The Pilot Project district rangers have released nine Decision Notices and Environmental Assessments (EAs) for DFPZs and group selection projects. Two more Decision Notices are expected later this month. Often, it can take up to two years from the start of project planning and environmental analysis before contracts can be awarded.
Along with planning for FY01, the ranger districts are also doing outyear planning, especially for FY02, which starts October 1, 2001. Also districts are implementing projects with previous decisions. The activities associated with implementing projects include field reconnaissance such as wildlife, archeological, and plant surveys; field preparation such as designating boundaries, designating vegetation (brush or trees) to be removed, and designating buffers around streams and meadows; and contract preparation, advertisement and award. These activities must be completed for each timber sale or service contract before implementation of the project can take place.
The districts are expecting to have approximately 34,000 acres of DFPZs and 2900 acres of group selection under contract before Oct. 1, 2001.
Also, the districts are also busy administering DFPZ contracts that were planned and awarded in FY2000 and some which were awarded this spring. There are several active timber sales and service contracts making up approximately 16,208 acres of DFPZs, 200 acres of group selection, and 944 acres of individual tree selection.
The Ranger Districts have been busy with riparian restoration projects. The kind of riparian work taking place this year includes meadow restoration, stream rehabilitation, aspen enhancement, headcut stabilization, and a variety of road improvements, relocations, and decommissioning.
We expect to complete approximately 84 miles of road work, and 253 acres of riparian work.
Also, for outyear projects the districts are planning approximately 105 acres for environmental analysis under NEPA, and approximately 362,000 acres within watersheds are being analyzed to assess the current and desired conditions.
The Regional Forester signed the Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (Framework) on January 12, 2001. The appeal period ended April 17, and the Chief of the Forest Service has received 234 appeals. The Chief is expected to issue decisions on these appeals in October.
The Framework developed a conservation strategy for the California spotted owl that replaces both the CASPO (California spotted owl) Interim Direction and the mitigation measure of the HFQLG Record of Decision.
HFQLG projects comply with the standards and guidelines of this new owl strategy. The strategy includes canopy closure and large tree retention requirements. Ranger districts will implement as much of the pilot project as possible, although the new owl strategy will change the extent of treatments. The Group selections currently being planned for FY 01 in non-suitable owl habitat are expected to continue without modification.
As directed by the Regional Forester, an administrative study is currently
being planned that will investigate how owls and features of their habitat respond
to certain silvicultural treatments. Group Selections within suitable owl habitat
are expected to be one of the silvicultural treatments investigated. In February,
a team of scientists led by Dr. Peter Stine from the Pacific Southwest Research
Station, began development of the study, which will include portions on the
HFQLG Pilot Project. The draft study plan was sent to interested parties seeking
input for the next stage of the draft. Peter Stine and the Administrative Study
Plan scientific team are preparing a new draft which is expected to be available
to interested parties in early August.
On June 12, 2001 Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California ruled on the Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs) lawsuit. In resolving the case, while the court dismissed several of the CATs claims, it did uphold the claim that the Forest Service failed to consider the environmental effects of maintaining DFPZs in the future. The court concluded that DFPZ maintenance was an essential element of the congressionally-mandated pilot project, and therefore needed to be examined as such within the HFQLG Final Enviromental Impact Statement (FEIS). The court focused on the CATs NEPA claims and held that in relation to DFPZ construction, maintenance was both a connected action and a cumulative action, and therefore had to be analyzed within the HFQLG FEIS.
The court ordered that the Forest Service draft a Supplemental EIS on the issue of DFPZ maintenance. Ongoing Pilot Project activities are allowed to continue provided a draft Supplemental EIS is released for public comment within 120 days.
Because the Forest Service has until October 10, 2001 to release a draft supplemental EIS for public comment, an inter-disciplinary team (IDT) has been assembed and includes a land management planner who is serving as the IDT leader, a NEPA writer/editor, a fuels management specialist, and a forest vegetation management specialist.
The Federal Register notice regarding the intent to prepare a Supplemental EIS analyzing the need for and environmental effects of DFPZ maintenance is scheduled for publishing in mid-July. A draft supplementary EIS will be published by October 10, in compliance with the Judge's order. This will avoid delay in implementation of HFQLG projects.
Details of this plan are available from Monitoring Team Leader Wayne Johannson (530-283-7881).
The HFQLG Implementation Plan is a working document and subject to frequent updates based on funding and project planning. Because final budget allocations have not been made, and the pending release of the Administrative Study plan, the revision of the HFQLG Implementation Plan has been postponed. The current version, which is based on full funding and does not yet incorporate the new California owl strategy identified in the Framework, can be found at the HFQLG Website www.fs.fed.us/r5/hfqlg/ under Current Activities. Questions about this plan should be directed to Assistant Project Manager Phil Tuma (530-283-7721).