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Daily Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of the Federal Government

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

Intermountain Region, Boise, Payette, and Sawtooth National Forests; ID; Amendment to the 2003 Land and Resource Management Plans: WildlifeConservation Strategy (Forested Biological Community)

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.
ACTION: Correction of notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS).
SUMMARY: On September 14, 2007, the Forest Service published an NOI to preparean EIS to disclose the environmental effects of proposed nonsignificantamendments to the three Southwest Idaho Ecogroup (SWIE) 2003 Land and ResourceManagement Plans (Forest Plans). The September 2007 NOI noted that amendmentsto the 2003 Forest Plans for the Boise, Payette, and Sawtooth National Forests(NFs) will add, and/or modify existing, management direction, as needed, toimplement a comprehensive, Forest Plan-level, wildlife conservation strategy(WCS). This NOI is being corrected to reflect a delay of more than a year infiling the draft EIS. This corrected NOI also provides notice of a change inthe approach to the amendment process, in that the amendment process now hasbeen tentatively divided into four phases, each supported by its ownenvironmental impact statement.
DATES: Comments concerning this first proposed environmental analysis must bereceived within 30 days following the date of publication of this NOI. Thedraft ETS is expected to be available in spring 2009 for a 45-day publiccomment period. The final EIS and three Records of Decision (RODs), one foreach Forest Plan, are expected to be completed by summer 2009.
ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Randall Hayman, Forest Planner, BoiseNational Forest; 1249 South Vinnell Way, Suite 200; Boise, Idaho 83709; or byfax at 208 373-4111; or you may hand-deliver your comments to the Boise ForestSupervisor's Office, located at 1249 South Vinnell Way, Suite 200, Boise, during normal business hours from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday throughFriday, excluding Federal holidays. Electronic comments must be submitted in aformat such as an e-mail message, plain text (.txt), rich text format (.rtf),or Word (.doc) to:comments-intermtn-boise@fs.fed.us.

Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names andaddresses of those who comment, will be part of the public record for thisproposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted andconsidered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the respondent withstanding to appeal the subsequent decision.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Randall Hayman, Forest Planner, BoiseNational Forest at the address above. Individuals who use telecommunicationdevices 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, Mondaythrough Friday.
SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Separate RODs for revised Forest Plans were issuedin July 2003 for the Boise, Payette, and Sawtooth NFs. The RODs implementedAlternative 7, as identified in the single 2003 final EIS that disclosed theenvironmental effects of the seven alternatives. Forest Implementation of thethree revised Forest Plans began in September 2003.

On September 14, 2007, the Forest Service published an NOT to prepare an EISto disclose the environmental effects of proposed nonsignificant amendments tothe three SWIE 2003 Forest Plans (Federal Register, Vol. 72, No. 178, pp.52540-52542). In late 2007, following a long summer of wildfire, theResponsible Officials for the proposed amendments recognized that, since theForest Plans were first implemented in 2003, all three Forests haveexperienced extensive wildfires that may have substantially changed vegetativeconditions in many areas from those that existed in 2003. Because this changecould affect the type of amendments needed, the three Forests decided to delaypreparation of the proposed Forest Plan amendments and EIS so that vegetationbaseline conditions could be updated and incorporated in the WCS and amendmentprocess.

This vegetative baseline update and integration into the WCS analysisprocesses will be completed in the winter of 2009 and incorporated into thedraft EIS for the forested biological community, to be released spring 2009, along with important new information concerning wildlife species and theirhabitat relationships. Consequently, this NOT is being corrected to reflect adelay of more than a year in filing the draft EIS, which was originallyexpected to be available in mid- to late-winter 2008 (FSH 1909.15, 21.2).

The September 14, 2007, NOT identified that all habitats across majorbiological communities on each of the three NFs would be addressed in a singleenvironmental analysis. However, because the WCS and related amendments mustaddress many species and associated habitats and, therefore, be extremelycomplex, the amendment process has now been divided into four phases, eachwith an individual environmental impact statement. The first phase willaddress the forested biological community, with subsequent phases slated toaddress rangeland; unique combinations of rangeland and forest; andriparian/wetland biological communities. This corrected NOT, which reflectsthe change in the approach to the amendment process, has been prepared for theEIS addressing the forested biological community in the first phase.

