoring requirement specified under the Forest 
Plan would be amended to include the monitoring plan developed by the 
Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Rocky Mountain 
Research Station. This amendment would also remove timing restrictions 
for the duration of the FWPP project. Treatments within PACs would be 
prioritized to be completed as quickly as possible to avoid long-term 
impacts and would be coordinated with FWS.
    Amendment 3: Removing language restricting mechanical equipment to 
slopes less than 40 percent and language identifying slopes above 40 
percent as inoperable. This amendment would allow mechanical harvesting 
on slopes greater than 40 percent within the project area. Since the 
Forest Plan was written and amended, mechanized ground-based equipment 
has progressed to be able to operate on steep slopes more effectively. 
In order to be able to utilize such equipment to treat slopes above 40 
percent in the project area and meet the purpose and need, this Forest 
Plan amendment is needed.

Possible Alternatives

    A full range of alternatives to the proposed action, including a 
no-action alternative, will be considered. The no-action alternative 
represents no change and serves as the baseline for the comparison 
among the action alternatives.

Cooperating Agencies

    The City of Flagstaff is a Cooperating Agency for the Flagstaff 
Watershed Protection Project, and is participating in the planning and 
analysis process.

Responsible Official

    M. Earl Stewart, Forest Supervisor, Coconino National Forest.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The Forest Supervisor is the responsible official for deciding 
whether or not, and in what manner, lands within the Flagstaff 
Watershed Protection Project area would be treated to reduce wildfire 
and flooding hazards.
    Items in this decision will include: Number of acres treated 
mechanically; number of acres treated by hand thinning; number of acres 
treated with prescribed fire; treatments within the MSO restricted 
habitat; treatments within MSO PACs and protected habitat; treatments 
within northern goshawk habitat; construction of new temporary roads; 
decommissioning/obliteration of closed roads; type of implementation 
method to be used; issuance of a permanent camfire restriction order in 
the Dry Lake Hills; project-specific Forest Plan amendments; and design 
features to protect forest resources of soil, water, scenery values, 
wildlife and habitat, and rare plants.
    The decision will be based on a consideration of the environmental 
effects of implementing the proposed action or alternatives. The Forest 
Supervisor may select the proposed action, any alternative analyzed in 
detail, a modified proposed action or alternative, or no action.

Scoping Process

    This notice of intent initiates the formal scoping process, which 
guides the development of the environmental impact statement. Multiple 
public meetings will be held throughout the planning process for the 
FWPP project, including a general information sharing and comment 
gathering meeting scheduled for May 1, 2013 at the Aquaplex in 
Flagstaff (1702 N. 4th Street) from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. The Greater 
Flagstaff Forests Partnership (GFFP) will also be hosting meetings on 
behalf of the City of Flagstaff. Please visit the FWPP project Web site 
at http://www.flagstaffwatershedprotection.org/ for more information 
and a calendar of upcoming meeting dates.
    This project is subject to the objection process pursuant to 36 CFR 
part 218 (March 27, 2013), and is not being authorized under the 
Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA). As such, those who provide 
specific written comments during the formal scoping and/or the comment 
periods in accordance with Sec.  218.5 will be eligible to participate 
in the objection process. Issues raised in objections must be based on 
previously submitted timely, specific written comments regarding the 
proposed project unless new information arises after designated 
opportunities (36 CFR 218.7).
    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 30 day scoping 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, but will not be eligible for objection per 
Sec.  218.5.

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    Dated: April 5, 2013.
M. Earl Stewart,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2013-08455 Filed 4-10-13; 8:45 am]