[Federal Register Volume 82, Number 79 (Wednesday, April 26, 2017)]
[Notices]
[Pages 19198-19203]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-08407]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Revision of Land Management Plan for Gila National Forest; 
Counties of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo, and Sierra, New Mexico

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to revise the Gila National Forest Land 
Management Plan and prepare an associated Environmental Impact 
Statement.

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SUMMARY: As directed by the National Forest Management Act, the USDA 
Forest Service is revising the Gila National Forest's Land Management 
Plan (hereafter referred to as Forest Plan) through development of an 
associated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental 
Impact Statement (EIS). This notice describes the documents available 
for review and how to obtain them; summarizes the needs for change to 
the existing Forest Plan; provides information concerning public 
participation and collaboration, including the process for submitting 
comments; provides an estimated schedule for the planning process, 
including the time available for comments, and includes the names and 
addresses of agency contacts who can provide additional information.

DATES: Comments concerning the Needs for Change and Proposed Action 
provided in this notice will be most useful in the development of the 
revised plan and draft EIS if received by June 12, 2017. The agency 
expects to release a draft revised plan and draft EIS, developed 
through a collaborative public engagement process by spring 2018, and a 
final revised plan and final EIS by summer/fall 2019.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Gila National Forest, Attn: Plan 
Revision, 3005 E. Camino del Bosque, Silver City, NM 88061. Comments 
may also be sent via email to [email protected].

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Matt Schultz, Forest Planner, Gila 
National Forest, 575-388-8280. 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. More information on our forest plan 
revision process can be found on our Web site at http://go.usa.gov/h88k.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The National Forest Management Act (NFMA) of 
1976 requires that every National Forest System (NFS) unit develop a 
forest plan. On April 9, 2012, the Forest Service finalized its land 
management planning rule (2012 Planning Rule, 36 CFR 219), which 
describes requirements for the planning process and the content of the 
forest plans. Forest plans describe the strategic direction for 
management of forest resources for ten to fifteen years, and are 
adaptive and amendable as conditions change over time. Under the 2012 
Planning Rule, the assessment of ecological, social, cultural, and 
economic conditions and trends is the first stage of the planning 
process (36 CFR 219.6). The second stage, formal plan revision, 
involves the development of our forest plan in conjunction with the 
preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement under the National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The third stage of the process is 
monitoring and feedback, which is ongoing over the life of the revised 
forest plans.
    The Gila National Forest has completed its assessment pursuant to 
2012 Forest Planning Rule. The assessment was developed with public 
participation and includes an evaluation

[[Page 19199]]

of existing information about relevant ecological, economic, cultural 
and social conditions, trends, and sustainability and their 
relationship to forest plans within the context of the broader 
landscape. The intent of the Gila National Forest is that this 
information builds a common understanding prior to entering formal plan 
revision. With this notice, the Gila National Forest is initiating 
formal plan revision and invites other governments, non-governmental 
parties, and the public to contribute. The intent of public engagement 
is to inform development of the plan revision. We encourage 
contributors to share material that may be relevant to the planning 
process, including desired conditions for the Gila National Forest. As 
we develop public engagement opportunities to assist with the plan 
revision phase, public announcements will be made and information will 
be posted on the Forest's Web site: http://go.usa.gov/h88k. If you 
would like to contribute to the process or for more information email 
[email protected], or contact Matt Schultz, Forest Planner, Gila 
National Forest, 575-388-8280.

Name and Address of the Responsible Official

    Adam Mendonca, Forest Supervisor, Gila National Forest, 3005 E. 
Camino del Bosque, Silver City, NM 88061.

