[Federal Register Volume 79, Number 181 (Thursday, September 18, 2014)]
[Notices]
[Pages 56050-56054]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2014-22274]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Revision of the Land and Resource Management Plan for El Yunque 
National Forest, Puerto Rico

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of Intent to Revise the Land and Resource Management 
Plan and prepare an Environmental Impact Statement for El Yunque 
National Forest (El Yunque).

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SUMMARY: As directed by the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), the

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U.S. Forest Service is preparing the El Yunque National Forest's 
revised land management plan (forest plan) and will also prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this revised forest plan. This 
notice briefly describes the nature of the decision to be made, a 
proposed action based on the preliminary identified need to change the 
existing plan, and information concerning public participation. It also 
provides estimated dates for filing the EIS and the name and address of 
the responsible agency official and the individuals who can provide 
additional information. Finally, this notice identifies the applicable 
planning rule that will be used for completing this plan revision. The 
revised forest plan will supersede the existing forest plan that was 
approved by the Regional Forester in April 1997. The existing forest 
plan will remain in effect until the revised forest plan takes effect.

DATES: Comments concerning the proposed action provided in this notice 
will be most useful in the development of the draft revised forest plan 
and EIS if received by November 3, 2014. The agency expects to release 
a draft revised forest plan and draft EIS for formal comment by May 
2015 and a final revised forest plan and final EIS by February 2016.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to El Yunque National Forest, Attn: El 
Yunque Plan Revision, HC 01 Box 13490, Rio Grande, PR 00745. Comments 
may also be sent via email to commentselyunqueplan@fs.fed.us, or via 
facsimile to 787-888-5685. Electronic comments should include ``El 
Yunque Plan Revision'' in the subject line. Written comments may also 
be delivered to: El Yunque National Forest, Headquarter's Office, PR-
191 Km. 4.4, Rio Grande, PR.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Planning Team Leader Pedro Rios or 
Public Affairs Specialist Carolyn Krupp, El Yunque National Forest at 
(787) 888-1880. Information on this revision is also available on the 
El Yunque National Forest's Web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/planning. Individuals who use telecommunication devices for 
the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 
(800) 877-8339. Please call 8 a.m.-noon and 1 p.m.-4:30 p.m. Eastern 
Time Monday through Friday, except on federal holidays.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

A. Lead and Cooperating Agencies

    The U.S. Forest Service is the lead agency on revision of the 
forest plan.

B. Name and Address of the Responsible Official

    The responsible official who will approve the Record of Decision is 
Forest Supervisor Pablo Cruz, El Yunque National Forest, HC01 Box 
13490, Rio Grande, PR 00745.

C. Nature of the Decision To Be Made

    The El Yunque National Forest (NF) is preparing an EIS to revise 
the existing forest plan. The EIS process informs the Forest Supervisor 
so that he can decide which alternative best meets the public's diverse 
needs while conserving the forests' resources as required by the NFMA 
and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act.
    The revised forest plan will:
     Describe the strategic intent of managing El Yunque NF 
into the next 10 to 15 years and address the identified needs to change 
the existing land management plan. Section D of this notice provides a 
description of the preliminary need to change and a description of the 
proposed action.
     Provide management direction in the form of desired 
conditions, objectives, suitability determinations, standards, 
guidelines and a monitoring program.
     Make changes to the structure and delineation of the 
Management Areas described in the existing plan along with possible 
changes to administratively designated areas and recommendations for 
changes to other designations.
     Provide a description of the plan area's distinctive roles 
and contributions within the broader landscape.

Some decisions will not be made within the revised forest plan. The 
following is an example:
     The authorization of project-level activities within El 
Yunque NF is not a decision made in the forest plan but occurs through 
subsequent project specific decision-making.

