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EA

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Decision Notice

USDA FOREST SERVICE

To Change the Implementation Schedule for Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer Species

Forest Service National Forests In Regions 5 and 6 in California, Oregon and Washington within the range of the northern spotted owl.

INTRODUCTION:
The USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have jointly analyzed a proposal to delay for one year the Survey and Manage requirement for 32 species. The Forest Service and BLM propose to change the survey schedule for 32 Survey and Manage Component 2 species and Protection Buffer species for a period of one year based on the technical infeasibility of surveys and the lack of substantially increased risk to the species from changing the schedule. This proposal and alternatives have been analyzed in an environmental assessment (EA), "Environmental Assessment to Change the Implementation Schedule for Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer Species."

The EA was made available for public review and comment in October 1998. Public comments did not indicate that any changes to the EA were warranted, but the EA has been appended with a summary of public comments and the Forest Service and BLM responses. These appendices are attached to this decision. Twelve substantive issues were raised during the development of the EA. Some of these comments provided additional information concerning the species. Many comments questioned the sufficiency of the EA process to change the survey schedule originally described in the Northwest Forest Plan. Several commentors questioned the Agencies' assessment of risk to species and a few suggested an additional alternative that would postpone surveys for a longer period of time, or only survey for the 12 species considered to be at "high risk" from a further delay. These comments and responses are found in Appendix G.

Other related environmental documents which were taken into account include: the Land and Resource Management Plans (LRMPs) for the National Forests listed below, and their supporting National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documents; the Record of Decision (ROD) for Amendments to Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management Planning Documents Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl, also known as the Northwest Forest Plan, and the supporting Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and Old-Growth Forest Related Species Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl (FSEIS).

This EA is a part of a longer term strategy to clarify Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer provisions of the Northwest Forest Plan. These changes may allow for future field survey of some of these 32 species as well as other changes to the Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer Standards and Guidelines. This strategy will be analyzed under a separate environmental document. (EA, pp. 4, 8). On November 25, 1998 a Notice of Intent to prepare an EIS for this action was filed in the Federal Register.

DECISION:
It is the decision of the Forest Service to select Alternative 2 in the Environmental Assessment (EA) to Change the Implementation Schedule for Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer Species. Based on the analysis in the EA, the FONSI, and comments received from the public, other agencies and cooperators, it is our decision to implement Alternative 2 (EA, p. 14), to postpone the survey schedule for 32 of the FY 1999 Component 2 Survey and Manage Species for a period of one year. These species are listed in Appendix B of the EA. Surveys are considered to be infeasible at this time for these species. The survey schedule for these species will be changed from FY 1999 to FY 2000. Surveys for the remaining 48 Component 2 species will be unaffected by this decision. Selection of this alternative will not cause a significant risk to species.

This decision will amend National Forest LRMPs affecting the Gifford Pinchot, Mount Baker-Snoqualmie, Mount Hood, Olympic, Rogue River, Siuslaw, Siskiyou, Six Rivers, Umpqua, and Willamette National Forests and affecting portions of the Deschutes, Okanogan, Wenatchee, Winema, Klamath, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, and Shasta-Trinity National Forests. Regional Guides will not be amended because all Survey and Manage direction is contained in the affected Forest LRMPs.

ALTERNATIVES:
The scope of the proposed action and the range of the alternatives was limited directly by the defined purpose of the action to balance the two primary goals of the Northwest Forest Plan: providing sustainable timber harvests, and maintaining and restoring healthy old-growth ecosystems to support stable populations of fish, wildlife, and plants (ROD, pp. 2, 26, 51, 61). The scope was also limited because it only addressed the survey schedule and did not alter the management of known sites for Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species. The scope was further limited to a period of one year in for which the survey schedule would be changed.

Besides the selected Alternative, a "no action" alternative, Alternative 1 (EA, p. 11), was analyzed in detail. Under this alternative the Forest Service and BLM would continue to implement the Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species Standards and Guidelines according to the schedule defined by the Northwest Forest Plan ROD. Under the Standards and Guidelines for Alternative 1, surveys for 80 Component 2 species "must be completed prior to ground disturbing activities that will be implemented in F.Y. 1999 or later." (ROD, p. C-5).

Alternatives which would change the schedule from FY 1999 to FY 2000 for all 80 FY 1999 species were not analyzed in detail because these alternatives did not meet the need for species protection under the Northwest Forest Plan, and the purpose of and need for this action, established in the EA, which specifically regards the unanticipated infeasibility of surveys (EA, p. 2).