Nature of the Decision To Be Made

    The Gila National Forest is preparing an EIS to revise the existing 
forest plan. The EIS process is meant to inform the Forest Supervisor 
so he can decide which alternative best maintains and restores National 
Forest System terrestrial and aquatic resources while providing 
ecosystem services and multiple uses, as required by the National 
Forest Management Act and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act.
    The revised forest plan will describe the strategic intent of 
managing the Forest for the next 10 to 15 years and will address the 
identified needs for change to the existing land management plans. The 
revised forest plan will provide management direction in the form of 
desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, and suitability 
of lands. It will identify delineation of new management areas and 
possibly geographic areas across the Forest; identify the timber sale 
program quantity; make recommendations to Congress for Wilderness 
designation; and list rivers and streams eligible for inclusion in the 
National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The revised forest plan will 
also provide a description of the plan area's distinctive roles and 
contributions within the broader landscape, identify watersheds that 
are a priority for maintenance or restoration, include a monitoring 
program, and contain information reflecting expected possible actions 
over the life of the plan.
    It is also important to identify the types of decisions that will 
not be made within the revised forest plan. The revised forest plan 
will represent decisions that are strategic in nature, but will not 
make site-specific project decisions and will not dictate day-to-day 
administrative activities needed to carry on the Forest Service's 
internal operations. The authorization of project level activities will 
be based on the guidance/direction contained in the revised plan, but 
will occur through subsequent project specific NEPA analysis and 
decision-making.
    The revised forest plan will provide broad, strategic guidance that 
is consistent with other laws and regulations. Though strategic 
guidance will be provided, no decisions will be made regarding the 
management of individual roads or trails, such as those might be 
associated with a Travel Management plan under 36 CFR part 212. Some 
issues (e.g., hunting regulations), although important, are beyond the 
authority or control of the National Forest System and will not be 
considered.

Purpose and Need (Needs for Change) and Proposed Action

    According to the National Forest Management Act, forest plans are 
to be revised at least every 15 years. The purpose and need for 
revising the current forest plan are to: (1) Update the Forest Plan 
which was approved in 1986 and is over 30 years old, (2) reflect 
changes in economic, social, and ecological conditions, new policies 
and priorities, and new information based on monitoring and scientific 
research, and (3) address the preliminary identified needs for change 
to the existing plan, which are summarized below. Extensive public and 
employee involvement, along with science-based evaluations, have helped 
to identify theses preliminary needs for change to the existing forest 
plan.
    What follows is a summary of the preliminary identified needs for 
change. A more fully developed description of the preliminary needs for 
change, which has been organized into several resource and management 
topic sections, is available for review on the plan revision Web site 
at: http://go.usa.gov/h88k.

Plan-Wide Changes

    The ability of the National Forest to continue to provide desired 
social and economic benefits associated with recreation and tourism, 
ranching, hunting, timber, and other natural resources is affected by 
changing social, economic, and environmental conditions. To help 
balance these demands with sustainability, there is a need to:
    1. Develop a desired condition to recognize and improve the 
Forest's role in contributing to local economies through recreation and 
tourism, timber and forest products, livestock grazing, and other 
multiple-use related activities and products while balancing these uses 
with available resource capacity and emerging opportunities.
    2. Include management approaches throughout the plan as appropriate 
that consider the capacity of infrastructure, contractors and markets 
when planning towards desired conditions.
    Relationships and Partners. Especially with challenges related to 
lower budgets and staffing levels, strong working relationships can 
help successfully implement the forest plan. With this in mind, there 
is a need to:
    3. Include management approaches throughout the plan as appropriate 
that utilize collaboration with stakeholders, partnerships and 
volunteer opportunities as a management option to strengthen 
relationships and to promote movement toward desired conditions. This 
includes but is not limited to local, state, and federal agencies, 
local and tribal governments, elected officials, local communities, 
interested individuals, businesses, permittees, recreation and forest 
user groups, fire safety and community protection groups, environmental 
and conservation organizations, users with historic ties to the forest, 
volunteer and stewardship groups, educators, and youth groups. This 
also includes management approaches that encourage working with 
neighboring land managers to implement projects at a scale that 
improves landscape scale connectivity across mixed ownerships where 
natural systems, such as watersheds and wildlife corridors, span 
multiple administrative boundaries.
    4. Develop management approaches that can strategically leverage 
and streamline processes for engaging partners and volunteers during 
project implementation and monitoring.
    5. Create management approaches that emphasize public education 
about the Gila NF's diverse ecological, social, and economic resources, 
the multiple-use sustained yield philosophy, public laws

