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Notice

Payette National Forest, Idaho; Meadows Slope Wildland Fire Protection Project

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Information about this document as published in the Federal Register.

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AGENCY:

Forest Service, USDA

ACTION:

Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

SUMMARY:

The USDA Forest Service will prepare the Meadows Slope Wildland Fire Protection Project EIS. The proposed action in the EIS is to create and maintain a half-mile fuelbreak on National Forest System lands to reduce the risk of damage to rural homes, private property, and National Forest resources from wildland fires. The Payette National Forest invites written comments and suggestions on the scope of the analysis and the issues to address. The agency gives notice of the full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analysis and decision-making process so that interested and affected people know how they may participate and contribute to the final decision.

DATES:

Comments need to be received by January 6, 2003.

ADDRESSES:

Send written comments to Kimberly A. Brandel, District Ranger, New Meadows Ranger District, Payette National Forest, P.O. Box J, New Meadows, Idaho 83654.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Questions about the proposed action should be directed to Suzanne Acton, Interdisciplinary Team Leader, at the above address, phone (208) 347-0300.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The Meadows Slope project area is located in the Sixmile-Threemile, Lower Goose, Little Creek, Little Goose Creek, Middle North Fork Payette River, and Payette Lake sub-watersheds on the New Meadows and McCall Ranger Districts. It is about four miles east of New Meadows and three miles northwest of McCall, and approximately 6,480 acres in size. The purpose and need for this activity is to (1) reduce crown fire risk, (2) reduce forest fuel loading, and (3) reduce risk to life, property, natural resources, and suppression resources on National Forest System lands surrounding the Timber Ridge, Rock Flat, King's Pine, and Crescent Rim Subdivisions, and additional private developments adjacent to the project area.

The proposed action includes a variety of activities to meet the purpose and need. (1) Harvest timber on approximately 4,736 acres, producing approximately 24.9 million board feet (MMBF), using tractor and skyline logging systems. The silvicultural method used would be free thinning with reserve shelterwood/seed tree. (2) Hand pile and burn approximately 852 acres within Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas. (3) Conduct no immediate treatment on approximately 892 acres. (4) Salvage dead and dying timber killed by fir engraver beetle and other pests or weakened due to light, water, or nutrient competition which may increase the fire potential within the project area. (5) Restore 164 acres of unproductive soil to improve soil productivity by obliterating roads, skid trails and/or landings in order to meet the 1988 Forest Plan Standard for total soil resource commitment (TSRC). (6) Improve approximately 21.0 miles of road to provide access for fuelbreak activities. (7) Ensure desired species composition by planting and/or natural regeneration of fire-tolerant Douglas-fir, ponderosa pine, and western larch seedlings on 947 acres following fuelbreak activities. (8) Treat harvest-generated fuels on approximately 4,736 acres. Treatments would include machine piling and burning (excavator piling would be used where slopes exceed 35 percent); broadcast burning; and/or yarding tops. (9) Monitor and treat noxious weeds, if created, within the fuelbreak area. A total of 6,480 acres would be treated with this proposed action. This proposed action would require three one-time, site-specific, non-significant amendments to the Payette National Forest Plan for 5th-year planted tree stocking levels, elk habitat effectiveness, and retention of Visual Quality Objectives.

Preliminary issues for this project include effects on water quality, soil productivity, wildlife habitat, recreation, access management, visual quality, and fish habitat.

A range of reasonable alternatives will be considered. The no-action alternative will serve as a baseline for comparison of alternatives. The proposed action will be considered along with additional alternatives developed that meet the purpose and need and address major issues identified during scoping. Alternatives may have different amounts, locations, and types of project activities.

Comments received in response to this notice, including names and addresses of those who comment, will be part of the project record and available for public review.

The Forest Service is seeking information and comments from other Federal, State, and local agencies; Tribal governments; organizations; and individuals who may be interested in or affected by the proposed action. This input will be used in preparation of the EIS.

Comments will be appreciated throughout the analysis process. The draft EIS will be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is anticipated to be available for public review by fall 2003. The comment period on the draft EIS will be 45 days. It is important that those interested in the management of the Payette National Forest participate at that time.Start Printed Page 71532

The Forest Service believes, at this early stage, it is important to give reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public participation in the environmental review process. First, reviewers of draft environmental impact statements must structure their participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewer's position and contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 553 (1978). Also, environmental objections that could be raised at the draft environmental impact statement stage but that are not raised until after completion of the final environmental impact statement may be waived or dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 1016, 1002 (9th Cir. 1986) and Wisconsin Heritages Inc. v. Harris, 490 F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E. D. Wis. 1980). Because of these court rulings, it is important that those interested in this proposed action participate by the close of the 45-day comment period so that substantive comments and objections are made available to the Forest Service at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and respond to them in the final environmental impact statement.

To assist the Forest Service in identifying and considering issues raised by the proposed action, comments on the draft environmental impact statement should be as specific as possible. It is also helpful if comments refer to specific pages or chapters of the draft statement. Comments may also address the adequacy of the draft environmental impact statement or the merits of the alternatives formulated and discussed in the statement. Reviewers may wish to refer to the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 40 CFR 1503.3 in addressing these points.

After the 45-day comment period ends on the draft EIS, the Forest Service will analyze comments received and address them in the final EIS. The final EIS is scheduled to be completed in 2004. The Responsible Official is the Payette National Forest Supervisor. The decision will be documented, including the rationale for the decision, in a Record of Decision (ROD). The decision will be subject to review under the Forest Service Appeal Regulations at 36 CFR part 215.

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Dated: November 22, 2002.

Mark Madrid,

Forest Supervisor.

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[FR Doc. 02-30379 Filed 11-29-02; 8:45 am]

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