D. Need for Change and Proposed Action

    According to the NFMA, forest plans are to be revised on a 10 to 15 
year cycle. The purpose and need for revising the current forest plan 
is (1) since the forest plan was approved in 1997, there have been 
changes in economic, social, and ecological conditions, new policies 
and priorities, and new information based on monitoring and scientific 
research; (2) a Comprehensive Evaluation Report was completed in 2007 
which identified a number of recommended changes to the 1997 forest 
plan; (3) the findings from the Assessment have identified changes that 
need to be made in the forest plan; and (4) extensive public 
involvement has further identifed areas in the plan that need to be 
changed. A fully developed description of these preliminary identified 
need to change areas is available for review on El Yunque NF's Web site 
at http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/planning.
    A proposed action to address the preliminary identified need to 
change areas and to address the planning, collaborative, 
sustainability, social, economic, and ecological needs has been 
developed. At this point, the proposed action is comprised of ideas 
that are strategic and will provide overall guidance. It is based on 
the roles and contributions of El Yunque NF as well as the management 
challenges ahead.
    The major themes that the proposed action addresses are:
     Develop a plan that introduces social and economic 
sustainability as part of a balanced solution to planning.
     Improve collaboration at the local level and increase co-
management opportunities.
     Create an improved recreation, access, and tourism system 
for the forest.
     Increase environmental literacy in local communities.
     Promote a stronger regional identity in and around the 
forest.
     Manage for the enhancement of ecosystem services from the 
forest.
     Improve the roads and trails.
     Adapt planning to climate change and other changing 
conditions.
     Align forest management and new research opportunities.
     Revise Wilderness management direction.
     Address the management of At-Risk Species.
    A fully developed description of the proposed action is also 
available for review on El Yunque NF's Web site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/planning.
    In the sections that follow, organized by planning and resource 
topic areas, a brief description of what needs to be changed is 
provided, along with a summary of how the proposed action would address 
those areas that need to be changed.

Planning Direction

    There is a need to reconsider the overall management area scheme 
used in the 1997 Plan. There is a fundamental need for the revised plan 
to consider reduced Forest budgets, increased use, changing climate and 
diverse social conditions. There is a need to better

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recognize and potentially enhance the role of El Yunque NF in 
supporting local economies through a service-based economy focused on 
recreation and tourism. There is a need to include plan direction 
regarding potential climate change effects such as increases in storm 
events, flooding, and other extreme weather and to incorporate 
opportunities for working across boundaries to manage landscapes with 
adjacent land managers such as state and federal partners and other 
land management entities.
    The Proposed Action is to: (1) Define the broader landscape as the 
eight municipalities surrounding the planning unit, (2) develop desired 
conditions that consider the broader landscape, (3) identify plan 
components that focus on sustainability, (4) modify the number, 
arrangement, and boundaries of the current plan's management areas to 
reduce complexity and increase flexibility, and (5) develop an 
integrated management strategy for NF lands within the municipalities 
of Ceiba, Naguabo, Las Piedras and Juncos, which recognizes the unique 
sub-regional landscape and social and economic conditions.

Collaborative Adaptive Management

    There has been a change in the collaborative environment outside 
the Forest due to the establishment of new organizations and protected 
areas. The Proposed Action is to: (1) Shift from Forest Service driven 
management priorities to a more collaborative and social learning 
approach to management in which we work in a more cooperative manner to 
determine which actions should be taken, and (2) assist in the 
development of various participatory management activities in areas 
such as interpretation, recreation, economic development, conservation, 
restoration, research and monitoring.

Environmental Literacy and Education

    There is a gap in knowledge regarding forest management among 
communities and the youth in particular. Closing such a gap would 
improve the public's capacity to participate in the forest's 
conservation and sustainability management. The Proposed Action is to 
develop management strategies that will: (1) Engage communities in 
forest restoration activities to sustain long-term change, and (2) 
consider allocation of areas dedicated for open classroom education.

Experimental Forest

    Effectively managing tropical ecosystems in the face of 
multifaceted global change requires the understanding of ecological and 
social mechanisms that drive the function of forest systems. The 
International Institute of Tropical Forestry research continues its 
tradition of research with international applications based on a 
platform in Puerto Rico. Research focuses on understanding ecosystem 
dynamics in the face of global change across a gradient from wild lands 
to working lands to cities. A new emphasis on understanding societal 
and institutional interactions with the landscape will help to inform 
management and predict future states of tropical forests. The Proposed 
Action is to: (1) Revise plan components to facilitate research 
implementation focusing on tropical ecosystem dynamics at watershed and 
landscape scales, assessing effects of climate and land use change, and 
working lands, (2) create or revise plan components for an Air Research 
Site located near East Peak, and (3) integrate research needs and 
related standards and guidelines into the management direction for the 
Wilderness area.

