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SECTION 1
Physical Environment

Watershed (Soil, Water, Aquatic, and Riparian)

Affected Environment

Soil Productivity and Condition

Defined as the capacity of the soil to produce biomass, soil productivity is influenced by soil depth, texture, amount of rock fragments, available water-holding capacity, nutrient status, duff layer, mineral toxicity, pH, and soil organisms. The primary disturbances decreasing soil productivity are soil compaction and displacement by heavy equipment, and accelerated soil erosion by water flowing across the surface instead of into the soil (Johannson 1996; Westmoreland 1999). Soil nutrients are also lost through volatilization during and following a hot burn (Forest Service Handbook 2509.18, Section 2.05; R5 Supplement Number 2509.18-95-1, Sections 2.05 and 2.2).

Soil productivity in the planning area has declined due to intense land use initiated by European settlement. Before this time, soil disturbances were limited to the frequent low intensity burns, now known to have contributed to the health of soil in the area (Johannson 1996).

Current soil degradation in meadows and uplands, caused primarily by activities such as road construction, timber harvest activities and livestock grazing, marks a substantial change in site condition. Erosion of topsoil in forested areas repeatedly entered for timber harvest is also a problem, though to a lesser degree. Decline in site productivity is least in areas with deep, productive soils that recover more readily after disturbance. Soil compaction and soil displacement are the primary causes for degraded site quality in the project area (Johannson 1996; Westmoreland 1999).

Intense wildfires and post-fire salvage logging contribute to the degradation of site quality in many locations. Soil erosion is severe and soil biology and structure are altered through intense surface heating and soil compaction. Recovery of these areas would occur as organic matter is replenished and the biological and physical processes in the soil improve aggregate structure and porosity (Johannson 1996). Soil recovery can take 40 years or more (Froehlich et al. 1985; Vora 1988).

Amount and Timing of Water Runoff

Streamflow in the planning area corresponds to seasonal precipitation, with low flows during summer and fall, and higher flows during winter and spring (Linsley, Figure 7, 1955). Floods can occur throughout winter and spring, with large peak flows causing major flooding (Dong and Tobin 1971, pages 5 and 6). Storm events that cause these peak floods occur approximately every 1 to 10 years (Department of Water Resources: California Climate Facts, circa 1960). Warm mid-winter rainstorms on snowpack generate most large floods (Schultz and Roby 1996, Section IV).

Drainage patterns in the southern and western portions of the Lassen National Forest are highly branched and similar to those on the Plumas National Forest and the Sierraville Ranger District of the Tahoe National Forest, but the northern and eastern portions of the Lassen National Forest have scant surface runoff and few streams. Precipitation disappears quickly into the thin volcanic soils and feeds the regional aquifer (Young 1998).

The watersheds of the planning area are composed of a variety of soil types that influence the timing of water movement to streams. Some soils contribute to rapid runoff and abrupt increases in streamflow during storm events. Other soils moderate runoff and streamflow. Shallow soils usually generate quicker winter and spring runoff than deeper soils do. Deep soils not only absorb and store more water than shallow soils, they also release more to summer flows. The deep soils of large alluvial areas, such as meadows, not only store and release water, but moderate high flows and increase late season flows (Johannson 1996).

A combination of road construction, soil compaction, ground cover reduction, and degradation of stream channels and riparian conditions has generated "accelerated over natural conditions," runoff, and sediment yields from many watersheds (Schultz and Roby 1996; Soil Conservation Service 1989; Pacific Gas and Electric Company 1984). Approximately 45 percent of the more than 13,000 miles of roads in the planning area watersheds are located near streams (Appendix P).

Timber harvests that substantially reduce the number of trees or create openings within the stand are believed to increase water yields. Because it is assumed that existing stands are more densely stocked than stands prior to European settlement, it is speculated that a slight reduction in water yield has occurred within the planning area (Schultz and Roby 1996, Water Quantity Section; Troendle 1987, page 7).

Water Quality

Before 1850, runoff and sediment yields from forest and meadowlands were moderated by undisturbed soils with high infiltration rates and excellent ground cover. Water flows and sediment yields varied as watersheds were burned by periodic, low intensity fires. Occasionally, stand-replacing fires occurred in the central part of the planning area, but burns were generally smaller and more evenly distributed over the landscape than they are today. Intense fire on the east side, where vegetative recovery is slow, may have caused increased peak flows and sediment yields for up to 10 years following fire events. Few stand-replacing fires occurred on the west side, and those that did are believed to have been small causing little change in flows or sediment yields (Schultz and Roby 1996; US Forest Service 1995).

Channel and watershed disturbances were limited to periodic wildfire and flood events that were critical to watershed and aquatic structure and function. Though such events probably resulted in higher sediment production and elevated stream temperatures, water quality was generally excellent most of the time over most of the area (Schultz and Roby 1996; Kattelmann 1996).