[[Page 19200]]

and regulations, shared use ethics, and management strategies.
    6. Prepare desired conditions and management approaches aimed at 
connecting people--particularly youth and underserved populations--with 
public lands and nature.
    Applicable Laws, Regulations, and Policies. Forest plans must be 
consistent with all applicable laws, regulations, and policies, but 
should not repeat those requirements. Therefore, there is a need to:
    7. Remove components that are redundant with existing laws, 
regulations and Forest Service policy where possible. These should be 
incorporated by specific reference, which will allow the plan to be up 
to date with the most recent versions without amendments.
    Resource Management Approaches. The current forest plan imposes 
internal management boundaries, often with different management 
direction. This artificially fragments the National Forest and creates 
unnecessary complexities. Therefore, there is a need to:
    8. Reevaluate the number, arrangement, and boundaries related to 
current forest plan management areas, and base new ones on ecological 
boundaries such as ecological response units (ERUs).
    9. Include plan direction that provides for adaptive management. 
There is also a need for plan components to be more strategic than 
prescriptive and for increased usage of management approaches based on 
best available science and monitoring.
    10. Develop a monitoring program that collects relevant data, 
tracks progress toward desired conditions, distributes information 
consistently, and allows for a responsive adaptive management program 
with available resources, and uses updated terminology and 
methodologies especially for air quality, facilities, fire/fuels, 
lands, timber, and wilderness monitoring elements.

Ecological Changes

    The cumulative effects of past management, combined with current 
management actions and inactions have contributed to departure from the 
natural range of variation and risk to ecological integrity.
    Upland Vegetation. Past fire suppression, historic overgrazing, and 
other activities have disrupted many natural processes, such as 
wildfire and natural vegetation succession. In the meantime, factors 
such as climate change, drought, and uncharacteristic fires have made 
upland vegetation (i.e., terrestrial vegetation communities) more 
vulnerable to insects, diseases, and non-native species. To address 
these issues, there is a need to:
    11. Develop desired conditions regarding vegetation structure, 
composition, and function, as well as objectives, standards, guidelines 
and management approaches that will promote ecological restoration, 
support ecological resilience, and minimize risks.
    12. Develop desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and 
management approaches to better promote the restoration and maintenance 
of native herbaceous vegetation, limit woody species encroachment/
infill and non-native invasive plant establishment.
    Frequent Fire and Infrequent Fire Ecosystems. Restoring natural 
vegetation conditions can increase environmental resiliency, but 
restoring natural ecological processes such as fire is key to 
sustainability. Specifically, fire can reduce the risk of larger, more 
severe wildfires. However, restoring the historic fire regime faces 
challenges related to altered fuel characteristics, climate change, and 
operational, budget, policy, and political constraints. To address 
these issues, there is a need to:
    13. Update current plan direction to better support an integrated 
resource approach to increase flexibility for the restoration and 
maintenance of fire as an ecological process while addressing 
firefighter and public safety and health concerns, especially in the 
Wildland Urban Interface (WUI).
    14. Develop plan direction that recognizes the natural role of fire 
and its use as a management tool to help achieve desired conditions 
appropriate to both frequent and infrequent fire ERUs across the 
landscape.
    15. Develop plan direction that allows for the flexibility to 
manage naturally ignited fires to meet land management objectives based 
on weather and site-specific conditions (e.g. fuel conditions, 
topography, safety concerns and values). These objectives may include 
the use of fire to reduce fuel accumulations, reduce the risk of future 
undesirable fires, improve wildlife habitat and range conditions, and 
improve watershed and overall forest health.
    16. Update plan direction to address vegetation structure in within 
the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), since these areas may have 
different desired conditions than non-WUI areas.
    17. Consider landscape dynamics of old growth populations when 
replacing current plan direction with the revised plan content 
identified in statement 11.
    Soils, Watershed, Riparian Ecosystems, and Aquatic Habitat. The 
past and present management factors impacting upland vegetation have 
also impacted soils, watersheds, riparian ecosystems and aquatic 
habitat. While the National Forest has no ability to control or 
influence cycles of drought, climate change, water allocation or use, 
there is a need to:
    18. Develop desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and 
management approaches to restore, maintain and sustainably manage soil 
stability, hydrologic and nutrient cycling functions (aka soil 
condition) for both ecosystem and watershed health.
    19. Develop desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and 
management approaches to inventory, restore, maintain and sustainably 
manage riparian areas, including those associated with springs, seeps 
and wetlands.
    20. Develop plan direction that better recognizes the connections 
and interrelationships of ecosystems and watershed condition and 
facilitates integration of their management.
    21. Develop desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and 
management approaches to restore, maintain and sustainably manage 
watershed condition.
    22. Develop adaptive management approaches for water dependent 
resources and multiple-uses.
    23. Update plan direction and develop management approaches to 
sustainably manage water resources via enhancing adaptation by 
anticipating and planning for disturbances from intense storms; 
reducing watershed vulnerability by maintaining and restoring resilient 
ecosystems; increasing water conservation and planning for reductions 
in upland water supplies; and avoiding actions that exacerbate drought 
effects.
    Wildlife, Fish, and Plants. The Gila National Forest is home to 
hundreds of animal and plant species, some of which are found only on 
the Gila National Forest. For a few species, changing land use outside 
of the Gila National Forest has increased the species' reliance on 
Forest Service managed lands. Recent studies have identified 66 at-risk 
species, including six endangered, seven threatened, two proposed 
threatened and 51 species of conservation concern on the Gila National 
Forest. Restored, resilient, and connected habitats are necessary to 
maintaining species diversity across the National Forest. To help 
achieve this, there is a need to:
    24. Develop desired conditions and standards and guidelines that 
support ecological conditions that contribute to the conservation and 
recovery of federally recognized species, as well as

