[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 66 (Friday, April 7, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 16989-16991]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-06927]


========================================================================
Notices
                                                Federal Register
________________________________________________________________________

This section of the FEDERAL REGISTER contains documents other than rules 
or proposed rules that are applicable to the public. Notices of hearings 
and investigations, committee meetings, agency decisions and rulings, 
delegations of authority, filing of petitions and applications and agency 
statements of organization and functions are examples of documents 
appearing in this section.

========================================================================


Federal Register / Vol. 82, No. 66 / Friday, April 7, 2017 / 
Notices

[[Page 16989]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Lincoln National Forest; New Mexico; South Sacramento Restoration 
Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The Lincoln National Forest will prepare an Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS) to document and publicly disclose environmental 
effects of its management strategy for restoring forest health on 
approximately 140,000 acres in the southern Sacramento Mountains of New 
Mexico. The restoration strategy would include a variety of management 
tools including mechanical methods and prescribed fire to achieve 
forest health and fuel reduction goals. The project will include 
additional measures to improve wildlife habitat and watershed health. 
The project will include adaptive management options that will allow 
for treatment flexibility based on site-specific conditions, needs, and 
objectives.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by May 8, 2017. The draft environmental impact statement is expected 
December 2017 and the final environmental impact statement is expected 
April 2018.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to ``SSRP Comments, c/o Peggy 
Luensmann, Lincoln National Forest, Supervisor's Office, 3463 Las 
Palomas, Alamogordo, NM 88310''. Comments may also be sent via email to 
[email protected], or via facsimile to 575-434-
7218.
    A public meeting will be held at the Lodge Resort Pavilion, 601 
Corona Place, Cloudcroft, NM 88317 on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 from 6 
p.m. to 9 p.m. Forest Service representatives will present an overview 
of the project proposal, answer questions, and discuss the analysis 
process. Please contact the Forest Service at 575-434-7200 at least one 
week in advance of the meeting if you need to request special 
accommodations (i.e., sign language interpretation, etc.).

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: The project Web site at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=51146 or contact Peggy Luensmann, 575-
434-7200, [email protected].
    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: The project is being developed under the 
Agriculture Act (Farm Bill) of 2014 authority as amended to the Healthy 
Forests Restoration Act of 2003, Section 602. The initial project 
proposal was designed in cooperation with the New Mexico Department of 
Game and Fish, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and with the 
participation of a local collaborative group representing the interests 
of local residents, environmental groups, other state and federal 
agencies, elected officials, and other stakeholders.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The landscape within the South Sacramento Restoration Project 
planning area has been greatly altered from historic conditions. 
Overall forest health in the area has declined due to insects, disease, 
and other factors leading to high tree mortality and increased risk for 
high-severity wildland fire across the landscape. Wildlife habitat and 
watershed conditions have also declined as a result.
    The purpose of the project is to restore overall forest health, 
watershed health, and wildlife habitat in the planning area. There is a 
need to increase forest resiliency to insects, disease, and stand-
replacing fires by shifting forest structure, composition, and 
diversity toward the natural range of conditions that were historically 
typical for mixed-conifer, ponderosa pine, pinyon-juniper, and other 
habitat types within the Sacramento Mountains in southeast New Mexico.
    Additionally, there is a need to reduce high-severity fire risks 
and post-fire flooding potential to protect life, property, and natural 
resources by reducing crown fire hazard potential. There are also needs 
to reduce the likelihood of human-caused ignitions and to increase the 
ability of fire suppression crews to manage future wildfires.
    In Mexican spotted owl habitat, there is a need to protect existing 
and promote development of future habitat suitable for nesting, 
roosting, foraging, and dispersal to further recovery of the species. 
Additionally, there is a need to increase our understanding of the 
short- and long-term effects of land management on existing and future 
suitable habitat.
    Where watershed function is impaired, there is a need to improve 
soil condition and productivity; hydrologic function of springs and 
seeps; and quality of perennial and intermittent waters and riparian 
areas.

