Public Comments and Responses
A total of 72 individuals and representatives of organizations, agencies and cooperators commented during the formal 30-day comment period which opened on October 7, 1998. Commentors and their affiliation (if any) are listed in Appendix H.
Twelve substantive comments were identified. These are summarized below followed by the Agencies' responses. Some responses are subdivided to indicate comments of a more specific nature.
1.1 Comments suggested confusion in the extent of what we are proposing. We are only proposing to change the survey schedule for 32 species in only one of the four Survey and Manage components of the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) Record of Decision (ROD) and in its Protection Buffer section. This EA does not propose change to any of the other components nor does it affect survey or management actions required for the nearly 300 remaining species. This EA does not propose to drop the species from future surveys or from management considerations.
1.2 Confusion regarding legal protection of these species was exhibited in comments. None of the species proposed for deferral is listed (or proposed) under the Endangered Species Act. In fact, none of these species proposed for deferral are on Agency sensitive species lists. None of the species proposed for deferral are vertebrates, and none is a "plant or animal community" addressed in the NFMA. The Survey and Manage Standard and Guideline is a result of a proactive effort to identify species which, in 1994, were thought to have some risk to their long-term persistence on federal land in the range of the northern spotted owl under the NFP, in part due to our lack of information about them.
1.3 One comment considered extension of the date for survey to be a "violation" the ROD. We believe that a proposal to defer the date of survey is within what was expected, as described on page C-6 of the ROD ("...agencies may propose changes to the Regional Ecosystem Office for analysis. These changes could include changing the schedule...") which allows agencies to propose changing the schedule.
1.4 Comments conveyed the impression that Agencies have not provided training or surveyed for Survey and Manage species. Training for the less known taxonomic groups (lichens, bryophytes, fungi, mollusks) was started in 1997 including interagency sessions offered in several parts of the range of the northern spotted owl. All species requiring survey before ground-disturbing activities were covered as well as many other species listed in Table C-3 of the ROD. Training consisted of lecture, laboratory and field exposure. Prior to, and despite, the request for delay, agency staff have conducted surveys for and have found many sites of the 80 species, including some of those proposed for deferral. Surveys are continuing until deferral is decided upon. Even before surveys were required, field staff found many new sites of species which were subsequently identified for management. The fact that it is possible to find some of these species does not mean that it is possible to design a survey protocol which would establish with any reasonable certainty that they are not present in any particular area.
1.5 Concern was expressed that deferring surveys where several years of survey are needed won't get it done faster. We agree with this. Deferral, in this case allows us to more clearly define species requirements and to identify appropriate survey conditions.
1.6. The Agencies were not clear about the scientific basis for assessing risk. The taxa experts did not conduct a formal "viability analysis" for these 12 "high risk" species in this EA. The taxa experts used the viability assessment conducted for the original analysis of the NFP (FSEIS, Appendix J-2) to assess the risk of delaying surveys an additional year for the 32 species. Risk was based on potential effects to these species, considering any new information, should surveys not be conducted for FY 1999 projects as was assumed would occur in the NFP. The conclusion of the assessment was that surveys for these 12 species (of the total 80 species evaluated) should be conducted in FY 1999 so as not to postpone the collection of information necessary to determine species' presence and range. The requirements to survey for these 12 species was initially delayed in the NFP until FY 1999. The NFP developers did not believe that ground disturbing activities during the intervening time period posed an imminent threat to these species. We have no new information to indicate that this belief was in error.
The EA regional risk analysis was supplemented by finer scale evaluation by field staff with experience with these species and field level activities. This judgement was based on our increased knowledge base of both the species and how other portions of the ROD were being executed. We have searched herbaria and museums with considerable holdings of specimens of northwest species and recorded this information. We have conducted surveys for the Component 2 and Protection Buffer species and have recorded new locations of many of these species. We considered such things as numbers of populations and their distribution, if there have been many new locations reported for the species since the ROD, relative success rate of searches in likely places, kinds of habitats they are found in, other requirements in the ROD which afford benefit to the species, the amount of ground disturbing activity likely to be implemented and the habitats likely affected (assuming projects similar to those in FY 1997 or 1998). In the Proposed Action, we would maintain the ROD survey schedule for all species for which we thought there would be a substantially increased risk if the survey schedule were changed. The species-specific evaluations in Appendix C to the EA detail the step-by-step key information considered and rationale for our conclusions.