Purpose and Need for Action:Assessments supporting Forest Plan revision in 2003 identified more habitat areas in need of restoration for a variety ofspecies within each planning unit than could be moved toward desiredconditions by natural processes or management activities within the 10- to 15-year planning period. As a result, the 2003 Forest Plans for the Boise, Payette, and Sawtooth NFs identified that maintaining and restoring habitatsfor species of concern should be prioritized based upon the greatest risks tothe persistence of certain species (Boise and Payette Forest Plans, p. 11-10 and Sawtooth Forest Plan, p. 11-9).

To address this need, each Forest Plan included a wildlife objective, WIOB03, to prioritize wildlife habitat to be restored at a mid- or Forest-scale, usinginformation from sources such as species habitat models and fine scaleanalyses. The WCS currently being developed includes a prioritizationframework for implementation of this forest plan direction that managers canuse to help focus limited resources and funds for restoration on areas mostimportant to species of concern.

WCS assessments completed to date indicate that most species of concernassociated with the forested biological community are linked to habitats foundin late-seral multi- or singlestoried montane and lower montane forests, including in some cases “old forest” habitat. Historically, these habitatscontained an abundance of large diameter trees and snags (20 inches diameterat breast height [d.b.h.]) with cavities important to species nesting, foraging or both.

Preliminary findings suggest there has been an overall reduction in theabundance of large trees and snags across most habitats, and the subsequentquality of these habitats, over the last 100 years. Of particular concern istheextent of reductions in single-storied late-seral and old forest habitatswithin the lower montane forests over the last 100 years that were previouslydominated by large ponderosa pine trees and snags. These changes over the last 100 years are largely due to stand replacement wildfires, historical timberharvest, fire exclusion and increases in human occupancy and use.

There is a need to reconsider Forest Plan direction in response to newinformation and changed resource conditions:

• Forestwide and management area objectives need to consider the WCS habitatprioritization framework currently being developed.

• Management prescription MPC 5.2 allocations may need to be reallocated tomanagement prescriptions with desired conditions consistent with habitatconservation, maintenance and restoration.

• Forest plan standards and guidelines pertaining to large tree-dominatedhabitat (e.g., wildlife standard WIST01) and large snags need to be reviewedto assure that these habitat components are conserved, maintained or restored, especially in lower montane and montane forests.

• There is a need to evaluate whether Forest Plan direction should be addedthat specifically addresses conservation of the subset of large tree-dominatedhabitat in lower montane forests called “old forest” habitat.

Impacts resulting from increases in human occupancy and use in priorityhabitat areas for species of concern need to be considered.

Proposed Action:The Proposed Action is threefold:

(1) Develop a Forest Plan Wildlife Conservation Strategy (WCS) that providesthe information needed to improve Forest Plan strategies in a way that focuseslimited funds and resources toward the highest priority habitats and speciesof concern, while minimizing threats to those species or habitats;

(2) Determine if amendments to Forest Plan management direction and/or othercomponents of the three Forest Plans are needed to reflect findings andpriorities identified in the WCS; and

(3) Update the wildlife assessments pertaining to 36 CFR 219.19 (1982), asneeded, to reflect findings in updated analyses supporting the WCS, as well asoutcomes anticipated from implementing the amended Forest Plans.

Responsible Officials:The Responsible Officials are the three Forest Supervisors for the Boise, Payette, and Sawtooth NFs.

Nature of Decision To Be Made:The Responsible Officials will review the finalETS and determine if the 2003 Plan for her respective Forest should be amendedand/or modified, or if the current Forest Plan should remain unchanged.

Scoping Process:This corrected notice of intent continues the scopingprocess, which guides development of the ETS. Written comments must bereceived within 30 days following publication of this NOI in the FederalRegister. Providing comments within this time period ensures that they will beavailable to the Forest Service at a time when it can meaningfully considerthem during preparation of the specific proposed amendments and Draft EIS.

Beginning in December 2008, information about and status updates of thisamendment process will be available on the Web site,http://fs.usda.gov/boise(click on “Wildlife Conservation Strategy”).

It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times and insuch manner that they are useful to the agency's preparation of the EIS.Therefore, comments should be provided prior to the close of the commentperiod and should clearly articulate the reviewer's concerns and contentions.The submission of timely and specific comments can affect a reviewer's abilityto participate in subsequent administrative appeal or judicial review.

Dated: December 2, 2008. Cecilia R. Seesholtz, Forest Supervisor, Boise National.