[[Page 19201]]

maintain viable populations of species of conservation concern and 
other native species.
    25. Develop standards and guidelines that allow for managing toward 
terrestrial, riparian and aquatic habitat and population connectivity 
for terrestrial and aquatic species movement across the landscape, 
while allowing for the restoration of the range of native species.
    Restoration Approaches and Tools. Many Gila National Forest 
ecosystems are not as resilient as they might be. Restoration 
treatments are not at the scale to affect change. Fire is an important 
tool, but it is not the only tool available to facilitate restoration. 
Mechanical and manual vegetation treatments, along with managed fire, 
are expected to occur more often and over larger areas, with a 
continued emphasis on landscape scale restoration. These types of 
treatments have met with variable success, often producing increases in 
shade intolerant, re-sprouting native species such as alligator 
juniper. While the Gila National Forest does not currently have 
extensive issues with invasive species, in the coming years, such 
species may compound the challenge to effectively restore ecosystem 
resiliency. To maintain restoration treatments and the trajectory 
toward desired conditions, there is a need to:
    26. Update plan direction regarding integrated pest management and 
provide plan direction on the use of pesticides for restoration.
    27. Develop standards and guidelines to address the presence of 
nonnative species by encouraging the removal of existing populations, 
limiting the introduction and spread of new populations while promoting 
the characteristic composition and condition of native species.