There was only one comment which provided information on a species (Buxbaumia viridis) for us to reconsider our deferral proposal. In this case, the taxa specialist suggested that not all field units would be able to reliably identify the species and Buxbaumia viridis surveys are proposed to be deferred. Those field units with sufficient expertise to identify and differentiate the species will continue to survey for them. Field units are expected to resume surveys if knowledge and expertise are (or become) available to be able to reliably overcome the infeasibility of surveys for any of the 32 species.
2.1 "Substantial" is used in Appendix D and is derived from a questionnaire to taxa specialists, field biologists and botanists who were asked to evaluate risk to species resulting from a one year delay. If "substantial", species experts were to describe the nature and extent of the risk to species. The species descriptions in Appendix C for 12 species contain language that describes what "substantial risk" means. One comment referred to a statement in the EA that the impact of the Survey and Manage mitigation measure on projects "was expected to be minor and insignificant" and the commentor concluded that "implementing (or not implementing) these surveys and management requirements will in fact have a significant effect". In the analysis of the NFP, it was thought that protections afforded by the Survey and Manage Standard and Guideline (four Components) would not seriously impact our ability to meet the other goals of the NFP. It was thought that the species were sufficiently uncommon that the acreage needed to protect them would not be significant compared to what was available for projects (FSEIS, Appendix J2, pp. 16, 27, 41, & 46) and, based on the definitions of Component 2 and Component 3, it was not anticipated that surveys for the species would be technically infeasible (ROD, p. C-5). This EA is not proposing a modification of all aspects of Survey and Manage, nor is the EA proposing to entirely stop surveying for any of the species.
2.2 One commentor expressed concern that "the minimal risk determination relies on percentages (1% of Matrix to be affected), but it does not look at what type of habitat is affected." See the answer to 1.6 for more explanation of factors considered. The analysis of the species was based on habitat requirements and distribution of the species assuming that FY 1999 ground-disturbing activities would be done in the same manner and general location as was done in 1998. For example, the levels of timber harvest as well as the composition of age classes would be similar between FY 1998 and 1999. It also considered that known sites would continue to be managed as would sites of these species that are located during survey work targeted for these or other species or activities. Although the fact that timber sales would affect approximately 1% of the Matrix area was considered by the analysts, there was more consideration of the species distribution and habitat and how the habitats would be managed across all land allocations..
2.3 A question lingers in the mind of the public as to how we can know that the risk won't increase if we don't know enough about the species to survey for them. See also response 1.6 for factors used in our consideration of risk. Even if we cannot identify the species in the field with certainty or determine its absence because of seasonal or annual restrictions, we do have information on habitats and distribution of known sites as well as on activities conducted under the NFP. For example, although exact species identification in the field is infeasible for certain aquatic mollusks, as a group they are associated with a particular habitat and adequate protection of this habitat may be afforded by meeting the Aquatic Conservation Strategy provisions of the NFP. This information is considered in our assessment of risk.
2.4 Answers to the question as to whether a one year delay would cause a substantially increased risk to the species were based on factors described in response 1.6. By allowing a 4 year delay between the signing of the ROD and requirement of survey, the NFP did not envision that ground-disturbing activities during this time period posed an imminent threat. In our analysis we evaluated if one additional year was likely to pose a substantially increased threat to each of these species. Except for twelve species for which surveys are not proposed for deferral, Agency experts found no substantial increase in risk of deferring surveys for one additional year.
Since the NFP ROD was signed the agencies have undertaken an unprecedented effort to collect information about species for which very little information is known. The agencies have made substantial progress in survey and in the development of management recommendations and protocols. (See also EA, p. 4.) The additional time allowed by the proposed schedule change will give the agencies an opportunity to resolve emerging taxonomic or life-history issues for 32 species. Implementation of surveys for the remaining 48 Component 2 species will follow the schedule originally proposed in the ROD.