Proposed Action

    In response to the purpose and need, the Lincoln National Forest 
proposes to conduct forest restoration activities on up to 140,000 
acres of National Forest System lands in the southern Sacramento 
Mountains (approximately 10 to 15 years to meet initial project 
objectives with additional maintenance treatments over the long term). 
Restoration activities would occur in all ecosystems in the area, 
including mixed-conifer, ponderosa pine, pinyon-juniper, riparian 
areas, meadows, and aspen habitat types. Restoration activities would 
focus on thinning and burning treatments to improve forest health and 
resiliency by reducing stand density, continuity, and homogeneity 
(sameness of forest structure and species composition), and increase 
heterogeneity (diverse forest structure and species composition) at a 
landscape scale, midscale and fine scale.
    The South Sacramento Restoration Project includes areas of the 
Lincoln National Forest, Sacramento Ranger District that either have 
not been previously treated, or that were previously treated but 
require additional treatments to support forest restoration and other 
habitat management goals at all scales. To meet project needs, the 
Forest Service is proposing to conduct hand and mechanical thinning and 
prescribed fire treatments to achieve forest and wildlife habitat 
restoration objectives as described below. Treatments would be aligned 
with old growth development and large tree

[[Page 16990]]

retention objectives, which are ecosystem components that are generally 
lacking in the planning area. The following types of treatment 
activities may be considered for this project:
    Hand Treatments--Hand treatments refer to the use hand tools such 
as chainsaws, brush cutters, and other methods that do not require the 
use of heavy machinery, vehicles, or similar equipment. The use of 
manual methods can be extremely time consuming and would most likely be 
used on slopes that are inaccessible by heavy equipment; in areas 
adjacent to open roads; or in areas where use of mechanical methods 
would cause significant, unavoidable harm to resources.
    Mechanical Treatments--Mechanical treatments refer to a variety of 
possible tools used to meet objectives. These include equipment and 
vehicles designed to cut trees and lop slash including on all terrain; 
yard material to landings; pile slash; chip or masticate wood; and 
transport material. Merchantable wood products would be removed from 
sites where feasible, based on road access, slope, terrain, and 
economic factors. Non-merchantable wood and thinning slash may be 
removed or treated on site depending on site-specific objectives.
    Prescribed Fire--Broadcast and pile burning are types of prescribed 
fire that may be used in this project. In most cases, pile burning 
would occur following mechanical treatments to remove activity slash 
created during mechanical treatment activities. Bulldozers or similar 
heavy equipment are most commonly used to pile slash. Slash may be hand 
piled in areas with limited amounts of downed woody debris, where 
highly-erodible soils occur, or on steep slopes and other areas that 
are not accessible to heavy equipment.
    Broadcast burning would be most often used after initial thinning 
and pile burning treatments on a regular maintenance schedule 
(typically every 2 to 15 years depending on the plant association). 
However, broadcast burning may also be used as an initial treatment 
where treatment objectives do not require mechanical thinning prior to 
burning (such as maintaining open meadows or in stands to stimulate 
understory growth) and where the use of broadcast burning would be 
expected to meet restoration objectives with minimal risk to property 
or resources of concern. Both manual and aerial ignition methods may be 
used. If prescribed burning is unable to occur due to environmental or 
personnel constraints, then additional hand or mechanical methods would 
occur to maintain restoration objectives.
    Adaptive Management--The adaptive management strategy consists of 
three principle components: (1) The ability to select management tools 
or strategies best suited to site-specific and mid-scale management; 
(2) the ability to learn from treatment and resource monitoring so the 
most effective treatment methods are used to achieve management goals 
in new areas; and (3) the ability to incorporate new technologies or 
tools as they become available.
    All proposed hand or mechanical thinning and prescribed fire 
treatments may be used indefinitely after the initial treatments to 
maintain or further reduce tree densities and fuel loads if site-
specific objectives cannot be fully achieved by the initial treatment.
    Additional treatments methods may be utilized to restore watershed 
health and improve wildlife habitat:
    Some snags and downed woody debris would be retained as needed to 
improve soil condition and nutrient cycling and to meet wildlife 
habitat objectives outlined in the Lincoln National Forest Land and 
Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan). New snags may be created to 
improve wildlife habitat conditions and forest health in areas where 
existing snags are limited.
    Watersheds--Improve water quality and watershed condition. 
Treatments may include but is not limited to installing structures to 
control erosion; reseeding or replanting native vegetation where 
natural regeneration is not sufficient to stabilize soils; and treating 
headcuts in arroyos.
    Mexican Spotted Owl Habitat--Restoration activities, including hand 
or mechanical thinning and prescribed fire treatments are proposed in 
Mexican spotted owl protected activity centers and recovery habitats. 
The overall goal is to improve the quantity, quality, and distribution 
of owl habitat. Treatments would be designed in coordination with the 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and align with the 2012 Mexican spotted 
owl recovery plan. These restoration activities are expected to improve 
habitat resiliency by reducing the risk of stand-replacing fires and 
reducing the occurrence and extent of insect and disease outbreaks 
within owl habitat. Treatments are also expected to promote the 
development of future habitat in forest stands that are not currently 
suitable for nesting and roosting or only provide marginal habitat. 
Pre- and post-treatment monitoring would occur so the impacts of 
treatments can be understood.
    Infrastructure improvements may be necessary to complete proposed 
treatments:
    Roads--Open system roads (maintenance level 2 through 5) would 
continue to be maintained as needed. Maintenance level 1 roads (closed 
roads) would be temporarily opened and maintained where needed for 
project access. Temporary roads and landings may be constructed where 
needed for these purposes. Road maintenance includes but is not limited 
to smoothing out road surfaces, improving drainage, and stabilizing 
stream crossings. Both maintenance level 1 and temporary roads would be 
closed after treatments are completed. Open system roads would remain 
open to public access after completion of the project. No new permanent 
roads would be constructed. Decisions about changing public access are 
not included in this project.

