[Federal Register: December 29, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 248)]
[Notices]               
[Page 68776-68779]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr29de09-45]                         

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Notices
                                                Federal Register
________________________________________________________________________

This section of the FEDERAL REGISTER contains documents other than rules 
or proposed rules that are applicable to the public. Notices of hearings 
and investigations, committee meetings, agency decisions and rulings, 
delegations of authority, filing of petitions and applications and agency 
statements of organization and functions are examples of documents 
appearing in this section.

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Plan Revision for Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Apache, 
Coconino, Greenlee, and Navajo Counties, Arizona

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to revise the forest plan.

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SUMMARY: As directed by the National Forest Management Act, the USDA 
Forest Service is preparing the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests' 
revised land management plan (forest plan) and will also prepare an 
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for this revised forest plan. This 
notice briefly describes the nature of the decision to be made, the 
need for change and proposed action, and information concerning public 
participation. It also provides estimated dates for filing the EIS and 
the names and addresses of the responsible agency official and the 
individuals who can provide additional information. Finally, this 
notice briefly describes the applicable planning rule and how plan 
revision work completed under the 2008 planning rule will be used or 
modified for completing this plan revision.
    The revised forest plan will supersede the current forest plan that 
was approved by the Regional Forester in August 1987. The current 
forest plan has been amended 14 times since its approval, including 6 
significant amendments that clarified riparian, fire, timber, and 
recreation issues, adjusted the monitoring program, and added direction 
for the Mexican spotted owl, the northern goshawk, and old growth. This 
current forest plan will remain in effect until the revised forest plan 
takes effect.

DATES: Comments concerning the need for change provided in this notice 
will be most useful in the development of the draft revised forest plan 
and EIS if received by February 1, 2010. The agency expects to release 
a draft revised forest plan and draft EIS for formal comment by fall, 
2010 and a final revised forest plan and final EIS by summer, 2011. 
Public meetings to gather input on potential alternatives to the 
proposed action are scheduled for spring, 2010. The dates, times, and 
locations of these meetings will be posted on the forests' Web site: 
http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to: Apache-Sitgreaves National 
Forests, Attention: Forest Plan Revision Team, P.O. Box 640, 
Springerville, Arizona 85938. Comments may also be sent via e-mail: 
asnf.planning@fs.fed.us, or via facsimile to 928-333-5966.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Michelle Davalos, Forest Planner, 
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, P.O. Box 640, Springerville, 
Arizona 85938, (928) 333-6334. Information regarding this revision is 
also available at the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests' revision Web 
site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/. Individuals who use 
telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 between 8 AM and 8 
PM, Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Name and Address of the Responsible Official

    Corbin Newman, Regional Forester, Southwestern Region, 333 Broadway 
SE., Albuquerque, NM 87102.

Nature of the Decision To Be Made

    The Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are preparing an EIS to 
revise the current forest plan. The EIS process is meant to inform the 
Regional Forester so that he can decide which alternative best meets 
the need to achieve quality land management under the sustainable 
multiple-use management concept to meet the diverse needs of people 
while protecting the forests' resources, as required by the National 
Forest Management Act and the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act.
    The revised forest plan will describe the strategic intent of 
managing the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests into the next 10 to 15 
years and will address the need for change described below. The revised 
forest plan will provide management direction in the form of goals 
(desired conditions), objectives, suitability determinations, 
standards, guidelines, and a monitoring plan. It may also make new 
special area recommendations for wilderness, research natural areas, 
and other special areas.
    As important as the decisions to be made is the identification of 
the types of decisions that will not be made within the revised forest 
plan. The authorization of project-level activities on the forests is 
not a decision made in the forest plan but occurs through subsequent 
project specific decision-making. The designation of routes, trails, 
and areas for motorized vehicle travel are not considered during plan 
revision, but are addressed in the concurrent, but separate, EIS for 
public motorized travel planning on the Apache-Sitgreaves National 
Forests. Some issues (e.g., hunting regulations), although important, 
are beyond the authority or control of the Apache-Sitgreaves National 
Forests and will not be considered. In addition, some issues, such as 
wild and scenic river suitability determinations, may not be undertaken 
at this time, but addressed later as a future forest plan amendment.

