USDA Forest Service and USDI Bureau of Land Management
The Forest Service and BLM have analyzed a proposal to change the survey schedule for some Survey and Manage Component 2 species and Protection Buffer species, based on the technical infeasibility of surveys (including taxonomic identification problems) and lack of substantially increased risk to the species from changing the schedule for one year. The Proposed Action would delay the survey schedule by one year for 32 Survey and Manage Component 2 species and Protection Buffer species throughout the range of the northern spotted owl, comprising the geographic area of the Northwest Forest Plan.
The Proposed Action has been analyzed in an environmental assessment (EA), "Environmental Assessment to Change the Implementation Schedule for Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer Species" (October 7, 1998), which is briefly summarized here. The EA analyzed in detail the No Action alternative and the Proposed Action (summarized in EA, pp. 11-12). The No Action alternative would make no change to the Survey and Manage provisions. No ground-disturbing activities would be implemented in fiscal year 1999 (FY 1999) without a completed survey for all Component 2 Survey and Manage species. The Proposed Action is to change the survey schedule for 32 of the Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species, based on the technical infeasibility of surveys and the lack of substantially increased risk to the species (EA, pp. 14 -17).
Effects to species will be mitigated by conducting surveys during FY 1999 in instances where infeasibility problems have been solved (EA, p. 1). Field units may be directed to conduct surveys for some of the 32 species as species identification and differentiation problems are resolved. These surveys will be required as of the date indicated by letter of direction from the Regional Foresters and BLM State Directors.
The EA analysis found that the No Action alternative would disrupt some resource outputs, including timber production and prescribed burning, (EA, pp. 12-14). The EA is tiered to the "Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on Management of Habitat for Late-Successional and Old-Growth Related Species Within the Range of the Northern Spotted Owl" (February 1994) (FSEIS) and the environmental impact statements for the land use plans listed in Appendix E of the EA, and incorporates by reference analysis from those documents.
On the basis of the analysis documented in the EA and for the reasons set forth below, we find that adoption of the Proposed Action would not have a significant effect to individuals or species populations, based on qualitative assessment conducted by species experts which demonstrates that a delay in surveys of one year would not cause a substantially increased risk to these 32 species. The basis for this determination is the short duration of the proposed delay (one year) in implementation of the survey requirement and the small percentage (less than 1%) of lands within the NFP planning area that would be disturbed during that time (EA, p. 15). Senior biological staff members have concluded that a decision to change the implementation of the survey schedule for 32 Survey and Manage and Protection Buffer species from Fiscal Year 1999 to Fiscal Year 2000 would pose no substantial increase in risk to the species based on the best available scientific information regarding these species. The species assessment was based on pertinent information collected since the Survey and Manage standard and guideline was adopted in the 1994 Record of Decision. This included the latest information regarding the range and habitat of these species, which in many cases had improved over the information available at the time of the 1994 ROD. The conclusions of the senior biological staff were based primarily on the information provided by the taxa panels (April 1998) and responses from agency field specialists (May, June 1998), and were recorded in Appendix C in the EA. Based on the work of the taxa panels, it was found that some protection for some species would be provided by Late-Successional Reserves, Riparian Reserves, application of the Aquatic Conservation Strategy, and the marbled murrelet standard and guideline. Some species should benefit from the management of known sites, including new sites, under Survey and Manage, Strategy 1. In addition, pre-project surveys for some of the 32 species may do little to protect the species due to the low likelihood of finding existing populations of such species. These species require specific conditions to show identifying features that are unpredictable and, for some species, may not occur for years. While surveys may locate some populations if localized conditions are right, the effort is unlikely to locate most populations because conditions are unlikely to be correct in the window available for surveying the FY 1999 projects. This effort is unlikely to do much to protect these species and would divert the limited number of experts from other efforts that will provide much needed information on Survey and Manage species. We find that the Proposed Action would have resource program effects (i.e., prescribed burning and timber harvest) that more closely resemble the effects anticipated by the Northwest Forest Plan (NFP) FSEIS, and would also not cause a significant impact to these programs (EA, pp. 13 & 16). Therefore, an environmental impact statement or a supplement to the existing environmental impact statements is not necessary and will not be prepared.
REASONS FOR FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT
The effects of the Proposed Action on species are essentially limited to the 32 of the 80 Survey and Manage Component 2 species and Protection Buffer species for which surveys are required prior to FY 1999 ground-disturbing activities. (EA, pp. 11, 14-17). None of the 32 species are listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act (EA, p. 3), and the Proposed Action would have no effect on listed or proposed species or designated or proposed critical habitats (EA, p. 17). The Proposed Action would result in one additional year of projects without surveys for these 32 species and would pertain only to those projects that occur within the range and habitat of the 32 species. Pursuant to land management plans adopted through the NFP, surveys will be conducted as appropriate and consideration of information for other species will continue. Potential effects of ground-disturbing activities on other species will be addressed through appropriate site-specific NEPA analysis.
The social and economic context of the Proposed Action is largely limited to the area within the range of the northern spotted owl, as described in the NFP. The effects to resource programs from the Proposed Action would more closely resemble the level of activities and effects anticipated in the FSEIS Chapters 3 & 4, pp. 288-309 (EA, pp. 13 & 16).