The new information obtained since 1994 includes data collected from herbaria, museums, and taxa experts concerning the identification and the suspected range and habitat requirements of the 32 species in question. On the basis of this information a determination was made that field surveys were infeasible for these species. (Refer to response to Comment 3.) This proposed action refers only to a change in the schedule for implementation. The agencies did anticipate that this schedule change could be necessary but the postponement would be effective no earlier than the 1999 survey requirements (e.g. October 1, 1998). Thus, the proposed action is ripe for decision as of that date.
4.1 Some readers were left with the impression that we are proposing the deferrals because of lack of protocols and insufficient personnel. Species were not proposed for deferral only because of a lack of protocols or because we lack the trained personnel to run the surveys. The critical elements contributing to the determination to propose deferral were because they would require several years of surveys to be assured of locating extant populations or because they are extremely difficult to identify in the field.
4.2 It was noted that a number of field units are surveying for some of the 32 species. This is true for some field units or species. Some of the field units responded that they can identify the species, have the interagency experts, but most units across the region do not have the capability to identify the species in the field. Some species being sought by field units include a fungus species requiring several years of survey because these are fungi that do not fruit in most years, and require fruiting bodies to identify. Other species are ones that show their identifying characteristics for an extremely short, and not very predictable, time period. It would likely take numerous visits and possibly multiple years to find the species in the appropriate condition to identify it. Some identification techniques or characteristics are sufficiently obscure, that some identifications may be suspect.
4.3 It has been noted that the extra effort of labwork should not be a reason to defer surveys. Some species are extremely difficult to identify in the field, even requiring significant lab work over days to identify the species, or requiring such precise cross-sections that species specialists have difficulty in making correct identifications. Many of these species require specimens to be sent to regional experts for correct identification. Species requiring simple verification in the lab such that trained field personnel could do it in a reasonable time period, were not proposed for deferral.
We are continuing to pursue methods to develop field identification techniques for species that would be deferred due to identification problems. However, there are some species which only one person can positively identify or confirm the species because the species are undescribed, not published in scientific literature, and the only comparison specimens are in private collections. We continue to work on field identification options, including contracts for field keys, and have retained survey requirements in the Proposed Action where techniques can be developed to allow trained agency or contracted personnel to identify the species.
4.4 One commentor thought that the deferral of one year was because it took more than one year to look for the species. This is true for some of the species (see Table 5 of the EA), but not for others. The deferral for others is due to identification problems as described in response 3.3.
4.5 Concern was expressed that the data for Appendix C was two years old ("archaic"). The information in Appendix C was not the only source of information available to analysts or used in the regional analysis. The regional analyses were based on knowledge of the agency professionals with field experience and communication with others who are finding the species. These analyses were conducted in April/May 1998. The results of the regional analysis were checked with staff on the field units to assure that our proposal was consistent with that of recent experience of field surveyors and some of the initial evaluations were changed based on the field information.
4.6 A specific comment concerned seasonality and specificity of bryophyte surveys. The bryophyte species included some which are separated from other species by reproductive characteristics which are only visible for a few weeks. Surveys are required for suitable habitat in all proposed ground-disturbing activities where this species may occur. It is not possible to survey all such acres within the particular time appropriate at each particular microsite in order to make definite identifications because of the slight difference between these species and the difficulty of finding it at the right week. The difficulty in identifying these species makes surveys infeasible at this time.
