[Federal Register Volume 75, Number 47 (Thursday, March 11, 2010)]
[Notices]
[Pages 11505-11508]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2010-4932]


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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.

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Federal Register / Vol. 75, No. 47 / Thursday, March 11, 2010 / 
Notices

[[Page 11505]]



DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Revision of Land and Resource Management Plan for the National 
Forests in Mississippi

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Revised Notice of Intent to prepare an environmental impact 
statement and the resumption of the land management plan revision.

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SUMMARY: As directed by the National Forest Management Act, the USDA 
Forest Service is preparing the National Forests in Mississippi (NFsMS) 
revised land management plan (Forest Plan) and will also prepare an 
environmental impact statement (EIS) for this revised plan. This notice 
briefly describes the background history of NFsMS plan revision process 
to date, the nature of the decision to be made, the proposed action and 
need for change, 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 briefly describes 
the applicable planning rule and how work done on the plan revision 
under the 2008 planning rule will be used or modified for completing 
this plan revision.
    The revised Forest Plan will supersede the land and resource 
management plan previously approved by the Southern Region Regional 
Forester on September 16, 1985 and as amended seventeen times since 
original plan approval. This amended Forest Plan will remain in effect 
until the revised plan takes effect.

DATES: Comments concerning the need for change and the proposed action 
provided in this notice will be most useful in the development of the 
draft revised plan and draft environmental impact statement if received 
by May 7, 2010. The agency expects to release a draft revised Forest 
Plan and draft EIS for formal comment by October, 2010 and a final 
revised plan and final environmental impact statement by September, 
2011.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to: Forest Plan Revision, National 
Forests in Mississippi, 100 West Capitol St., Suite 1141, Jackson, MS 
39269. Comments may also be sent via e-mail to Mississippi_Plan@fs.fed.us (include ``Forest Plan Revision'' in the subject line.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: National Forests in Mississippi, 
Planning Team Leader, Jeff Long, 100 West Capitol Street, Suite 1141, 
Jackson, MS 39269 (phone 601-965-1600). Electronic mail should include 
``Forest Plan Revision'' in the subject line and sent to: Mississippi_Plan@fs.fed.us. Information on this revision is also available at the 
National Forests in Mississippi Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

A. Background

    A Notice of Intent to begin the plan revision process for the NFsMS 
was first published in the Federal Register on December 14, 1999 [64 FR 
69686-69691]. A collaborative, participatory role for the public has 
always been a part of the plan revision approach for the NFsMS. 
Although the process has had various delays and transitions, numerous 
meetings and working sessions along with extended informal feedback 
opportunities have provided a variety of ideas and input throughout the 
course of plan revision.
    After initiating the plan revision process at the end of 1999, a 
series of public meetings were held in 2000 across the State of 
Mississippi to explain the plan revision process, get input on the 
issues important to stakeholders, and receive feedback on anticipated 
plan components. A total of 847 participants attended the 24 open house 
sessions that were conducted at various libraries, community centers, 
district offices, and local auditoriums near each of the Mississippi 
national forests. Over 6,000 individual comments were generated.
    Changes in national priorities and funding shifts caused a delay of 
several years in the revision process. The NFsMS published a revised 
NOI in the Federal Register on September 26, 2003 (68 FR 55576-55580). 
The 2003 revised NOI provided public notice announcing resumption of 
plan revision activities, updated the projected schedule for plan 
revision and provided an opportunity for additional public comments on 
the scope of analysis for plan revision. An additional 12 public 
meetings were held from September through November 2004 at locations 
near each of the national forests and were attended by 237 individuals. 
Revision issues identified at the time included access management (off-
highway vehicle issues); ecosystem management (ecological community 
diversity, fire management, forest health, invasive species, old-
growth, riparian areas, vegetation management, watershed conditions); 
special designations (wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, 
research natural areas and other special area recommendations); and 
threatened, endangered, and sensitive species management (particularly 
red-cockaded woodpeckers and gopher tortoise).
    In July 2005, the NFsMS Forest Plan revision process, which had 
begun under the 1982 Planning Rule, was transitioned to the 2005 
Planning Rule. Notice of adjustment to an ongoing plan revision process 
was published in the Federal Register on July 27, 2005 (70 FR 43391-
43392). At this point, the NFsMS had already conducted many public 
participation opportunities prior to transitioning to the 2005 rule, 
including over 35 public meetings and open houses; numerous agency 
contacts; and a variety of mailings, newsletters, Web site postings, 
and requests for comments. An important factor in the transition was 
ensuring that public feedback received in the earlier revision stages 
was included and considered under the new process. In addition to 
reviewing previous stakeholder input, another seven public meetings or 
workshops were held across the State from late 2005 to early 2006 and 
attended by approximately 210 participants. That round of working 
sessions exchanged information on the changes in the new planning 
process