Social, Cultural, and Economic Changes

    The previously identified risks to ecological integrity and 
sustainability may impact the Forest's ability to contribute to some of 
the social, cultural and economic benefits desired and enjoyed by 
people in local communities, surrounding areas and visitors to the 
area.
    Recreation. The Gila National Forest features a diverse range of 
recreational opportunities, including opportunities for solitude. There 
are nearly 2,000 miles of trails in the Forest trail system, including 
almost 200 miles of recently designated motorized trails and more than 
850 miles of wilderness trails. However, because of limited maintenance 
funds and uncharacteristic wildfire and post-fire flooding, many trails 
may be infrequently maintained and difficult to follow. Recreational 
demands, including permitted special uses, are increasing, while many 
recreational opportunities have limited availability on adjacent lands. 
Other challenges include sustainability under current funding levels 
and conflicting use demands. There is a need to:
    28. Develop desired conditions, standards, guidelines and 
management approaches to address the long-term sustainability, changing 
trends in demands, and intended use of recreation infrastructure, 
trails, and facilities.
    29. Update existing and develop new desired conditions, standards, 
and guidelines for management of recreation activities and permitted 
special uses that occur in areas that are sensitive or at risk of 
resource degradation due to high visitation.
    30. Include guidelines and management approaches to implement 
public education and to anticipate demand and minimize conflicts 
between uses.
    31. Update existing desired conditions, standards, guidelines and 
management approaches to emphasize the importance of scenery and 
recreation opportunity effects when planning projects across all Forest 
program areas.
    32. Create desired conditions, standards, guidelines, and 
management approaches for cave management, backcountry river use, and 
rockclimbing since these activities are not addressed in the current 
Forest Plan.
    33. Update plan direction for administration of the special uses 
program to be aligned with current National, Regional, and Forest 
policy direction.
    34. Prepare desired conditions, standards, and guidelines to 
balance consideration of special uses requests with impacts to natural 
and cultural resources, wilderness character, and other forest users.
    Designated Areas. Designated areas represent identified exceptional 
areas that have distinct or unique characteristics warranting special 
designation. These areas have management objectives to maintain their 
unique characteristics. The Gila National Forest contains the world's 
first designated wilderness and altogether has three large wilderness 
areas in relatively close proximity that total nearly 800,000 acres. 
Most permitted outfitter and guide use occurs within designated 
wilderness areas and is expected to grow with the demand for trophy elk 
hunting. Other designated areas include scenic byways, research natural 
areas, national recreation trails, and 254 miles of the Continental 
Divide National Scenic Trail. The plan revision process includes an 
inventory and evaluation process for lands and rivers that may be 
suitable for congressional designation, and other potential 
administrative designations (e.g. botanical, geological areas and 
research natural areas) will also be further considered. To address 
these unique management needs and requirements, there is a need to:
    35. Update desired conditions, standards, guidelines and management 
approaches for managing existing or potential new designated areas to 
maintain desired character and values unique to each area.
    36. Update plan direction for the Continental Divide National 
Scenic Trail (CDNST) to follow the management policy and direction 
outlined in the 2009 Continental Divide National Scenic Trail 
Comprehensive Plan and to adapt desired conditions and standards from 
the Regional Foresters' CDNST plan revision considerations policy 
letter issued August 2016.
    37. Update current standards and guidelines for completing 
permitted outfitter/guide use capacities within wilderness to inform 
management decisions in light of changing social and environmental 
conditions, and to continue to maintain alignment with National, 
Regional, and Forest policy direction.
    Range. Most rangeland vegetation on the National Forest is in fair 
condition, with stable to upward trends. However, woody species 
encroachment, climate change, drought, and invasive species may reduce 
rangeland productivity. Future management that focuses on the 
restoration and maintenance of ecological integrity is required to 
address these sustainability issues. Fire restoration objectives and 
the protection of endangered and threatened species can pose range 
management challenges. Increased management flexibility that responds 
to climatic, operational or resource condition changes is necessary to 
address these challenges, and therefore there is a need to:
    38. Update plan direction for livestock management that 
incorporates increased flexibility and adaptive management in order to 
restore and maintain ecological integrity of rangelands.
    Timber and Special Forest Products. The National Forest provides 
timber and forest products, mainly to local communities and mills. 
Forest restoration and landscape-scale restoration projects can help 
sustain

