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Black Hills National Forest, Bearlodge Ranger District, Wyoming, Dean Project Area Proposal and Analysis

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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 a supplemental environmental impact statement.

SUMMARY:

The Forest Service will prepare a supplemental environmental impact statement on a proposal to implement multiple resource management actions within the Dean Area as directed by the Black Hills National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan. The Dean Project Area covers about 12,468 acres of National Forest System land and about 2,256 acres of interspersed private land within the Redwater Creek watershed directly north of Sundance, Wyoming. Proposed actions would modify the structure of forest stands across the planning area to reduce fuel loads, potential for uncharacteristically intense wildfire behavior, and risk of insect outbreaks; provide for diverse wildlife habitat and restore hardwoods; and provide a mix of motorized and nonmotorized use opportunities. A previous decision on this project was reversed on appeal. A supplemental EIS will be prepared with the aim to issue another project decision.

DATES:

Scoping was conducted as described in the Notice of Intent of November 24, 2004 (69 FR 68303). The original Draft EIS was issued in March 2005 (70 FR 12211), and the comment period was extended once (70 FR 19951). Comments were accepted through May 2, 2005. The Notice of Availability of the Final environmental impact statement was issued June 3, 2005 (70 FR 32610). The project decision was appealed, and reversed in a written appeal decision on September 1, 2005. The Forest Service expects to issue the Supplemental Draft EIS for this project in February 2006, and the Supplemental FEIS and decision in about May 2006.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Janis Bouma, Project Coordinator, Black Hills National Forest, Bearlodge Ranger District, 121 S. 21st Street, Sundance, Wyoming 82729, phone (307) 283-1361.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

The actions are proposed in direct response to management direction provided by the Black Hills National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan), as amended by the Phase II Forest Plan amendment. The site-specific actions are based on Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines to promote existing resource conditions in the Dean Project Area toward meeting Forest Plan Goals and Objectives. The project area lies in the Bear Lodge Mountains in the Black Hills National Forest, directly north of Sundance, Wyoming. Issues considered include: Fire and fuel hazard reduction; impacts of vegetation treatment and multiple forest uses on wildlife and fish habitat; and travel management and recreation.

Purpose of and Need for Action

There is a need to reduce the potential for uncharacteristically intense wildfire behavior and insect infestation, provide diverse wildlife habitat, and manage motorized recreation in the Dean Project Area. This project will address Forest Plan Goals 1 (protect basic soil, air, water and cave resources); 2 (provide for biologically diverse ecosystems); 3 (provide for sustained commodity uses); 4 (provide for scenic quality and recreation opportunities, and protect heritage resources); 7 (cooperate with outside parties); and 10 (establish and maintain a mosaic of vegetation conditions to reduce the occurrences of large-scale fire and insect/disease events), consistent with Forest Plan standards and guidelines.

Proposed Action

Actions proposed in the Dean Project Area include:

  • Modifying stand structure across the planning area to reduce potential for uncharacteristically intense wildlife behavior and benefit wildlife. This action includes thinning the forest, removing conifers from stands of hardwoods such as aspen, bur oak, and birch, and expanding and/or creating meadows.
  • Reducing fuel loads by decreasing the volume and arrangement of both existing fuels and those resulting from other vegetation treatment activities. Treatment could include lopping, chipping, crushing, piling and burning, and prescribed burning on up to 2,971 acres.
  • Reducing the density of pine stands on up to 4,840 acres to decrease the potential for spreading crown fires, increase tree growth and vigor, and lessen the risk of insect infestation and disease. This may be done by using commercial timber harvest to thin out merchantable trees and using other methods to thin small, unmerchantable trees. These actions would provide wood fiber to local industry and would require construction of up to 5.7 miles of new specified roads.
  • Modifying the Forest Plan through a non-significant amendment to change management area (MA) designation in part of the project area to better reflect actual conditions. The entire project is currently in MA 5.4 (Big Game Winter Range Emphasis). The lower elevations and south aspects on the east side of the project area currently provide appropriate and important winter range for deer and elk and are utilized as such. However, the remainder of the project area is heavily used by deer and elk only during the spring, summer, and fall, including calving and fawning periods. Therefore, the Forest proposes to change the Management Area designation in a portion of the project area to MA 5.6 (Forest Products, Recreation, and Big Game Emphasis) to better reflect the actual utilization, better manage the project area to benefit a variety of wildlife, including big game species, and better reflect existing non-motorized recreation opportunities.
  • Providing a mix of motorized and non-motorized opportunities and protecting wildlife in the area by closing the project area to off-road motorized travel and restricting ATV use to designated routes. Main system routes currently open to motorized travel would remain open. Approximately 23.5 miles of roads would also be decommissioned.

Alternatives Considered

Four alternatives will be analyzed in the Supplemental Draft EIS. These alternatives are:

  • Alternative A, No Action—Proposed actions would be deferred at this time.
  • Alternative B—Promote late succession habitat and increase diversity while reducing fuels and insect infestation risk.
  • Alternative C—Proposed Action—Aggressively treat forest vegetation to reduce fire and fuels hazard; prohibit off-road motorized travel in the project area; amend the Forest Plan to allow for a change in management area designation.
  • Alternative D—Focus treatments near private lands and in other strategic locations; de-emphasize the use of commercial timber harvest and feature broadcast burning and fuel breaks.

Responsible Official

Craig Bobzien, Forest Supervisor, Black Hills National Forest, is the responsible official. The address is Black Hills National Forest, 1019 N. 5th Street, Custer, South Dakota 57730. The telephone is (605) 673-9200.Start Printed Page 9516

Nature of Decision To Be Made

The decisions to be made are whether to implement the proposed action or alternatives at this time; and whether to amend the Revised Forest Plan to allow a change in management area designation for part of the project area.

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Dated: February 16, 2006.

Craig Bobzien,

Forest Supervisor.

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[FR Doc. 06-1692 Filed 2-23-06; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-11-M