[[Page 11506]]

and focused on the public's vision for the future of the NFsMS. On 
August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made land fall on the Gulf Coast 
causing extreme broad-scale damage along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. 
While plan revision efforts continued most national forest resources 
and personnel were devoted to recovery efforts, protracting the NFsMS 
plan revision timeline.
    On March 30, 2007, the Federal District Court for the Northern 
District of California enjoined the Department from implementing and 
using the 2005 planning rule until the Agency complied with the court's 
order regarding the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered 
Species Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act (Citizens for Better 
Forestry v. USDA, 481 F. Supp 2d 1059 (N.D. Cal. 2007)). Revision of 
the National Forests in Mississippi land management plan under the (36 
CFR 219 (2005)) rule was suspended in response to the injunction.
    Prior to the injunction of the 2005 planning rule, the National 
Forests in Mississippi had substantially engaged the public in 
collaboration efforts to develop plan components, completed a draft 
Comprehensive Evaluation Report, worked with the scientific community 
on addressing concerns for species viability and sustainability to be 
addressed in the revised plan, had developed a model for timber 
suitability and sustainability analysis, and had completed initial 
drafts of major plan components.
    On April 21, 2008 the Forest Service adopted a new planning rule 
that allowed resumption of the revision process if it conformed to the 
new planning rule (36 CFR 219.14(b)(3)(ii), 2008). Notification of 
adjustment for resuming the land management plan revision process under 
the 36 CFR 219 (2008) rule for the NFsMS was published in the Federal 
Register on October 24, 2008 [73 FR 63433-63434]. The NFsMS in 
Mississippi developed a draft revised Forest Plan consistent with the 
2008 rule, however prior to public release for review and comment the 
2008 planning rule was enjoined by Federal Court order. On June 30, 
2009, the 2008 planning rule was enjoined by the United States District 
Court for the Northern District of California and the revision of the 
NFsMS Forest Plan was again suspended.

B. Applicable Planning Rule

    Preparation of the NFsMS revised plan was underway when the 2008 
National Forest System land management planning rule was enjoined on 
June 30, 2009, by the United States District Court for the Northern 
District of California (Citizens for Better Forestry v. United States 
Department of Agriculture, No. C 08-1927 CW (N.D. Cal. June 30, 2009). 
The Department has determined that the 2000 planning rule is now back 
in effect. The 2000 Rule's transition provisions (36 CFR 219.35), 
amended in 2002 and 2003 and clarified by interpretative rules issued 
in 2001 and 2004, and reissued on December 18, 2009 (74 FR 67059-67075) 
allow use of the provisions of the National Forest System land and 
resource management planning rule in effect prior to the effective date 
of the 2000 Rule (November 9, 2000), commonly called the 1982 planning 
rule, to amend or revise plans. The NFsMS has elected to use the 
provisions of the 1982 planning rule, including the requirement to 
prepare an EIS, to complete its plan revision.

C. Name and Address of the Responsible Official

    The responsible official who will approve the Record of Decision is 
Elizabeth Agpaoa, Regional Forester, USDA Forest Service, Southern 
Region, 1720 Peachtree Road NW., Atlanta, GA 30309.