Water quality in the planning area is extremely variable, due to differences in watershed types and conditions. Data documenting water quality conditions are mostly inferred from watershed and channel condition studies. Sedimentation and elevated water temperature are problems over most of the area. Chemical, bacterial, and metal contamination occur where land use activities are concentrated, as for livestock grazing, mining, and urban development (Schultz and Roby 1996; Soil Conservation Service 1989; Dong and Tobin 1973; Kondolf 1996).

The suppression of wildfire since the 1850s has changed the forests and meadows of the planning area. Runoff and sediment yields, nutrient levels, water temperature, and metal and other toxic concentrations are elevated over historic levels. Commensurate with changes in the timing of flows and water quality is the degradation of streams and meadows, riparian and aquatic habitats and the plant and animal communities that depend on them (Schultz and Roby 1996; Soil Conservation Service 1989; Hughes 1934, pages 3 through 5; Cawley circa 1980; Clifton 1992).

Central and west side streams typically have better water quality than east side streams, due to differences in land use, climate, soil, and vegetative recovery rates. Of the 1.1 million tons of annual sediment volume from the 1,031 square mile East Branch North Fork Feather River Basin, approximately 51 percent is derived from streams, and almost 48 percent from roads. Only about 1 percent comes from upland sources (Schultz and Roby 1996; Soil Conservation Service 1989). Almost 6,000 miles of roads in the planning area watersheds are located near streams 1.

The Clean Water Action Plan 2, released in February 1998, will be in effect during the term of the pilot project. The purpose of the Clean Water Action Plan is to accelerate the goal of the Clean Water Act for fishable and swimmable water nationally by accelerating the restoration and protection of water resources in priority watersheds by the year 2005. Watersheds listed in Appendix N were delineated to meet the intent of the Clean Water Action Plan. They are subwatersheds of the planning area watersheds, which have been analyzed and ranked according to Table 3.3 (Natural Resource Conservation Service 1998).



Footnotes:
  1Reference geographic information system (GIS) data for this analysis.  GIS based, catalogued by watershed and in an Oracle database at the Tahoe National Forest Supervisor’s Office in Nevada City, California.

  2Clean Water Action Plan:  Restoring and Protecting America’s Waters, Report to the Vice President of the United States from the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Agriculture, February 14, 1998.


Table 3.3 California Unified Watershed Assessment
(as of October 1998)
Category I (Impaired)3 Watershed Name
Priority Watersheds Truckee
Mill-Big Chico
Upper Yuba
Honey-Eagle Lake
 
Non-Priority Watersheds North Fork Feather
East Branch North Fork Feather
Middle Fork Feather


Footnotes:
3Category I Watersheds are candidates for increased restoration activities due to impaired water quality or other impaired natural resource goals (emphasis on aquatic systems).

Aquatic, Riparian and Meadow Ecosystems

Streams and their aquatic, riparian, and meadow ecosystems reflect the geologic, topographic, and ecological diversity of the watersheds where they developed. They incorporate the changes in function and condition brought about by climatic shifts, large disturbances, and human activities. Riparian, aquatic, and meadow ecosystems are the most altered and impaired in the Sierra Nevada (US Forest Service 1998; Kattlemann 1996; Kondolf et al. 1996)

Streams in the planning area range from high gradient (usually headwater channels that are sources and transporters of sediment, water, nutrients, and large wood), to low gradient channels (usually in riparian ecosystems), which can be very sensitive to changes in the amount of water and sediment delivered to them. Degradation of Sierra Nevada streams, and their aquatic and riparian ecosystems, has been linked to dams, reservoirs, water diversions, livestock grazing, invasive species, mining, water pollution, roads, logging, direct changes to stream channels and stream flows, and recreational and residential developments (US Forest 1998; Kattlemann 1996; Kattlemann and Embury 1996; Kondolf et. al. 1996).

The low gradient channels of the east and central areas generally flow through large, wide meadows. On the west side, channels more often flow through narrow valley bottoms. Most meadow streams were once a braided network of shallow channels that overflowed their banks each year and covered the meadows with water. The meadows remained wet most of the year, slowly releasing water to downstream reaches well into the dry season. Today, most of these meadow channels have been deeply gullied. Rather than holding water close to the surface of the meadow, gullied streams are deep and wide enough to contain most flood flows and subsequently drain much of the water from meadows early in the dry season. Through this process, wetland areas have evolved into dry lands that foster dry land conditions and species (Schultz and Roby 1996; Hughes 1934, pages 3 through 5).

Because of their greater recovery potential, central area streams are less sensitive to management impacts than east side streams. The west side, with fewer alluvial reaches, more geologic control, larger bed material, and faster vegetative recovery rates, are the least sensitive to management impacts.