Broader Landscape and Lands

    Forested areas represent the largest portion of land cover in the 
region surrounding El Yunque NF, and forested cover has increased over 
the past several decades. Nonetheless, urban cover is increasing at a 
much more rapid pace, resulting in landscape fragmentation and negative 
effects on the Forest and other natural areas in the region. Moreover, 
many of the negative effects of urbanization are likely to be 
compounded in the context of global climate change. Plan direction 
should promote the maintenance of existing arrangements and the pursuit 
of new opportunities for land acquisition and conservation across 
Forest boundaries by working with adjacent and interested public and 
private land managers, land owners, and other stakeholders within a 
landscape approach. The Proposed Action is to: (1) Create a land 
acquisition plan that promotes conservation initiatives for stream 
corridors, riparian areas, and Wild & Scenic River corridors and 
connections to the Gran Reserva de Noreste Rivers Reserve, and (2) 
integrate lands programs to include conservation easements, donations, 
and private lands.

Social-Economic

    The regional population is large, dense, and growing, albeit at a 
slower pace than in decades past. Per capita and family wealth in the 
region has increased over many decades, but only modestly outpacing 
inflation. Overall, poverty rates remain high among families and 
particularly, among children. Unemployment rates also are high, but 
slowly improving. Additionally, the regional population is aging, yet 
still maintains a significant portion that is young. The Forest Plan 
direction should provide a sustainable supply of goods and services to 
local and other populations, including the need to support community-
based economic development and opportunities and to promote human 
health and well-being in and around the Forest. Plan direction also 
should update, adapt, or target the spectrum of recreation 
opportunities to better reflect current and projected demands and 
potential impacts from an aging population. Strategies should be 
directed to improve existing recreation opportunities and develop new 
services within a long-term vision. The Proposed Action is to: (1) 
Create recreational opportunities that consider regional population 
changes and new visitation patterns, and (2) design a forest plan that 
supports community-based economic interests and promotes human health 
and well-being.

Recreational Settings

    Public access to different parts of the Forest beyond the high 
visitation corridor has been limited. Access to recreation areas needs 
to take into consideration carrying capacity. The Proposed Action is 
to: (1) Create new recreational opportunities at lower elevations, (2) 
use the recreational sustainability framework as a guide to developing 
plan components, (3) restore recreational settings that have been 
affected by climatic changes and inappropriate use to improve the 
quality of outdoor experiences, (4) resolve unmanaged recreation 
challenges through a planned and properly designed network of roads, 
trails, and facilities, (5) use educated citizen stewardship and 
partnerships, as well as field presence to provide quality recreation 
experiences, while reducing the effects of visitor use on the 
landscape, and (6) develop a Forest access strategy integrated with the 
regional elements such as tourism, recreation and existing protected 
areas while recognizing the opportunity to diversify access and 
alleviate high use on PR-191.

Recreational Operations

    Visitation to the El Yunque National Forest continues to increase, 
creating more pressure on PR-191 Recreation Corridor. The Proposed 
Action is to develop plan direction that addresses recreation use 
capacity, which would

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consider elements such as hosting, parking, and quality of facilities.

Connecting Communities Through Recreation

    The recreation facilities are concentrated along the corridor of 
PR-191 North. These areas are deep inside the forest boundary and away 
from local communities. The Proposed Action is to develop management 
strategies that will connect urban areas and rural communities to the 
scenic attractions, historic places, and recreation opportunities in 
lower elevations of the forest.

Special Recreational Places in the El Yunque National Forest

    El Toro Wilderness Law was signed in 2005. There is a need to 
update plan direction for managing wilderness. Particular management 
concerns include limited use, special use permitting, and control of 
non-native species. The Proposed Action is to: (1) Develop plan 
components for the El Toro Wilderness Area that will address limiting 
use when necessary and the control of non-native species, and (2) 
develop management components that would facilitate a PR 186 Scenic 
Route.

Know Our Visitors, Community Stakeholders, and Other Recreation 
Providers

    There is a need to be responsive to changing trends in regard to 
services, activities, and types of facilities desired by the public, 
but at the same time balance those with fiscal reality and 
environmental constraints. The trends in demographics such as the 
expectation of an older and more ethnically diverse population will 
create a need to promote outdoor physical activities among this sector 
of the population and among youth. The desire to support local cultures 
and economies should be considered in establishing a direction for 
recreation management on El Yunque NF. The Proposed Action is to: (1) 
Create a Monitoring Program that will work closely with Research to 
stay current on demographic changes, changing values and demands, data 
sources, new technologies, and management tools.

Scenic Character

    Visitors are drawn to El Yunque NF for its natural scenic beauty 
comprised of immensely diverse vegetation, steep landforms, clear 
streams, and waterfalls. The Proposed Action is to develop plan 
components using the Scenery Management System.