D. Nature of the Decision To Be Made

    The NFsMS is preparing an EIS to revise the current Forest Plan. 
The EIS process is meant to inform the Regional Forester so that she 
can decide which alternative best meets the diverse needs of the people 
while protecting the forest's resources, as required by the National 
Forest Management Act and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act. The 
Revised Forest Plan will establish management direction for the next 10 
to 15 years.
    A Forest Plan developed under the 1982 planning rule procedures 
will make the following primary decisions:
    1. Establishment of forest-wide multiple-use goals and objectives 
(36 CFR 219.11(b));
    2. Establishment of forest-wide management requirements (36 CFR 
219.13 to 219.27);
    3. Establishment of multiple-use prescriptions and associated 
standards for each management area (36 CFR 219.11(c));
    4. Determination of land that is suitable for the production of 
timber (16 U.S.C. 1604(k) and 36 CFR 219.14);
    5. Establishment of the allowable sale quantity for timber within a 
time frame specified in the plan (36 CFR 219.16);
    6. Establishment of monitoring and evaluation requirements (36 CFR 
219.11(d));
    7. Recommendations concerning roadless areas that Congress could 
designate as wilderness (36 CFR 219.17); and
    It is also important to identify the types of decisions that will 
not be made within the revised forest plan. Forest Plans typically do 
not make site-specific decisions but they do establish limitations on 
what actions may be authorized and what conditions must be met as part 
of project-level decision-making. The authorization of site-specific 
activities within a plan area later occurs through project decision-
making that must comply with NEPA procedures and must include a 
determination that the project is consistent with the Forest Plan.

E. Prior Plan Revision Efforts

    Although the 2008 planning rule is no longer in effect, the 
information gathered from public collaboration efforts and most of the 
analysis conducted prior to the court's injunction in June 2009 is 
still useful for completing the plan revision using the provisions of 
the 1982 planning regulations. The NFsMS has concluded that the 
following material developed during the plan revision process to date 
is appropriate for continued use:
     The inventory of potential wilderness areas that was 
conducted between 2004 and 2008 is still consistent with the 1982 
planning regulations, and will be brought forward into this plan 
revision process.
     A Comprehensive Evaluation Report was developed under the 
2005 and 2008 rule provisions. This analysis has been updated with 
additional information to meet the requirements of the Analysis of the 
Management Situation (AMS) provisions of the 1982 rule. The information 
from this analysis was used to help identify the need for change and 
the proposed actions that are identified in this notice. Comments 
received during the scoping process will be used to further update the 
need for change analysis. Other AMS requirements will also continue to 
be worked on as the planning process proceeds.
     Information on the life history, threats, habitat needs 
and population trends of a number of terrestrial and aquatic species 
contained in the forest planning records for ecosystem and species 
diversity assessments will continue to be used as a reference in the 
planning process as appropriate to meet the requirements of the 1982 
planning regulations. This is scientific information and is not 
affected by the change of the planning rule. This

[[Page 11507]]

information will be updated with any new available information.
     Public comments previously submitted in writing or 
recorded at past public meetings relating to the previous plan revision 
efforts will still be used to help identify issues and concerns and to 
help identify alternatives to address these issues and concerns.

F. Preliminary Issues and Need for Change

    According to the National Forest Management Act, forest plans are 
to be revised on a 10 to 15 year cycle. The current forest plan is over 
24 years old, and since the forest plan was approved in 1985, there 
have been changes in economic, social, and ecological conditions, new 
policies and priorities, and new information based on monitoring and 
scientific research.
    The following issues identify some of the major evolving conditions 
and shifts in management direction, scientific understanding, and 
public interests since the 1985 Forest Plan:
     New emphasis on restoring and sustaining a diversity of 
native ecosystems (particularly restoration of native longleaf pines) 
instead of focusing on timber commodities production in the 1985 Plan.
     Shift from vegetation management as a means of more 
efficient timber harvest and production to a tool for carrying out 
restoration goals while sustaining healthy resilient forests that also 
supply desired goods and services.
     More emphasis on protecting and promoting habitat for 
threatened and endangered (T&E) species (especially red-cockaded 
woodpecker and gopher tortoise).
     Better understanding of the historic role of fire and the 
need for an aggressive prescribed fire program to maintain fire-
dependent native ecosystems, reverse habitat loss for endangered 
species, reduce fuel hazards, control non-native invasive species, and 
protect human safety.
     Increasing population and development adjacent to national 
forest lands are putting growing pressures on conducting effective 
management practices.
     Growing demand for recreation opportunities, particularly 
developed recreation sites.
     Need for a more sustainable system of access roads, 
trails, and bridges.
     Need for addressing the effects of increasing weather 
disturbances and incorporating strategies for responding to anticipated 
climate changes in our management practices.