RATIONALE FOR SELECTION:
The purpose of the proposed action is to achieve the two primary goals of the Northwest Forest Plan: providing sustainable timber harvests, and maintaining and restoring healthy old-growth ecosystems and habitat for populations of native fish, wildlife, and plants (ROD, pp. 2, 26, 61). The need for the proposed action is demonstrated by new information that surveys for some species are technically infeasible, and that the inability to complete surveys would postpone or preclude a major portion of planned management action, which was not anticipated in the Northwest Forest Plan. The need for the proposed action is to allow continuation of planned management actions, such as timber harvest and prescribed burning, in the next year without substantially increasing risks to any Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species.

Agency officials considered the ability of the alternatives to meet the stated purpose and need of the action; to comply with applicable laws, regulations, and policies; and to respond to issues and public comments about the proposed action. Three principal issues were identified in this assessment: risk to species, feasibility of surveys, and risk to other resources.

The Alternatives were analyzed in the EA based on the most current scientific data available at the time the EA was prepared. New information related to species and survey requirements was obtained from field observations following four years of implementation of the Northwest Forest Plan, consultation with agency experts for the taxonomic groups, and materials obtained from herbaria and museums. The effects to other resource programs were analyzed on the basis of field unit estimates of program outputs.

Alternative 1 ("no action") was not selected because the best available information indicates that it is not feasible to survey for these species and this alternative would not achieve the two primary goals of the Northwest Forest Plan in that it would not meet the need to provide sustainable forest products. Alternative 1 would not permit most planned ground-disturbing activities to proceed for FY 1999, including beneficial activities such as prescribed burning or watershed restoration, and would provide little corresponding benefit to the species that the standards and guidelines were designed to protect (EA, pp. 12 -14). The Forest Service considered the "continuation of the programs authorized and anticipated in land management plans" (EA, p. 2) which defines the need for this action.

Alternative 2 was selected because it better meets the purpose of and need for the action: it provides for the continuation of planned resource management activities for the remainder of FY 1999 without making significant changes to the Survey and Manage Component 2 program. Selection of this alternative affects only the 32 species in question and would have no effect on the 48 other Component 2 and Protection Buffer species. Changing the schedule for 32 species could result in loss of some individuals and localized populations that would otherwise be protected (EA, p. 14). The proposed schedule change is of limited duration and would affect, at most, 0.16% of the federal land in the Northwest Forest Plan area (EA, p. 15). Therefore the risk to species was found to be insignificant (FONSI, pp. 2-3). This alternative would involve little, if any, risk to other resources (EA, pp. 16-17). This decision would allow the continuation of most timber harvest, prescribed burning, and other actions necessary to meet multiple-use objectives for public lands and achieve the dual goals of the Northwest Forest Plan. These objectives could not be met under Alternative 1, which would not permit a major portion of the planned management actions to continue.

MITIGATION:
Surveys for the 32 species will begin during the year if technical feasibility problems can be solved. (EA, p. 1). If it is determined by species experts that survey feasibility issues have been resolved throughout the suspected range of any of the 32 species, a letter of direction to field units will be issued from the Regional Foresters and BLM State Directors to require surveys. The letter of direction will apply to ground-disturbing activities to be implemented during FY 1999 and later. Surveys for the species listed in the letter of direction would be required for one or more of the 32 species covered by this decision for which surveys were previously considered to be infeasible, provided that taxonomic descriptions and approved protocols have been developed. The requirement to survey for these species would not be retroactive to decisions signed prior to the date of the letter of direction. Effective dates to initiate surveys will be determined with consideration for adequate training of all field units within the suspected range of the species. Current versions of the approved survey protocols and field guides must be in place or attached to the letter of direction. Pursuant to this decision, and while not required, surveys will be carried out in localities where the necessary expertise to perform the surveys exists.

MONITORING:
The monitoring strategy for this decision is to tier to the existing monitoring plans and strategy in the Northwest Forest Plan, and individual National Forests, as detailed in the EA (p. 17). No specific additional monitoring is identified in this decision.

APPLICABLE LAWS, REGULATIONS, AND POLICIES:
This decision is guided by the provisions of the Northwest Forest Plan in which agencies "may propose changes . . . which could include changing the schedule, moving a species from one survey strategy to another, or dropping this mitigation requirement for any species whose status is determined to be more secure than originally projected" (ROD, p. 37) as experience is acquired with the survey and manage requirements. The Northwest Forest Plan amended individual National Forest Land Management Plans within the range of the northern spotted owl.

