[Federal Register Volume 81, Number 165 (Thursday, August 25, 2016)]
[Pages 58470-58472]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2016-20382]



Forest Service

Black Hills National Forest, South Dakota and Wyoming, Black 
Hills Resilient Landscapes Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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


SUMMARY: The Forest Service is proposing forest resilience management 
actions on portions of approximately 1,098,000 acres of National Forest 
System lands managed by the Black Hills National Forest.
    The project area consists of lands within the treatment areas 
designated on the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota and 
Wyoming under the authority of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act 
(HFRA, 16 U.S.C. 6591). The Black Hills Resilient Landscapes Project 
will be carried out in accordance with HFRA title VI, section 602(d)--
Insect and Disease Infestation.
    Since 1997, the Black Hills National Forest has experienced 
epidemic levels of mountain pine beetle infestation. The epidemic now 
appears to be slowing in most parts of the forest, but the infestation 
has left behind a changed landscape. Action is needed to address 
accumulations of fuels, undesirable distribution of forest structures, 
and other conditions that may decrease the forest's resilience to 
    The purpose of the project is to move landscape-level vegetation 
conditions in the project area toward objectives of the Black Hills 
National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, as amended, in order 
to increase ecosystem resilience to insect infestation and other 
natural disturbances, contribute to public safety and the local 
economy, and reduce risk of wildfire to landscapes and communities.
    The Forest Service will prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
to disclose the potential environmental effects of implementing 
resilience treatments on National Forest System lands within the 
project area.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by September 26, 2016. The draft environmental impact statement is 
expected in April 2017 and the final environmental impact statement is 
expected in October 2017.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to BHRL Project, Black Hills National 
Forest, 1019 North 5th Street, Custer, SD 57730, or via facsimile to 
605-673-9350, c/o BHRL Project. Written comments also may be hand-
delivered to the above address between 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Mountain 
time, Monday through Friday except federal holidays. Comments may also 
be submitted electronically at http://tinyurl.com/BHRLProjectComment.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Rhonda O'Byrne, Project Manager, at 
605-642-4622. 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 


Purpose and Need for Action

    Since 1997, the Black Hills National Forest has experienced 
epidemic levels of mountain pine beetle infestation. Beetles have 
infested and killed trees on approximately 215,000 acres. In some 
areas, there are very few live, mature pine remaining. In others, the 
beetles only attacked pockets of trees, or very few trees. The Forest 
Service and its partners have responded to the epidemic by reducing 
stand susceptibility to beetle infestation, recovering the value of 
some infested trees, protecting recreation areas, and decreasing fuel 
build-up in some areas.
    The epidemic now appears to be slowing in most parts of the forest, 
but the beetles have left behind a changed landscape. Much of the 
forest is more open. The distribution of pine forest structure has 
moved away from desired conditions. The Black Hills National Forest 
Land and Resource Management Plan (``Forest Plan'') sets these desired 
conditions. They are a critical part of maintaining a landscape that 
provides diverse habitat and is resilient to disturbance.
    Pine forest structure objectives apply to most of the National 
Forest. The current condition of some structural stages is inconsistent 
with the desired condition. Over time, the open and young forest 
structures resulting from the infestation are likely to develop 
characteristics that will decrease the forest's resilience to insect 
infestation, wildfire, and other disturbances. In the newly open 
stands, natural reforestation is occurring as pine seedlings become 
established. Ponderosa pine regenerates prolifically in the Black 
Hills, and often there are so many small trees that they become crowded 
and must compete for limited resources. Growth slows, stems remain 
thin, and heavy snow can result in widespread damage. There is a need 
to manage these new stands to prevent stagnation and allow transition 
to other structural stages.
    Mountain pine beetles most often infest dense pine stands. As a 
result of the epidemic, acreage of mature, moderately dense pine stands 
has decreased below Forest Plan objective levels. Mature, dense pine 
stands are still slightly above objective levels, though most of them 
are concentrated in a few areas that experienced less beetle 
infestation. There is a need to increase mature, moderately dense pine 
stands and maintain mature, dense pine stands. Late succession pine 
forests in the Black Hills provide habitat diversity and enhance 
scenery. There are fewer late succession stands than desired, and