Need for Change and Proposed Action

    According to the National Forest Management Act, forest plans are 
to be revised on a 10 to 15 year cycle. The purpose and need for 
revising the current forest plan are (1) the forest plan is over 20 
years old, and (2) since the forest plan was approved in 1987, there 
have been changes in economic, social, and ecological conditions, new 
policies and priorities, and new information based on monitoring and 
scientific research. Extensive public and employee collaboration, along 
with science-based evaluations, identified the need for change in the 
current forest plan. This need for change has been organized into three 
revision topics that focus on the sustainability of ecological, social, 
and economic systems: (1) Maintenance and Improvement of Ecosystem 
Health, (2) Managed Recreation, and (3) Community-Forest Interaction. 
The need for change is described fully in the Comprehensive Evaluation 
Report and the Analysis of the Management Situation supplement 
document, both of which are available on the forests' Web site: http://

[[Page 68777]]

www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/documents.shtml. The proposed 
action is to revise the current forest plan to address the three 
revision topics.

Revision Topic 1--Maintenance and Improvement of Ecosystem Health

    Conditions have changed since the current forest plan was issued in 
1987 including the recognition that vegetation conditions (structure, 
composition, and function) are divergent from historic conditions; 
forest conditions indicate a substantial departure from the natural 
fire regime; and there are plant and animal species which need further 
consideration in the planning process. There are also emerging issues 
not addressed by the current forest plan (e.g., non-native invasive 
plants and animals, climate change).
Proposed Action
     Better describe desired conditions for the vegetative 
communities of the forests. The vegetative communities include 
ponderosa pine, wet mixed conifer, dry mixed conifer, spruce-fir, and 
aspen forests, pi[ntilde]on-juniper and Madrean pine-oak woodlands, 
Great Basin, semi-desert, and montane/subalpine grasslands, interior 
chaparral, mixed broadleaf deciduous, montane willow, and cottonwood-
willow riparian forests, and wetland/cienega riparian areas. The 
revised forest plan will describe the desired composition, structure, 
and cover of these vegetation types that will result in resilient, 
functioning ecosystems.
     Identify the desired fire regime that will help to restore 
fire to a more natural role as one of the forests' primary disturbance 
agents.
     Provide direction to guide future vegetation management 
activities, including burning and mechanical treatments, to move 
towards or maintain desired conditions.
     Incorporate management direction to guide future projects 
to provide habitat to maintain viable populations of existing native 
and desired non-native vertebrate species in the planning area.
     Include appropriate standards and guidelines to provide 
direction to maintain species diversity and viability across the 
planning area.
     Reevaluate and update the Management Indicator Species 
(MIS). MIS are species whose population changes are believed to 
indicate the effects of management activities. MIS are selected to 
allow evaluation of the differences between alternatives in the EIS.
     Add plan components to provide future project direction to 
control, treat, and eradicate non-native plant and animal invasive 
species.
     Address the emerging issue of climate change by 
incorporating adaptive management strategies and describing ecological 
conditions that are resilient to change.

Revision Topic 2--Managed Recreation

    There are several concerns related to unmanaged recreation that are 
not adequately addressed in the current forest plan. These include 
increasing recreational use of the forests and changing demographics of 
forest users. There are also special areas that were not mentioned in 
the current forest plan (e.g., scenic byways), as well as rivers that 
are eligible for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. There may 
be National Forest System lands that could be recommended to Congress 
for designation into the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Proposed Action
     Update the spectrum of recreation opportunities to reflect 
current and projected recreation needs, natural resource impacts, and 
public input. This includes identification of areas that are developed 
for high use and areas that resemble more natural landscapes.
     Identify the suitability of areas on the forests for 
motorized vehicle use and other recreational activities, in conformance 
with travel planning concurrently being addressed on the forests.
     Incorporate direction for special areas that were not 
included in the current forest plan, including recommended research 
natural areas, the Heber Wild Horse Territory, scenic byways, and 
national recreation trails.
     Recommend additional special areas (i.e., research natural 
areas) where needed. The intent is to recommend these areas in the 
revised forest plan; subsequent analyses would determine whether they 
should become official designated areas.
     Recognize the management requirements for rivers that are 
eligible for the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The 
Eligibility Report for the National Wild and Scenic River System was 
completed in May 2009 and found approximately 358 miles of 23 rivers 
that are eligible for inclusion into the National Wild and Scenic River 
System. This report is available on the forests' Web site: http://
www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/documents.shtml.
     Evaluate lands for wilderness potential and, if determined 
to be appropriate by the responsible official, recommend designation by 
Congress and provide interim management guidance. Note: the draft 
potential wilderness evaluation was published in June 2009 and is 
available on the forests' Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-
revision/documents.shtml.