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forest and watershed health, reduce potential for uncharacteristic 
wildfire, maintain or improve wildlife habitat, and maintain the 
ability to sustainably meet local demand. To facilitate these efforts, 
there is a need to:
    39. Update timber suitability determinations consistent with 
updated plan desired conditions.
    Infrastructure. Limited funding has led to an increasing amount of 
deferred infrastructure maintenance, affecting administrative 
buildings, recreation buildings, communication structures, lookout 
towers, airstrips, remote cabins, roads, trails, and range and wildlife 
developments. Roads and trails across the National Forest are important 
for access and fire management, and facilitate multiple-uses, but have 
potential negative ecological impacts. To help address these issues, 
there is a need to:
    40. Develop plan direction and management approaches to ensure 
sustainable infrastructure (e.g., roads, trails, recreation and 
administrative facilities, range developments, airstrips, etc.) while 
being adaptive to budgets and resource needs (demand for services, 
activities, types of facilities).
    41. Provide plan direction and management approaches for the 
maintenance prioritization process of the Gila's National Forest System 
roads.
    42. Update plan direction and management approaches for 
decommissioning of unneeded roads that accounts for budgets/resource 
needs and constraints, but that also involves affected stakeholders.
    Cultural and Historic Resources. With about 12,000 years of known 
human occupation and use, the National Forest includes numerous 
historic properties and traditional cultural properties as defined by 
the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. These sites provide 
valuable information and cultural connections. However, these sites are 
not fully inventoried and are vulnerable to natural and human processes 
such as erosion, wildfire, and recreational use. To help protect these 
sites, there is a need to:
    43. Update plan direction to stabilize, preserve, interpret, and 
protect historic and sensitive properties (e.g., archaeological sites, 
historic structures, and traditional cultural properties).
    44. Prepare plan direction that recognizes the inherent value and 
sensitivity of traditional cultural properties, while maintaining the 
security of information about such sites.
    45. Develop desired conditions in the plan to address the alignment 
of cultural resource management objectives with other land and resource 
management objectives.
    Areas of Tribal Importance. The National Forest works with 10 
Native American tribes in four states on policies, plans, projects, 
programs, and activities that might affect tribal interests. Management 
challenges include changes in access, forest and watershed degradation, 
and land development and recreational interference with traditional 
activities. To help tribal interests and use, there is a need to:
    46. Update plan direction on giving consideration to the value and 
importance of areas that may be identified as a sacred site or part of 
an important cultural landscape by tribes (also see Land Status and 
Ownership, Use and Access section below).
    47. Develop management approaches that include opportunities for 
integrating Forest management with tribal needs through shared 
stewardship.
    Traditional and Cultural Ways of Life. For many years, the lands of 
the Forest have provided economic, social, and religious value to 
Native Americans, Hispanics, and Anglo-American traditional 
communities. The continued use and access to the Forest contributes 
greatly to the continuation of local culture and tradition, and 
therefore there is a need to:
    48. Provide management direction for historic and contemporary 
cultural uses, including both economic and noneconomic uses for tribes 
and for those traditional communities not considered under tribal 
relations (i.e., traditional Hispanic and Anglo communities).
    Land Status and Ownership, Use, and Access. The Lands program faces 
many challenges, including access and encroachment issues, title 
claims, communication site demands, wildland-urban interface expansion, 
completing property boundary surveys, and fragmentation. To help 
address these issues, there is a need to:
    49. Develop plan direction related to Forest Service land 
acquisitions, disposals, and exchanges that are not covered by the 
existing Forest Plan.
    50. Prepare plan direction for the authorization, location, and 
inspection of current and future communication site infrastructure 
because there is an increasing demand on the Forest for these services.
    51. Create plan direction that is more flexible to changes in 
technology and can be responsive to future needs and changes in 
communication site demand.
    52. Include management approaches for the resolution of existing 
and prevention of new encroachment cases on the Forest.
    53. Formulate plan direction that encourages the protection of 
existing public access and the acquisition of new public access 
opportunities to National Forest lands.
    Energy and Minerals. Policies and regulations regarding personal 
collecting of rocks, minerals, and gold ore have been identified as an 
area of desired improvement. To improve accuracy and consistency in 
this area, there is a need to:
    54. Include management approaches for education and communication 
of policies regarding recreational mining and non-commercial rock and 
mineral specimen collection activities.