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there is a need to maintain and enhance old stands to work toward 
meeting this objective.
    The beetle infestation also has resulted in hazardous fuels in the 
form of dead trees. The trees usually fall within a few years of being 
infested and can pile up and cause uncharacteristically high fuel 
loadings. These fuels are unlikely to ignite easily, but if they do 
catch fire they can burn intensely, damaging soils and causing problems 
for firefighters. In addition, the dead trees pose an increased hazard 
to public health and safety, infrastructure, and communities. There is 
a need to reduce this hazard, especially near populated areas and 
critical infrastructure.
    Mature ponderosa pine are often resistant to fire, especially if 
there is some space between trees or if they have had periodic exposure 
to low-level fire. Small pine trees are not resistant to fire, and 
dense patches can allow a fire to spread both vertically and 
horizontally. There is a need to thin out these small trees to prevent 
development of a fire hazard. Historically, fire was a major force 
shaping the composition and distribution of Black Hills plant 
communities and ecological processes. Fire suppression over the last 
140 years has altered plant communities and allowed fuels to 
accumulate, especially in less accessible areas. There is a need to use 
prescribed fire to efficiently reduce fuel buildup while providing the 
ecosystem benefits of a disturbance process that native species evolved 
    Ponderosa pine covers most of the Black Hills. Other tree species 
and grasslands diversify habitat and scenery while increasing ecosystem 
resilience to disturbance. Hardwood trees such as aspen and oak are 
resistant to fire and to the insects that infest pine. Aspen stands 
recover quickly from disturbance. Over time, however, these areas can 
become overgrown with conifers. This encroachment can cause old 
hardwood stands and grasslands to lose vigor and gradually disappear. 
There is a need to maintain and perpetuate these ecosystem components.
    In response to these needs, the Forest Service is proposing actions 
to move landscape-level vegetation conditions in the project area 
toward objectives of the Forest Plan in order to increase ecosystem 
resilience to insect infestation and other natural disturbances, 
contribute to public safety and the local economy, and reduce risk of 
wildfire to landscapes and communities.
    The Black Hills National Forest Advisory Board has agreed to serve 
as the formal collaborator for this project under HFRA authority.

Proposed Action

    The proposed action addresses the purpose and need through a 
combination of forest vegetation management actions. Activities would 
start in approximately 2018 and continue for up to 10 years.
    Where heavy down fuels or dense stands of small pine exist adjacent 
to residential areas, main access roads, major power lines, and other 
developments or infrastructure, the project would reduce fire hazard by 
thinning, chipping, piling, or otherwise removing or rearranging fuels. 
Work would focus on priority areas. Where slopes are too steep for 
other types of treatment, the project would burn pockets of hazardous 
fuels. These activities would occur on 3,000 to 7,000 acres annually. 
Fuel reduction work would include cutting of standing beetle-killed 
trees that could fall and block main access roads. The project proposes 
prescribed burning on up to 10,000 acres per year, primarily in the 
southern half of the Black Hills.
    The project would cut encroaching pine from areas of hardwoods and 
grasslands. Pine removal from aspen would take place on up to 6,000 
acres. Pine removal from oak stands would take place on up to 3,000 
acres. Pine would be cut from encroached grasslands on up to 5,600 
acres. Regeneration of declining aspen stands would occur on up to 
5,000 acres.
    Currently, approximately 43 percent of project area pine stands 
consist of open, mature forest, while the objective is 25 percent. The 
project proposes to convert some of these mature stands to young stands 
by removing some or all of the mature trees if there are enough pine 
seedlings and saplings to make a new stand. This may occur on up to a 
total of about 100,000 acres out of the total 300,000 acres of open, 
mature pine forest. The intent of this project is not to create very 
large areas of forest that is all alike. Therefore, the project would 
include limits on the maximum contiguous acreage of any one forest 
condition that could be created.
    Existing roads provide access to most of the potential treatment 
stands. To conduct proposed activities in areas without existing roads, 
it may be necessary to construct up to 15 miles of permanent roads and 
44 miles of temporary roads.
    The project would conduct fuel treatments in some of the remaining 
mature, dense pine stands. Because the objective is to increase 
moderately dense mature forest, mature trees in these stands would 
generally not be cut. There would be exceptions, such as removing 
beetle-infested trees or thinning to reduce hazardous fuels adjacent to 
    The forest is below objectives for late succession forest. In some 
stands that are nearing late succession conditions, especially those 
with open canopies, the project would thin or burn understory 
vegetation to enhance late succession characteristics and increase 
stand resilience.
    Removing some of the small trees in young stands (precommercial 
thinning) increases the vigor of the remaining saplings and prevents 
stagnation. The project would precommercially thin up to 25,000 acres 
per year.
    Connected actions include road improvement, non-native invasive 
weed treatment, and other activities. The proposed action includes 
design features and mitigation necessary to ensure project compliance 
with directives, regulations, and Forest Plan standards and guidelines. 
Go to http://tinyurl.com/BHRLProject for more detailed information and 
maps of the project area and proposed treatments.

Forest Plan Amendments

    If necessary to meet the project's purpose and need, the Forest 
Service may need to amend the Forest Plan in regard to reducing fuel 
loading by removing logging slash in certain areas.

Responsible Official

    Mark Van Every, Black Hills National Forest Supervisor.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    This proposed action is a proposal, not a decision. The Forest 
Supervisor of the Black Hills National Forest will decide whether to 
implement the action as proposed, whether to take no action at this 
time, or whether to implement any alternatives that are analyzed. The 
Forest Supervisor will also decide whether to amend the Forest Plan if 
necessary to implement the decision.

Preliminary Issues

    Anticipated issues include effects on threatened, endangered, and 
sensitive species, changes to scenery, and the unique fire hazards 
posed by fallen trees and regenerating stands.

Scoping Process

    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

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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.

    Dated: August 15, 2016.
Jim Zornes,
Acting Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2016-20382 Filed 8-24-16; 8:45 am]