Forest Service, USDA.
Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact statement on a proposal to use multiple vegetation treatments focused on reducing the threat to ecosystem components including forest resources from an existing insect and disease epidemic (mountain pine beetle), creating a landscape condition more adapted to fire and that reduces potential for high severity wildfire near at-risk communities and in the wildland-urban interface. The proposal is being planned for the 44,500 acre Slate Castle Project Area that includes about 38,300 acres of National Forest System land and about 6,200 acres of interspersed private land. The project area generally extends from northwest of Hill City, South Dakota and east of Deerfield Lake. This project will be conducted as an authorized project under Section 102 of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA). Actions proposed for the Slate Castle Project Area include the following:
- Thin and harvest approximately 31,000 acres of pine stands using a variety of methods to treat mountain pine beetle (MPB) infested stands, reduce the overall density of pine trees and create a mosaic of structural stages across the landscape. Both commercial harvest and noncommercial thinning will be used to reduce the stand density, and associated fuel hazard conditions and susceptibility to mountain pine beetle infestations.
- Reduce the amount of fuels that currently exists and that created by vegetation treatment activities. Treatment could include lopping, chipping, crushing, piling and burning, and creating fuel breaks along roads and adjacent to private property, particularly those properties with houses and subdivisions. Prescribed broadcast and pile burning of up to 35,000 acres is also planned to disrupt the continuity of surface and canopy fuels, and to increase the quantity and quality of forage for big game and other wildlife resources.
- Remove conifers from hardwood stands such as aspen and birch, and restore meadows on approximately 4,400 acres to provide habitat diversity and additional wildfire protection by restoring natural fuel breaks.
Comments concerning the scope of the analysis would be most useful if received by 30-days following the date of this notice. The draft environmental impact statement is expected to be Start Printed Page 67119available for public review by March 2009 and the final environmental impact statement is expected to be completed by July 2009.
Send written comments to Robert J. Thompson, District Ranger, Black Hills National Forest, Mystic Ranger District, Slate Castle Project Area, 8221 South Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota 57702. Telephone Number: (605) 343-1567. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org with “Slate Castle” as the subject. Electronic comments must be readable in Word, Rich Text or PDF formats.Start Further Info
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact Katie Van Alstyne, Team Leader or Robert J. Thompson, District Ranger, at the Mystic Ranger District office in Rapid City at (605) 343-1567.End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information
The actions proposed are in direct response to management direction provided by the Black Hills National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan). The site specific actions are designed, based on Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines, to move existing resource conditions in the Slate Castle Project Area toward meeting Forest Plan Goals and Objectives. The project area generally extends from northwest of Hill City, South Dakota and east of Deerfield Lake. Anticipated issues include: reducing MPB infestation and risk; protecting local communities, private and public lands, infrastructure and access from severe wildfire; associated fire and fuels hazard reduction needs in the wildland-urban interface; support or opposition to forest thinning using commercial timber harvest; impacts of vegetation treatment and multiple forest uses on wildlife habitat. The range of alternatives analyzed in the EIS is expected to be consistent with Sec. 104 of HFRA.
Purpose and Need for Action
The purpose of the Slate Castle Project is to:
- Move toward achieving desired land and resource conditions, as provided by the Forest Plan.
- Reduce the threat to ecosystem components including forest resources, from the existing insect and disease (mountain pine beetle) epidemic.
- Restore resource conditions to a healthy, resilient fire-adapted ecosystem.
- Help protect local communities and resources from catastrophic wildfire.
This project is focused on implementing management actions that move toward achieving:
- Desired conditions and objectives embodied in Goals 2, 3, 7, and 10 of the Forest Plan (as amended).
- Goals and objectives applicable to Forest Plan Management Area (MA) 2.2—Research Natural Areas (~40 acres); MA 3.7—Late Successional Forest Landscape (~460 acres); MA 5.1—Resource Production Emphasis (~23,800 acres); and MA 5.4—Big Game Winter Range Emphasis (~13,960 acres), that lie within Slate Castle Project Area, described in Chapter III of the Forest Plan (Phase II Amendment).
- Goals of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003 (HR 1904) and other National level initiatives and policy that provide procedural tools to hasten processes focused on reducing insects or disease on public and adjacent private lands, and reducing the probability and occurrence of severe wildfire in the fire adapted ecosystems, especially near at risk communities and in the wildland-urban interface. Moreover, it is appropriate that proposed actions be designed in consideration of the fuels hazard reduction management recommendations and guidelines provided by the Pennington County Community Wildfire Protection Plan of 2007.
Proposed actions include the following:
- Thin and harvest approximately 31,000 acres of pine stands using a variety of methods to treat MPB infested stands, reduce the overall density of pine trees and create a mosaic of structural stages across the landscape. Both commercial and non-commercial sized trees would be removed utilizing multiple contracts including stewardship, timber sale, and service contracts.
- Disrupt the continuity of surface and canopy fuels to help reduce the potential for large-scale, intense wildfire spread. Treatment could include thinning, lopping, chipping, crushing, piling, and burning; restoring natural fuel breaks by removing conifers that have encroached upon meadows and hardwood stands on approximately 4,400 acres; creating fuel breaks along roads and adjacent to private property—particularly those properties with houses and subdivisions. Prescribed broadcast and pile burning of up to 35,000 acres is also planned to reduce the natural, as well as the management-caused accumulation of fuels and to benefit big game and other wildlife resources.
Robert J. Thompson, District Ranger, Mystic Ranger District, Black Hills National Forest, 8221 South Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota 57702.
Nature of Decision To Be Made
The decision to be made is whether or not to implement the proposed action or possible alternative at this time.
Comments and input regarding the proposal will be received via direct mailing from the public, other groups, and agencies during the initial public comment period in November and December 2008. If you would like to be more involved, a public meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, December 2, 2008, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the City Hall conference room in Hill City, South Dakota. Comments submitted based on this NOI will be most useful if received within 30 days from the date of this notice. Response to the draft EIS will be sought from the interested public beginning in March 2009.
This notice of intent provides information that the agency will prepare an environmental impact statement in response to public comment and feedback during the November and December 2008, scoping period. Comments received will assist the planning team to develop the mailing list for the draft EIS and help identify key issues and opportunities used to refine the proposal or possible alternative and mitigation measures. Comments on the DEIS will be requested during the 45 day comment period following the Notice of Availability, expected to be published in the Federal Register in March 2009 (See discussion below).
Early Notice of Importance of Public Participation in Subsequent Environmental Review: 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 reviewers position and contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 US. 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 Start Printed Page 67120dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 1016, 1022 (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 very 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 and concerns on 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.Start Signature
Dated: November 5, 2008.
Forest Supervisor, Black Hills National Forest.
[FR Doc. E8-26797 Filed 11-12-08; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-11-M