Revision Topic 3--Community-Forest Interaction

    There are several social concerns that cause a need to change the 
current forest plan. Communities are at risk from uncharacteristic 
wildfire. There are increasing demands for goods, services, and forest 
access from growing populations and urban developments that border the 
forests. Many communities are surrounded by the forests and can be 
affected by adjustment to the forests' land ownership. Commodity use 
and production have shown declines from the past. However, these forest 
uses contribute to sustaining the lifestyles and traditions of local 
communities. Energy resource demands also continue to grow.
Proposed Action
     Provide direction to address communities at risk from 
uncharacteristic wildfire. This includes describing the appropriate 
vegetation desired conditions and fire regime, and treatment of the 
wildland-urban interface.
     Provide guidelines and suitability determinations for 
addressing urban interface demands (access, trailheads, special use 
permits).
     Update guidelines regarding land ownership adjustments 
that better reflects community expansion needs and preservation of open 
space.
     Continue to provide a sustainable supply of forest and 
rangeland resources that is consistent with achieving desired 
conditions and that supports local communities. Determine the 
suitability of lands for timber production and the allowable sale 
quantity of timber.
     Identify major existing energy (utility) corridors and 
provide management direction for these areas. Update the criteria for 
establishing new energy corridors.

Public Involvement

    Extensive public involvement and collaboration has already 
occurred. Informal discussions with the public regarding needed changes 
to the current forest plan began with a series of public meetings 
during the summer of 2006. This input, along with science-based 
evaluations, was used to determine the need for change identified 
above. Additional meetings, correspondence,

[[Page 68778]]

news releases, comment periods, and other tools have been utilized to 
gather feedback from the public, forest employees, tribal governments, 
federal and state agencies, and local governments.
    More recent public involvement focused on the development, review, 
and comment of the Working Draft Land Management Plan which was 
released in June 2009 (http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/
draftLMP/ASNF-Working-Draft-Plan-2009-06-15.pdf). This document was 
developed based upon public and employee collaboration. A modified 
version of this draft will be analyzed as one alternative in the EIS 
process.
    The forests will continue regular and meaningful consultation and 
collaboration with tribal nations on a government-to-government basis. 
The agency will work with tribal governments to address issues 
concerning Indian tribal self-government and sovereignty, natural and 
cultural resources held in trust, Indian tribal treaty and Executive 
order rights, and any issues that significantly or uniquely affect 
their communities.
    The forests desire to continue collaborative efforts with members 
of the public who are interested in forest management, as well as 
federal and state agencies, local governments, and private 
organizations.
    Public meetings to gather input on potential alternatives to the 
proposed action are scheduled for spring, 2010. The dates, times, and 
locations of these meetings will be posted on the forests' Web site: 
http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/. The information gathered 
at these meetings, as well as other feedback, will be used to prepare 
the draft EIS.
    At this time, the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests are seeking 
input on the need for change and proposed action: did we miss any 
substantive issues or concerns? It is important that reviewers provide 
their comments at such times and in such a way that they are useful to 
the agency's preparation of the revised forest plan and the EIS. 
Therefore, comments on the proposed action and need for change will be 
most valuable if received by February 1, 2010 and should clearly 
articulate the reviewer's concerns. The submission of timely and 
specific comments can affect a reviewer's ability to participate in 
subsequent administrative or judicial review. At this time, we 
anticipate using the 2000 planning rule pre-decisional objection 
process (36 CFR 219.32) for administrative review.
    Comments received in response to this solicitation, including the 
names and addresses of those who comment will be part of the public 
record. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered.