G. Proposed Action

    The NFsMS will complete plan revision following the 1982 planning 
rule procedures. The NFsMS will utilize past plan revision activities 
and make appropriate adjustments to planning documents and analysis 
processes to conform to the 1982 planning procedures. Public 
collaboration on development of this EIS and continued development of a 
revised Forest Plan will build upon information gathered previously 
where the NFsMS was in the revision process just prior to the Court 
injunction issued on the 2008 planning rule on June 30, 2009. The NFsMS 
had completed development of a draft revised Forest Plan, however the 
draft plan was not released for public comment prior to the injunction 
of the 2008 planning rule. Therefore, the NFsMS will not circulate the 
draft plan prepared under the 2008 procedures for public review and 
comment; however, appropriate portions will become a starting point for 
public collaboration on the development of the revised plan under the 
1982 procedures.
    Several overarching themes have emerged over time in the various 
efforts to revise the forest plan, which now provide a framework for 
developing the Proposed Action alternative for this EIS. These themes 
include:
    1. Restore native ecological systems--Restoration of native 
ecological systems has emerged as a major desired condition for 
stakeholders. Twenty-four native ecological systems have been 
identified on the NFsMS, including 9 unique communities or uncommon 
local features. Priorities for achieving desired conditions include 
conversion of loblolly and slash pine stands to longleaf pine and 
shortleaf pine-oak ecosystems, restoration of floodplain forests, and 
continued maintenance and enhancement of native hardwood ecosystems and 
unique communities such as native prairies and bogs. Proposed 
strategies and objectives include the conversion of approximately 
23,000 acres to appropriate ecosystems and structural, age, and species 
improvements on approximately 150,000 acres during the first planning 
period.
    2. Protect diversity of species--One of the basic tenants of 
revising the plan is that managing for a diversity of healthy native 
ecosystems is integral to providing appropriate ecological conditions 
for a diversity of plant and animal species. In gathering information 
for revising the plan, a list of all potential species that could occur 
on the NFsMS has been developed and analyzed through a series of 
collaborative meetings with technical experts and taxonomic specialists 
familiar with the plant and animal species across Mississippi. Species 
that could possibly occur on the NFsMS were further evaluated through a 
series of iterative screenings. As the strategic direction of the 
revised plan is being developed, the specific needs and habitats of 
species on the lists will be addressed, primarily through ecosystem 
diversity management strategies, but also though integrated programs 
for soils, water, fire regimes, and other resource areas. T&E species 
protection and habitat enhancement are important priorities in revising 
the plan, so the needs of the 9 T&E species identified as potentially 
occurring on the NFsMS will particularly be emphasized. This process 
will continue throughout plan revision development, including the 
identification of Management Indicator Species.
    3. Manage for healthy forests--A shift in focus from commodity 
production to native ecosystem restoration and forest health is being 
proposed. Vegetation management practices support a variety of 
integrated resource strategies including converting loblolly and slash 
pine plantings to native ecosystems, creating a diversity of habitats, 
improving resilience to natural disturbances and a changing climate, 
reducing impacts of insects and diseases, controlling non-native 
invasive species, and producing quality timber commodities.
    4. Conserve old growth communities--A diversity of tree ages, from 
regeneration to old growth, is proposed to support a sustainable mix of 
ecological conditions across the landscape. The overall proposed 
strategy is to establish old growth stands across all ecological 
systems and all districts, with at least 10% of all forested ecosystems 
in old growth conditions.
    5. Restore historic fire conditions--On the NFsMS, periodic 
prescribed burning has become an important tool for recreating historic 
fire regimes and reducing the risk of catastrophic fires while 
restoring conditions that favor desirable native ecosystems and 
habitats for T&E species. A proposed strategy is to continue the 
prescribed burning levels of recent years, with an average of 205,000 
acres per year. The frequency of return intervals for prescribed burns 
and the percent of burns conducted during the growing season would vary 
depending on the ecosystem and habitat needs.
    6. Manage for healthy watersheds--Productive soils, clean water, 
and clean air were important desired conditions