The implementation of this decision is through amendment to National Forest LRMPs, accordance with the National Forest Management Act.

PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT:
On September 25, 1998, a scoping letter was sent out through each National Forest within the area that would be affected by this decision. These Forests mailed the scoping letter to their lists encompassing over 1,200 interested individuals, organizations, Federal agencies, and state, local, and Tribal governments. This letter notified the public that an EA was being prepared, the purpose of and need for the action, the proposed action, and an invitation to participate and make comment during the formal comment period.

The EA was issued for a 30-day formal comment period beginning October 7, 1998. A total of 72 individuals and representatives of organizations, agencies and governments commented during this period. Their comments and the Forest Service and BLM responses were categorized in 12 substantive issues. The summary of comments and responses is attached as Appendix G of the EA. A list of the individuals and organizations submitting comments on the EA is found in Appendix H.

FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACTS:
A Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) has been made and is attached to this decision. The FONSI is based on the analysis in the public comments, and information found in related environmental documents as noted in the FONSI. In this document, we find that the change in implementation schedule for 32 Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species for a period of one year will not cause a significant risk to the species. Therefore, in accordance with 40 CFR 1501.4(e), an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will not be prepared. Findings required by other laws, regulations, or policies are also detailed in the FONSI.`

NFMA FINDING OF NON-SIGNIFICANCE FOR AMENDMENT OF FOREST PLANS:
Under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) (16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(4)) forest plans may "be amended in any manner whatsoever after final adoption and after public notice, and, if such amendment would result in a significant change in such plan, in accordance with subsections (e) and (f) of this section and public involvement comparable to that required by subsection (d) of this section." The NFMA regulations at 36 CFR 219.10(f) state: "Based on an analysis of the objectives, guidelines, and other contents of the forest plan; the Forest Supervisor shall determine whether a proposed amendment would result in a significant change in the plan." Neither NFMA nor its implementing regulations define the term "significant". Instead, the regulations place full discretion to determine whether or not a proposed amendment will be significant in the hands of the Forest Service. NFMA and NEPA significance factors differ. "Significance" under NEPA is discussed in the FONSI, attached to this decision document.

Under NFMA and its regulations, an amendment that does not result in a significant change in a forest plan must be undertaken with public notice and appropriate NEPA compliance. If a change to a forest plan is determined to be significant, the Regional Forester must follow the same procedure required for the development of the forest plan, including the EIS.

The Forest Service Land and Resource Management Planning Handbook (FSH 1909.12) provides more detailed guidance for exercising this discretion. This guidance offers a framework for consideration, but does not demand mechanical application. No one factor is determinative and the guidelines make clear that other factors may be considered.

Under section 5.32, FSH 1909.12 lists four factors to be used when determining whether a proposed change to a forest plan is significant or not significant: timing; location and size; goals, objectives, and outputs; and management prescriptions. It also states that "other factors may also be considered, depending on the circumstances." The determination if a proposed change to a forest plan is significant or not depends on analysis of all of these factors. While these factors are to be used, they do not override the statutory criterion that there be a significant change in plan. Basically, the decision-maker must consider the extent of the change in the context of the entire plan affected, and make use of the factors in the exercise of his or her professional judgement. The Forest Service has carefully evaluated the selected alternative and concluded that it does not constitute a significant amendment of the Forest Plans for the National Forests within the range of the northern spotted owl.

Timing:
The timing factor examines at what point, over the course of the forest plan period, the plan is amended. Both the age of the underlying document and the duration of the amendment are relevant considerations. The handbook indicates that the later in the time period, the less significant the change is likely to be. All of the forest plans are near the end, or at least halfway through the first planning period. Even so, because the schedule change will only be in place until the end of FY 1999, we do not expect the direction will be in place for the remainder of the planning period. As noted in the EA (p. 1), the action is limited in time and changes to the plans are not intended to be permanent. The fact that this action will only be in place for a period of less than one year, until an analysis of a long-term strategy is completed (EA, p.4) supports the determination that the action does not constitute a significant amendment of forest plans.