Applicable Planning Rule

    Preparation of the revised forest plan was underway when the 2008 
National Forest System land and resource management planning rule 
(planning rule) was enjoined on June 30, 2009, by the United States 
District Court for the Northern District of California (Citizens for 
Better Forestry v. United States Department of Agriculture, No. C 08-
1927 CW (N.D. Cal. June 30, 2009). The Department of Agriculture has 
determined that the 2000 planning rule is once again in effect. The 
2000 planning rule's transition provisions (36 CFR 219.35), amended in 
2002 and 2003 and clarified by interpretative rules issued in 2001 and 
2004, allow use of the provisions of the planning rule in effect prior 
to the effective date of the 2000 Rule (November 9, 2000), commonly 
called the 1982 planning rule, to amend or revise forest plans. The 
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests has elected to use the provisions of 
the 1982 planning rule, including the requirement to prepare an EIS, to 
complete its plan revision.
    Prior to the enjoinment of the 2008 planning rule, the Apache-
Sitgreaves National Forests had been working to revise the current 
forest plan. Informal revision efforts began in the summer of 2006, 
with collaborative discussions regarding the need to change the forest 
plan and forest.
    A formal Notice of Initiation to revise the forest plan was 
published on December 16, 2008, in the Federal Register, Vol. 65, No. 
212, p. 65290. That notice also requested review on the Comprehensive 
Evaluation Report, the Ecological Sustainability Report, and the 
Economic and Social Assessment (documents that provide evaluations of 
social, economic, and ecological conditions and trends in and around 
the forests).
    The forests had begun collaborative development of forest plan 
components during summer, 2008. The latest set of plan components, the 
Working Draft Land Management Plan, was made available for review and 
comment in June 2009. A draft potential wilderness evaluation of the 
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests was also made available for review 
and comment in June 2009. The Comprehensive Evaluation Report was 
further supplemented in December 2009 to conform to the Analysis of the 
Management Situation need for change requirements of the 1982 rule 
provisions. These documents are available on the forests' Web site: 
http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-revision/documents.shtml.
    Although the 2008 planning rule is no longer in effect, information 
and data gathered prior to the court's injunction is still useful for 
completing the plan revision using the provisions of the 1982 planning 
rule. For example, the following material developed during the plan 
revision process to date is appropriate for continued use in the 
revision process:
     The Comprehensive Evaluation Report that was completed in 
December 2008 forms the basis for need to change the current forest 
plan and the proposed action for the plan revision.
     The Comprehensive Evaluation Report was supplemented in 
December 2009 with additional information to conform to the Analysis of 
Management Situation need for change provisions of the 1982 planning 
rule. The need for change previously identified in the Comprehensive 
Evaluation Report has been verified by this supplementary information; 
no new need for change was identified.
     The Ecological Sustainability Report that was completed in 
December 2008 will continue to be used as a reference in the planning 
process as appropriate to those items in conformance with the 2000 
planning rule transition language and 1982 planning rule procedures. 
This is scientific information and is not affected by the change of 
planning rule. This information will be updated with any new available 
information.
     The Economic and Social Assessment that was completed in 
June 2008 and updated in January 2009 is not affected by the change in 
planning rule and will continue to be used as a reference in the 
planning process. This information will be updated with any new 
available information.
     The draft evaluation of potential wilderness areas that 
was made available for public review and comment in June 2009 is 
consistent with appropriate provisions of the 1982 planning rule and 
will be brought forward into this plan revision process.
     There are additional background reports, assessments, 
datasets, and public comment that will be used, some of which can be 
found on the forests' Web site: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/asnf/plan-
revision/documents.shtml.
    As necessary or appropriate, this material will be further adjusted 
as part of the planning process using the provisions of the 1982 
planning rule.

(Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1600-1614; 36 CFR 219.35)


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    Dated: December 18, 2009.
Chris Knopp,
Forest Supervisor.
[FR Doc. E9-30665 Filed 12-28-09; 8:45 am]

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