[[Page 11508]]

identified by stakeholders and are essential to sustaining the 
ecological function and productive capacity of NFsMS lands. Proposed 
management strategies focus on using best management practices for 
sustaining and improving watershed areas within national forest control 
while working cooperatively with other agencies and landowners to 
improve statewide watershed health. Proposed objectives include the 
restoration of approximately 10 miles of stream channel every 5 years 
in conjunction with culvert replacement to improve aquatic organism 
passage, and the improvement of approximately 10-15 acres of degraded 
watershed areas each year.
    7. Maintain sustainable infrastructure and access--It is proposed 
that the main priorities for managing the roads, trails, and facilities 
that make up the NFsMS infrastructure would involve the safety and 
maintenance of existing systems. This would include addressing the 
backlog of repairs and upgrades, improvements for environmental 
protection, disposal of facilities that are no longer needed, and 
rehabilitation of user-created trails and roads. Infrastructure 
additions are anticipated to be limited and dependent on funding 
availability.
    8. Maintain sustainable recreation--Proposed strategies for 
sustaining outdoor recreation opportunities on the NFsMS under 
anticipated funding levels focus on maintaining and improving existing 
dispersed recreation opportunities and developed recreation sites, with 
the addition of new facilities and amenities dependent on expanding 
local and State-wide partnerships.
    9. Provide stable economic benefits--The national forest activities 
that generate the majority of the revenues that feed back into the 
local economy in Mississippi come from timber, minerals, and 
recreation. As a result of the proposal to restore native ecosystems to 
appropriate sites and maintaining healthy and resilient forests, it is 
anticipated that there would be a steady flow of economic benefits 
similar to those received in recent years.
    10. Adapt to changing conditions--An increase in extreme weather 
events is the climate change factor most likely to affect the NFsMS in 
the next 10-15 years. Proposed strategies include reducing 
vulnerability by maintaining and restoring resilient native ecosystems, 
enhancing adaptation by reducing serious disturbances and taking 
advantage of disruptions, using preventative measures to reduce 
opportunities for forest pests, and mitigating greenhouse emissions by 
reducing carbon loss from hurricanes.

H. Preliminary Alternatives

    Information gathered during this comment period, as well as other 
feedback, will be used to identify issues that will serve as a focus 
for developing alternatives to be analyzed in the draft EIS.

I. Public Involvement

    The public is invited to provide comments on this NOI, especially 
regarding the scope of analysis for the items identified under Need for 
Change and Proposed Action sections above. Additional information is 
available on the National Forests in Mississippi Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r8/mississippi/.
    Notice of public meeting times and places will be posted on the 
above Web site and will also be published in the newspaper of record 
(legal notice section) for National Forests in Mississippi (Clarion-
Ledger--Jackson, Mississippi).
    It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times 
and in such a way that they are useful to the Agency's preparation of 
the revised plan and the EIS. Therefore, comments on the proposed 
action and need for change will be most valuable if received by May 7, 
2010 and should clearly articulate the reviewers' concerns. The 
submission of timely and specific comments can affect a reviewer's 
ability to participate in subsequent administrative or judicial review. 
At this time, we anticipate using a pre-decisional objection process 
for administrative review.
    Comments received in response to this solicitation, including the 
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.

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1600-1614; 36 CFR 219.35 [74 FR 67073-
67074].

    Dated: March 2, 2010.--
Margrett L. Boley,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. 2010-4932 Filed 3-10-10; 8:45 am]
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