The Proposed Action would not significantly affect any unique characteristics of the geographic area (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(3)), because the schedule change would not directly alter the environmental protection afforded to historic or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically critical areas. The Proposed Action would not alter the status of any specifically designated areas protected under the Northwest Forest Plan and the land use plans listed in Appendix E of the EA. The Proposed Action would also not alter the protection afforded known sites of any Survey and Manage species; it would only alter the schedule for surveys of 32 of the species in Category 2. In the worst case, there would be sites that would not be discovered if surveys were not conducted. Potential loss of some individuals or localized populations could occur in the worst case, but the species experts have determined that this would not represent a substantially increased risk to species.
The Proposed Action would not involve effects that are likely to be highly controversial (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(4)). Controversy in this context refers to cases where there is substantial dispute as to the size or nature of the effects of the Federal action. The scientific basis for this schedule change has been evaluated in the EA (pp. 8-9, 14-16, and Appendix C). The effects of the Proposed Action on species would be essentially limited to the 32 species for which the survey schedule would be changed (EA, pp. 14-16). The Proposed Action would have economic effects that would more closely resemble the level of activities and effects anticipated in the FSEIS than would the No Action alternative (FSEIS Chapters 3&4, pp. 288-309; EA, pp. 13, 16). The public was invited to comment on the proposal. A total of twelve substantive issues (relevant to the scope of the analysis) were identified from comments received from 72 individuals or representatives of organizations. The summary of comments and responses is attached as Appendix G of the EA. The issues raised did not warrant a change in the Proposed Action or effects analysis. The number of comments received and the issues raised did not indicate that a high level of controversy exists over the effects of this action.
The Proposed Action would not impose any highly uncertain, unique, or unknown environmental risks apart from those effects and risks that were evaluated in the FSEIS and ROD (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(5)). Scientific experts were explicitly asked to evaluate the risks of the Proposed Action, and they determined that the one year schedule change would not substantially increase the risk to any of the 32 species. Factors considered by the species experts were the number of sites adequately protected by existing reserve allocations and protection of habitats for other species, including listed species. Other factors raised in this EA include the small percentage of the Northwest Forest Plan area that would be affected by projects in FY 1999 relative to the distribution of the species and the continued management of those species which are also Component 1 species (EA, pp. 8, 14-16). The Proposed Action would extend for one year, from FY 1999 to FY 2000, the period during which surveys are not required. The risk is similar to the risk of the four years without surveys (FY1996 through FY1998) that was already accepted in the original survey schedule in the Northwest Forest Plan FSEIS (EA, pp. 15-16).
The Proposed Action would not establish a precedent for future actions with significant effects and does not represent a decision in principle about a future consideration (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(6)). The Proposed Action would not prejudice the decision on any future actions and does not, in and of itself, make any commitment of resources (EA, p. 5). The Proposed Action would not establish a precedent for any future actions regarding the status of any Survey and Manage species or Protection Buffer species or the management of known sites (EA, pp. 5, 8, 14). The FS and BLM are preparing an EIS (63 Fed. Rg. 65167-65168 (11/25/98)) which will analyze broader changes to the Survey and Manage program. A decision on the schedule change would not prejudge any potential outcomes of that analysis. Because the schedule change would not substantially increase the risk to these species, proceeding with one additional year of projects without surveys would not foreclose future management options for any of these species (EA, p. 14). Future projects, including those that would occur without surveys under the Proposed Action, would be analyzed in additional, site-specific NEPA analyses as appropriate.
The Proposed Action is not related to other actions with individually insignificant but cumulative significant impacts (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(7)). The cumulative, programmatic effects of resource programs and protection measures related to this Proposed Action have already been analyzed in the FSEIS and the environmental impact statements for the land use plans listed in Appendix E of the EA. The effects of the Proposed Action, together with other actions taken under the Northwest Forest Plan, would have a cumulative effect that would be similar to or slightly less than that anticipated in the FSEIS (FSEIS Chapters 3&4, pp. 288-309; EA pp. 15-16).
The Proposed Action would not adversely affect districts, sites, highways, structures, or objects listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places, nor would it cause loss or destruction of significant scientific, cultural, or historic resources (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(8)), because the Proposed Action would not alter the protection of any such areas or objects implemented in the Northwest Forest Plan and the land use plans listed in Appendix E of the EA.
The Proposed Action would not adversely affect any endangered or threatened species or its habitat that has been determined to be critical under the Endangered Species Act (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(9)). None of the 32 species for which the survey schedule would be changed under the Proposed Action are listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The BLM and Forest Service have determined that the Proposed Action would have no effect on threatened or endangered species or their critical habitat and therefore consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service is not required (EA, pp. 16-17, 19). Future projects that may affect listed species will be preceded by Endangered Species Act consultation as appropriate.
The Proposed Action does not threaten a violation of Federal, State or local law or requirements imposed for the protection of the environment (40 CFR 1508.27(b)(l0)), because the Proposed Action is being adopted in accordance with NFMA, FLPMA, NEPA, and their implementing regulations. The Proposed Action would not affect the following elements of the human environment, which are specified in statute, regulation, or executive order: Air Quality, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Cultural Resources, Environmental Justice, Farm Lands (prime or unique), Floodplains, Native American Religious Concerns, Threatened or Endangered Species, Hazardous or Solid Wastes, Water Quality, Wild and Scenic Rivers, and Wilderness. The Proposed Action would not affect these elements, because it would not alter the measures implemented in the Northwest Forest Plan and the land use plans listed in Appendix E of the EA to protect or ensure consideration of these elements.
Last Updated: January 04, 2005 11:56 PM