Cultural Resources

    Although the Forest administration has made good progress in the 
inspection and nomination of heritage resources, only a small number of 
potential candidate sites have been nominated. Maintenance of cultural 
assets faces a critical challenge as a consequence of reduced economic 
resources. The Proposed Action is to develop management strategies that 
will reuse historic properties potentially at: Stone House, El Yunque 
Peak Quarters, Ba[ntilde]o de Oro, Ba[ntilde]o Grande, Casa Cubuy and 
El Verde House.

Infrastructure

    There are a variety of structures and associated utilities across 
El Yunque NF that are used for recreation, administration, research, 
maintenance, storage, and other general management purposes. There are 
also a high number of vacant and abandoned structures in El Yunque NF. 
The Proposed Action is to develop management strategies that will: (1) 
Plan for reducing the backlog of accrued facility deferred maintenance, 
particularly those items associated with health and safety, (2) match 
the facility inventory with current management needs, including 
decommissioning and disposing of those facilities which are no longer 
required, and (3) promote local and new business opportunities.

Economic and Ecosystem Services

    Ecosystem services provided by El Yunque National Forest include: 
Clean water, habitat for flora and fauna, air purification, recreation, 
and scenic value. The Proposed Action is to integrate ecosystem 
services into the development of resource plan components.

Wetlands

    The land above 600 meters of elevation contains the soil, 
vegetation and hydrological elements of a functional wetland. This is a 
forest condition not dealt with in the 1997 Plan. The Proposed Action 
is to: (1) Develop plan components that protect the current condition, 
and (2) identify management strategies and/or plan components to ensure 
functional wetlands are administered in accordance with management 
requirements.

Vegetation

    The 1997 Plan was developed based on four forest types. There is a 
need to review current management areas to consider new information 
about the 15 vegetation types present in El Yunque NF. The Proposed 
Action is to: (1) Develop management direction that will protect and 
conserve the Riparian areas, (2) identify suitable and non-suitable 
lands for anthropogenic uses, and (3) identify plan components for the 
new vegetation types that are rare for PR and endemic to El Yunque NF.

Water

    Management strategies for water quality and quantity require an 
integrated approach to move toward our vision for healthy watersheds. 
The watercourses within El Yunque NF provide many beneficial uses 
including recreation, fish and wildlife maintenance, in-stream flow, 
and water level protection. The Proposed Action is to: (1) Provide for 
the beneficial uses of water, (2) incorporate the Watershed Condition 
Framework in the plan, and (3) maintain water quality on water runoff 
from national forest lands.

Flora

    There are an estimated total of 636 native and endemic plant 
species in El Yunque NF, for which their conservation status was 
evaluated and At-Risk Species have been identified, including eight 
plant species that are federally listed as endangered or threatened 
with extinction by the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS.) The 
Proposed Action is to identify and address the management needs for 
these At-Risk species (which include the Species of Conservation 
Concern).

Wildlife

    There are an estimated total of 166 animal species found in El 
Yunque NF, which include: 32 species of snails and crustaceans 
(invertebrate species), 134 vertebrate species and about 11 orders of 
insects that include multiple families. At-Risk species have been 
identified, including four species federally listed as endangered or 
threatened by the USFWS (Puerto Rican Parrot, Puerto Rican Broad-winged 
and Sharp-shinned hawks, and the Puerto Rican Boa. The list of 
potential Species of Conservation Concern includes coquis, anole 
lizards, bats, birds, fishes, freshwater shrimp and snails. Since the 
1997 El Yunque NF Plan was developed, new and better-defined ecosystem 
drivers for Forest Service policy such as climate change and invasive 
species has brought the need to address management concerns towards the 
viability of ``at risk'' fauna species.
    There is a need to provide plan direction to better control the 
introduction and spread of invasive species on the national forest, 
including direction that would minimize the spread of invasive plants 
that may increase as a result of management