Forest Plan Amendment

    To further meet project goals, the proposed action would include a 
project-specific amendment to the Forest Plan that would authorize the 
use of forest restoration strategies in places and under conditions 
that were not foreseen when the current Forest Plan standards and 
guidelines were established in 1986. The amendment is expected to 
include, but may not be limited to, the standard and guideline changes 
relating to:
     Using harvest strategies on steep slopes where such 
activities are not currently authorized;
     Using a broader range of treatment options within Mexican 
spotted owl habitat than is currently authorized; and
     Removing timing restrictions in some Mexican spotted owl 
protected activity centers so disturbance in occupied habitat can be 
limited to one year.
    A project-specific plan amendment is a one-time variance in Forest 
Plan direction. Forest Plan standards and guidelines revert back to the 
original language for all other ongoing or future projects that may be 
authorized on the Lincoln National Forest unless additional amendments 
are made for those other projects. The amendment will be fully 
developed based on circumstances, issues, and concerns identified 
during the project scoping period. If adopted, this would be the 
eighteenth amendment to the Forest Plan since its inception in 1986.
    The current Forest Plan is under revision and a final decision on 
the revised plan is not expected until 2019. The final South Sacramento 
Restoration Project analysis and decision is

[[Page 16991]]

expected to be consistent with the revised Forest Plan.

Responsible Official

    The Forest Supervisor of the Lincoln National Forest is the 
deciding officer for this project. The Forest Supervisor will issue a 
record of decision at the conclusion of the National Environmental 
Policy Act (NEPA) process, and after evaluating public comments 
received on the draft EIS.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The Forest Service is the lead agency for the project. Based on the 
results of the NEPA analysis and consideration of public comments, the 
Forest Supervisor will authorize implementation of one of the 
following: (1) The no action alternative; or (2) the agency's proposed 
action, including the adaptive management strategy, Forest Plan 
amendment, and any protection measures or mitigations necessary to 
minimize or avoid adverse impacts.
    The decision will be based on a consideration of the environmental 
effects of implementing the proposed action or other alternatives that 
may be developed to respond to significant issues. The Forest 
Supervisor may select the proposed action, a modified proposed action 
or alternative, another alternative analyzed in detail, or no action.

Scoping Process

    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of the environmental impact statement. The Forest 
Service will host a public scoping meeting. See the Addresses section 
for details on the location, date, and time of the meeting.
    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 comment period and should clearly 
articulate the reviewer's concerns and contentions.
    This proposed project is an activity implementing a land management 
plan and is subject to the objection process described in 36 CFR 218 
Subparts A and C. As such, individuals and organizations wishing to be 
eligible to file a predecisional objection must meet the information 
requirements in 36 CFR 218.25(a)(3). Comments received in response to 
this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, 
will become part of the public record for this project and may be 
released under the Freedom of Information Act. Comments submitted 
anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous 
commenters will have no standing to participate in subsequent 
administrative review or judicial review.

    Dated: March 20, 2017.
Jeanne M. Higgins,
Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System.
[FR Doc. 2017-06927 Filed 4-6-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3411-15-P