While other alternatives were considered, only one action alternative was analyzed in detail. The range of alternatives is dictated by the nature and scope of the action, which is discussed in the EA, under the "Purpose of and Need for the Action' (EA, pp. 1-5). The Proposed Action is to change the implementation schedule for 32 Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species that are considered to be technically infeasible for survey for the period of one year. The surveys cannot be conducted at this time due to the infeasibility issues (EA, p. 9-10). The NFP itself anticipated that such a change in schedule could be necessary, as experience was acquired in this area. See ROD pp. 37, and C-6. The EA considered (1) the No Action alternative, which would not delay surveys for any species; (2) the Proposed Action, which would delay surveys for 32 species, and (3) an alternative which would delay surveys for all 80 species. Several commentors suggested that the Agencies adopt other alternatives that fell within this range of alternatives. The range of alternatives considered in the EA addressed the full spectrum of alternatives related to this action, even though it did not specifically address all of the alternatives proposed by commentors.
Analysis conducted by the respective agencies and additional public information did not reveal any significant impact to the 32 species or resource programs from the proposed one year postponement. Because of the limited time that this schedule will be delayed, and the limited geographic area impacted by this action, the proposal to postpone is not considered to be significant. The levels of risk to the 32 species were analyzed and determined to be non-significant (EA, p. 14-16; FONSI, pp. 1- 3). The proposed change does not make an unprecedented change to the NFP as the requirement for survey will only be delayed for a year and not eliminated completely. The proposed action will not significantly impact forest and aquatic resources that are ecologically significant because these areas are already in protection buffer status. The outcome of the NFP will not be significantly altered because the proposed delay will allow the continued implementation of management plans while also considering the significance of impacts to the 32 species in question. Furthermore, an EIS is being prepared to consider a longer term strategy, including more profound changes to the Survey and Manage Standards and Guidelines. This analysis will incorporate new information about these species and the implementation of the existing Standards and Guidelines to make changes to the status of Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species. To the extent that the direction for any of these species is altered any more than the one year delay proposed in this EA, the impacts would be considered in an EIS.
NEPA does not require public scoping prior to preparation of an environmental assessment. Nevertheless, scoping was initiated once the need for an EA was determined. A scoping letter was sent out to the respective forests and BLM districts on September 25, 1998 to be distributed to constituents on their mailing lists - composed of interested individuals, organizations, federal agencies and state, local and tribal governments. Public input is welcome throughout the decision making process.
The specific language in Section 321 of the 1999 Omnibus Spending Bill (PL 105-277) states that "[n]o part of any appropriation contained in this Act shall be expended or obligated to fund new revisions of national forest land management plans until new final or interim final rules for forest land management planning are published in the Federal Register." This Section refers to "revisions" of National Forest Land and Resource regulations. The term "revision" does not include "plan amendment", which is what is being proposed here. The proposed action would be implemented as non-significant amendments to National Forest LRMPs. Funding of the process of amending LRMPs is therefore not prohibited under this law.
The EA considered (1) the No Action alternative, which would not delay surveys for any species; (2) the Proposed Action, which would delay surveys for 32 species, and (3) an alternative which would delay surveys for all 80 species. Several commentors suggested that the Agencies adopt other alternatives that fell within this range of alternatives. The range of alternatives considered in the EA addressed the full spectrum of alternatives related to this action, even though it did not specifically address all of the alternatives proposed by commentors.
As explained in the EA, an alternative which would delay surveys for all 80 species was not analyzed in detail (EA, p. 11), because it could substantially increase the risk to some of the species and thus would not respond to the purpose of and need for the action (EA, pp. 1-2).
Some commentors urged adoption of an alternative that would delay surveys for all 68 species (Table 1, EA, p. 9) for which delay would not substantially increase the risk to their long-term persistence. Such an alternative would not respond to the purpose of and need for this action. Delay of surveys for the 36 species for which surveys are feasible, but for which delay would not substantially increase risk, is not needed to continue the management programs authorized and anticipated in the Agencies' land use plans. Maintaining the current survey schedule for these 36 species would provide protection for these species, because surveys are feasible and would be able to locate known sites, and would not interfere with meeting the twin needs, identified in the NFP, of a healthy ecosystem and commodity uses of natural resources.