Public Involvement

    Public participation in the planning process began prior to the May 
2015 publication of a notice in the Federal Register that marked the 
official start of the assessment. A series of community conversations 
were held in March 2015 at Quemado, Reserve, Glenwood, Silver City, 
Mimbres and Truth or Consequences. The desired outcomes of these 
conversations were to introduce forest plan revision, identify 
expectations, opportunities and methods for communication and 
engagement, and build or enhance relationships between the Gila NF and 
its stakeholders. The information shared during these meetings were 
used to develop the Forest's Pubic Participation Strategy. The Public 
Participation Strategy and summaries of these conversations are 
available on the Gila NF's Plan Revision Web page at http://go.usa.gov/h88k.
    Since March 2015, the Gila NF has presented on plan revision at 40 
governmental and organizational meetings. Informational booths at over 
15 special events such as county fairs have been an ongoing way to 
share materials summarizing the plan revision process. On-line and 
interactive classroom sessions to engage youth and educators were 
conducted by Western New Mexico University.
    Another round of public meetings at the same locations was held in 
August 2015 to gather input for the assessment phase of plan revision. 
Participants were provided an overview of the assessment process, 
including the 15 topics identified in the 2012 Planning Rule. 
Opportunities were also provided for stakeholders to share knowledge, 
plans, and data for the assessment. This input was used in the 
development of parts of the ecological, and social, cultural and 
economic sections of the

[[Page 19203]]

assessment including a section devoted to stakeholder input in most 
chapters.
    In February 2016, the Gila NF and the Southwestern Regional Office 
participated in the 6th Natural History of the Gila Symposium hosted by 
Western New Mexico University. Ecological assessment data and analysis 
approaches were presented, including: an overview of forest plan 
revision, the analysis framework, state and transition modeling, 
vegetation, soil, water, at-risk species and a history of insects and 
disease.
    The Forest released the draft assessment report in September 2016 
and draft need-for-change document in October 2016 to the public and 
other stakeholders for feedback. Community meetings were held in 
communities surrounding the Forest (including Las Cruces) in late 
October to early November 2016 to discuss assessment key findings, 
collaborate to determine needs-for-change to the current plan, and 
continue the dialogue between the Forest and nearby residents, users, 
and interested individuals. All meeting materials have been posted 
online at http://go.usa.gov/h88k to provide an opportunity for people 
that couldn't attend the meetings to be able to view the materials, and 
to provide feedback. The Forest received 78 emails, letters, and forms 
providing feedback on the draft assessment report and need-for-change 
document, which were all considered as the Gila NF revised and 
finalized the documents. Stakeholder engagement will continue 
throughout the upcoming plan and EIS development.

Scoping Process

    Written comments received in response to this notice will be 
analyzed to complete the identification of the needs for change to the 
existing plan, further develop the proposed action, and identify 
potential significant issues. Significant issues will, in turn, form 
the basis for developing alternatives to the proposed action. Comments 
on the preliminary needs for change and proposed action will be most 
valuable if received by [45 days from date of publication in the 
Federal Register], 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 in the NEPA process; however, anonymous comments will not 
provide the Agency with the ability to provide the respondent with 
subsequent environmental documents, nor will anonymous comments provide 
standing to the commenter for the eventual Objection process. See the 
below Objection process material, particularly the requirements for 
filing an objection, for how anonymous comments are handled during the 
objection process. Refer to the Forest's Web site (http://go.usa.gov/h88k) for information on when public meetings will be scheduled for 
refining the proposed action and identifying possible alternatives to 
the proposed action.

Applicable Planning Rule

    Preparation of the revised forest plan for the Gila National Forest 
began with the publication of a Notice of Assessment Initiation in the 
Federal Register on May 18, 2015 (80 FR 28222) and was initiated under 
the planning procedures contained in the 2012 Forest Service planning 
rule (36 CFR 219 (2012)).

Permits or Licenses Required To Implement the Proposed Action

    No permits or licenses are needed for the development or revision 
of a forest plan.

Decisions Will Be Subject to Objection

    The decision to approve the revised forest plan for the Gila 
National Forest will be subject to the objection process identified in 
36 CFR part 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 plan revision 
during the opportunities provided for public comment during the 
planning process.

Documents Available for Review

    The Needs for Change documentation, the Assessment Report, 
summaries of the public meetings and public meeting materials, and 
public comments are posted on the Forest's Web site at: http://go.usa.gov/h88k. 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 2012 planning rule.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1600-1614; 36 CFR part 219 [77 FR 21260-
21273].

    Dated: April 13, 2017.
Glenn Casamassa,
Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System.
[FR Doc. 2017-08407 Filed 4-25-17; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3411-15-P