Location and Size:
The key to the location and size consideration is context or "the relationship of the affected area to the overall planning area" (FSH 1909.12, sec. 5.32(d)). As further discussed in FSH 1909.12, sec. 5.32(d): "the smaller the area affected, the less likely the change is to be a significant change in the forest plan." As discussed in the FONSI (p. 2) and the EA (p. 5, 11, 14-17) the change in schedule applies to an area of less than 1% of the federal land in the Northwest Forest Plan area and to 32 of the 80 Survey and Manage Component 2 species and Protection Buffer species for which surveys are currently required prior to FY 1999 ground-disturbing activities.

The basic planning unit is the National Forest. Adoption of the Northwest Forest Plan Record of Decision amended individual National Forest LRMPs. This decision separately amends these plans. The areas in the planning unit affected by the schedule change is limited to the area of land subject to ground-disturbing activity during FY 1999. As such, it is not so large in size as to mandate a significant amendment (EA, p. 15). The cumulative effects of this action are addressed by the species status evaluation (EA, Appendix C).

Goals, Objectives, and Outputs:
The goals, objectives, and outputs factor involves the determinations of "whether the change alters the long-term relationship between the levels of goods and services in the overall planning area" (FSH 1909.12, sec. 5.32(c)). This criterion concerns analysis of the overall forest plan and the various multiple use resources that may be affected. There is no guarantee under NFMA that output projections will actually be produced. As discussed in the EA, the change in schedule would result in less impact to resource goals, objectives, and outputs than the "no action" alternative (EA, pp. 12, 13, 15 and 16). The guidance in FSH 1909.12, sec. 5.32 (c) explains: "In most cases, changes in outputs are not likely to be a significant change in the forest plan unless the change would forego the opportunity to achieve an output in later years." Any short term temporary reductions in outputs do not foreclose opportunities to achieve such outputs in later years. Thus, a schedule change of one year does not foreclose the achievement of existing goals and objectives. The effects to biological diversity and protection of species goals is analyzed in the EA by the direct effect to Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species (EA, pp. 12, 14 and 15). The effects to these species was determined to be small based on the limited duration of the schedule change and the relatively small area of potentially affected habitat. The schedule change will only be in effect for one year. A longer-term strategy may be developed and examined in a separate NEPA analysis.

Management Prescriptions:
The management prescriptions factor involves the determination of (1) "whether the change in a management prescription is only for a specific situation or whether it would apply to future decisions throughout the planning area" and (2) "whether or not the change alters the desired future condition of the land and resources or the anticipated goods and services to be produced" (FSH 1909.12, sec. 5.32(d)).

The desired future conditions and the long-term levels of goods and services projected in current plans would not be substantially changed by the schedule change. As noted above, the schedule change is temporary and applies only to survey of 32 species over a relatively limited area of federal lands within the overall planning area (EA, p. 16).

ADMINISTRATIVE REVIEW OPPORTUNITIES:
This decision may be appealed in accordance with the provisions of 36 CFR 217.7(b)(2) by filing a written notice of appeal, in duplicate, within 45 days of the date of publication of the legal notice of availability of this decision. The Decision is effective 7 days after publication of legal notice, 36 CFR 217.10(a). The appeal must be filed with the Chief of the Forest Service:

Chief of Forest Service (ATTN 1570)
14th and Independence Avenue SW
Post Office Box 96090
Washington DC 20090-6090

PUBLIC NOTICE OF THIS DECISION:
Notice of this decision will be published in the following newspapers: The Sacramento Bee, The Oregonian, and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

EFFECTIVE DATE:
The effective date of this decision will be no sooner than 7 days following publication of the Public Notice of this decision. This decision is effective until September 30, 1999, or until amended or superceded.

ADMINISTRATIVE OR SUPPORTING RECORD:
Records documenting the preparation and review of this schedule change are available at:

Survey and Manage Project
c/o Regional Ecosystem Office
PO Box 3623
Portland, OR 97208-3623

For further information, please contact: Cynthia Henchell, Survey and Manage EA Team Leader, c/o Regional Ecosystem Office, PO Box 3623, Portland, OR 97208-3623, Ph: (503) 808-2493.

SIGNATURES:
By signing this Decision Notice/Decision Record, we exercise our respective authorities over only those portions relevant to our authority.

 

/s/ Robert W. Williams
Regional Forester, Region 6
USDA Forest Service

Date:  February 26, 1999

/s/ Bradley Powell
Acting Regional Forester, Region 5
USDA Forest Service

Date:  February 26, 1999


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Last Updated:  January 04, 2005 23:55