Some commentors urged adoption of an alternative that would delay surveys for more than one year. Under the Proposed Action, the Agencies may be able to resolve the survey feasibility problems for some species during the one-year delay (EA, p. 4). Additionally, the Agencies have published a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS that would evaluate Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species Standards and Guidelines. If problems with survey feasibility continue after the one-year schedule change and management programs still cannot proceed, the Agencies could consider further schedule changes or other changes in the EIS analysis. Nothing in the Proposed Action precludes the Agencies from considering other changes to Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer provisions in a future analysis.
The environmental consequence to the 32 species resulting from the proposed action is that it "could allow some loss of individuals and localized populations that would otherwise be protected." (EA p.14) However, taxa specialists, field biologists and botanists evaluated the risk associated with this action and concluded that there would not be substantial increase in risk to the 32 species. Additional risk reduction is afforded to the species through habitat provided by Riparian Reserves, Late-Successional Reserves, Managed Late-Successional Reserves and Congressionally and Administratively Withdrawn Areas, and other withdrawn areas that were added after the species analysis efforts were conducted between the NFPs Draft SEIS and the Final SEIS and ROD. Habitat requirements for 25 of the 32 species fall at least partially within these reserves (EA p. 15). Further reducing the risk is the fact that any proposed ground-disturbing activity would most likely occur within the Matrix lands which comprise 16% of the total land allocation. Surveys would only be delayed for a period of one year which further reduces the federal land affected to approximately 0.16% of the federal land in the NFP area.
The environmental consequence to resource management programs from the proposed action is an increase in ground disturbing activities in areas within the range and habitat of the 32 species compared to the No Action alternative. The estimated effect of the proposed action will be felt in the timber, prescribed burning, stream restoration and recreation programs and will bring program outputs closer to the levels anticipated in the NFP, FSEIS.
There would be no effects to Threatened, Endangered and Proposed Species and Designated and Proposed Critical Habitat as stated in the EA p. 16-17.
The Proposed Action does not attempt to change the two primary goals of the NFP which are to provide for both (1) a healthy ecosystem and (2) commodity uses of natural resources. The proposed schedule change is an attempt to maintain that goal. If no action is taken, the ability to achieve the second goal is restricted in the range and habitat of the 32 species.
During the proposed delay field personnel would still be conducting surveys for the 48 species that are feasible to survey and if sites of the 32 species are located during other surveys, they will be managed appropriately. (See B. Feasibility of Surveys, EA p. 9) Furthermore, during the next year work would be ongoing to clarify species taxonomy which may allow field survey identification of some species. The agencies also expect that the delay would allow more time to make progress in finalizing survey protocols and training personnel in field identification, taxonomy and survey protocols.
The intent of the NFP is to balance two primary purposes: (1) to provide goods and services, including timber and nontimber resources and (2) maintain and restore healthy old-growth ecosystems and habitat to support adequate populations of fish, wildlife, and plants (ROD, pp. 2, 26, 61). Based on new information gathered during the past 4 years, the Agencies are proposing a schedule delay that will improve our ability to meet those goals. This proposal is suggested as a way to help remedy the agencies inability to meet the expectations in the NFP for providing timber and non-timber resources. The inability arose because of unexpected difficulties encountered in identifying and surveying for the 32 species. (Feasibility of Surveys, EA, pp. 9-10) The inability to perform those surveys would result in an end of ground disturbing activities altogether and thus greatly impact the provision of goods and services under the NFP. Since the proposed action would allow resource programs to continue for the one year period while providing no substantial harm to the species, it better meets both goals of the NFP, than the no-action alternative.
Commentor provides new information.
One commentor would have preferred deferral of survey for those species which have not been published in peer-reviewed journals - especially mollusks differentiated in Table C-3 by number or "n.sp.". Although these organisms have not been accepted by the scientific community as "species", the NFP accepted the evaluation that they were in need of surveys and of management. Lack of publication was not a factor in our analysis of risk and technical feasibility. The agencies received a key to these species under contract from those who have found them to be taxonomically distinct. In the case of those species proposed for deferral, we found identification sufficiently problematic to make surveys technically infeasible despite the key.
One commentor raised specific concerns about some individual species. The following addresses these concerns:
List of Commentors
Last Updated: January 04, 2005 11:55 PM