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activities. There is a need to include direction for improving aquatic 
passage in streams where it is compromised. Direction should include 
restoring and expanding the range of native aquatic species and 
connectivity of fragmented populations.
    The Proposed Action is to: (1) Modify the present Puerto Rican 
Parrot Management Situation Appendix since El Yunque NF is no longer 
the preferred habitat for the parrot, but habitat management recovery 
for remaining populations will continue in the broader landscape 
capacity through interagency collaborative effort, in compliance with 
the recovery plan for the Puerto Rican Parrot; (2) address the 
information gap of the coqui species that are identified as Species of 
Conservation Concern, focusing in on habitat conditions to better 
develop appropriate management strategies; (3) identify Wildlife Stand 
Improvement areas for all terrestrial vertebrate species; (4) identify 
aquatic passage barriers; (5) manage broader landscape needs 
collaboratively with partners and State agencies; (6) change from an 
integrated pest management strategy in the current plan to an invasive 
species management strategy, in compliance with the executive order; 
(7) control mongoose, rat, feral cat and dog populations actively in 
prioritized areas, and if needed, control invasive aquatic populations 
within the forest; and (8) update the flight restriction over the 
forest in compliance with the new FAA guidelines for wildlife and 
wilderness conservation.

E. Public Involvement

    Listening sessions and a workshop focused on collaboration were 
conducted with the public in September and Decmber 2012 which 
identified public concerns and provided information about the planning 
process and collaboration. Between January and April 2014 four 
community meetings were conducted to solicit comments, opinions, data 
and ideas from members of the public as well as representatives of 
other governmental and non-governmental organizations. In May 2014 
there was a forum to share information on the Plan Assessment and its 
key findings and to gather comments from the public. Approximatey 200 
participants attended these meetings.
    Comments received from the public meetings and from written 
electronic comments, along with information obtained from the 
assessment, were used to develop the preliminary need to change 
statements. A draft assessment was released to the public in March 
2014. Comments that have already been received and any other comments 
relating to the assessment that may be received following the 
publication of this notice will be considered in completing the 
assessment and in describing the Affected Environment section of the 
EIS. It is anticipated that a completed assessment report will be 
posted on the forest's Web site http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/planning within four months after the scoping period closes.

F. Issues and Preliminary Alternatives

    Information gathered during this scoping period, as well as other 
information, will be used to prepare the draft EIS. At this time, El 
Yunque NF is seeking input on the proposed action. From these comments, 
the Forest Service will identify issues that will serve as a focus for 
developing a draft forest plan and alternatives to be analyzed in the 
EIS.

G. Scoping Process

    Written comments received in response to this notice will be:
     Analyzed to complete the identification of the need to 
change the existing plan;
     Used to further develop the proposed action; and
     Used to identify potential significant issues.

Significant issues will, in turn, form the basis for developing 
alternatives to the proposed action. Comments on the preliminary need 
to change and proposed action will be most valuable if received by 
November 3, 2014 and should clearly articulate the reviewer's opinions 
and concerns. Comments received in response to this notice, including 
the names and addresses of those who comment, will be part of the 
public record. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and 
considered; however, see Section I concerning the objection process and 
the requirements for filing an objection. Refer to the El Yunque NF Web 
site at http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunque/planning for information on 
when public meetings will be scheduled for refining the proposed action 
and identifying possible alternatives to the proposed action.

H. Applicable Planning Rule

    Preparation of the revised forest plan for El Yunque NF began with 
the publication of a Notice of Initiation in the Federal Register on 
November 21, 2013 [78 FR 69814] and was initiated under the planning 
procedures contained in the 2012 Forest Service planning rule (36 CFR 
219 (2012)).

I. Decision Will Be Subject to Objection

    The decision to approve the Revised Land Management Plan for El 
Yunque National Forest will be subject to the objection process 
identified in 36 CFR 219 Subpart B (219.50 to 219.62). According to 36 
CFR 219.53(a), those who may file an objection are individuals and 
entities who have submitted substantive formal comments related to a 
plan revision during the opportunities provided for public comment 
during the planning process.

J. Permits or Licenses Required to Implement the Proposed Action

    No permits or licenses are needed for the development of a Land and 
Resource Management Plan.

K. Documents Available for Review

    The complete preliminary need for change document, the assessment 
report including specialist reports, summaries of the public meetings 
and public meeting materials, and the El Yunque's proposed action are 
posted on the El Yunque NF Web site at: http://www.fs.usda.gov/elyunqque/planning. As necessary or appropriate, the material available 
on this site will be further adjusted as part of the planning process 
using the provisions of the Forest Service 2012 planning rule. 
(Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1600-1614; 36 CFR 219 [77 FR 21260-21273])

    Dated: September 12, 2014.
Pablo Cruz,
Forest Supervisor, El Yunque National Forest.
[FR Doc. 2014-22274 Filed 9-17-14; 8:45 am]
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