Current aquatic and riparian conditions manifest lost or diminished streamside plant and animal communities, a loss of large woody debris, and diminished pool dimensions over all stream types. Although streams in the central and western areas support communities of vertebrates and invertebrates similar to those that existed historically, in addition to newly introduced species, the once thriving salmon and steelhead fishery is almost completely lost. Aquatic and riparian conditions in the Sierra Nevada reflect the status of many riparian-dependent species. Currently, Federal policy mandates that riparian areas must be managed as unique ecosystems where preferential consideration is given to riparian dependent resources when conflicts occur among land use activities (Forest Service Manual 2526.03 - Policy).

Roads

Roads are motorized vehicular routes managed for licensed vehicles. The planning area currently contains approximately 13,200 miles of public and private roads. Approximately 8,512 miles are classified as Forest Development System Roads. Forest Development Roads are created for the management, protection, and use of National Forest System lands. Approximately 537 miles of Forest Development Roads are closed year-round to motorized traffic.

Numerous routes and wheel tracks are not included in the authorized or inventoried Forest Development Road System, or are under the jurisdiction of other governmental entities. These roads are considered "unclassified." Some unclassified routes were built as temporary roads for timber access. Others are unauthorized, user-defined routes. Unclassified routes are often a source of negative environmental impacts. They are not part of the Forest Development Road System and are typically not maintained or inventoried. There is growing interest in managing unclassified roads, by either including them in the Forest Development Road System or obliterating them. Approximately 520 miles of unclassified roads are currently known to be in the planning area.

Roads are the largest single human-caused source of sedimentation and habitat degradation in the planning area. Improperly constructed or unmaintained roads transport sediment to streams and riparian areas degrading water quality and aquatic habitat. Inadequate or failed culverts block fish movement and migrations. Through increasing the area and rate of human-caused disturbance, roads contribute to the direct destruction of habitat.

Each year new roads are added to the Forest Development Road System through either new construction or classification of previously unclassified roads. Newly constructed roads are typically short, local roads related to particular management activities such as timber sales. New roads may also be added to the Forest Development Road System because of land acquisitions or inventory corrections.

The overall miles of road on the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests are expected to decrease in future years. The Clean Water Action Plan identified forest roads as primary sources of sediment and runoff on Federal lands. The Clean Water Action plan directs Federal agencies to improve road related water quality problems by increasing road maintenance, relocating problem roads, and decommissioning or obliterating unneeded roads, especially in watersheds determined to be in poor condition. At the time the FEIS analysis was performed, only decommissioning targets had been established nationally and for the Pacific Southwest Region of the Forest Service. Approximately 230 miles of road decommissioning or obliteration is estimated for the planning area during the term of the pilot project. Primary access roads would not be included in the decommissioning target, but rather unclassified roads and those Forest Development Roads that are degrading water quality, receiving little to no maintenance, and determined to be not needed for management of National Forest System lands.

Forest development roads are not public roads like those under the jurisdiction of the State of California or county governments. Forest Development Roads are not intended to meet the transportation needs of the public; they are only designed for use and administration of National Forest System lands. Although they are generally open and available for public use, such use is at the discretion of the Secretary of Agriculture. Through authorities delegated by the Secretary, the Forest Service may restrict or control road use to meet specific management direction (Forest Service Manual 7731). The Forest Service manages and controls Forest Development Road use to prevent damage to the roadway, protect adjacent resources, or achieve semi-primitive recreation objectives (Forest Service Manual 7731.1). Vehicular traffic (especially on unsurfaced roads in wet weather) damages resources and degrades road surfaces necessitating expensive repairs. Road closure is a common technique for minimizing sedimentation and reducing road maintenance needs and costs. Annual road maintenance budgets are often insufficient to maintain the entire Forest Development Road System, so many Forest Development Roads go unrepaired. Commercial users, typically timber purchasers, maintain a substantial portion of the Forest Development Road System, but recent decreases in commercial activities have resulted in concurrent reduction in road maintenance. For example, only 57 percent of the road system in the planning area was partially maintained in Fiscal Year 1998.

Most stream crossings and road drainage structures were designed to accommodate a minimum 50-year storm event. Many are incapable of accommodating the heavy amount of debris that move during large floods or after a high-intensity fire, and are insufficient for protecting sensitive watersheds. Floods associated with recent heavy winters have caused a large number of drainage structure failures, damaging roads and adjacent resources and riparian habitats.

Roads, skid trails, and log landings increase runoff from a watershed when they are inadequately or poorly drained, and when they are close to streams and riparian areas (Figure 3.1). Direct links between these features and streams are sources of additional surface water and sediment. Concentrated flows from road surfaces cause soil erosion in the form of rills and gullies. Much of the generated sediment enters the stream system (Kattelmann 1966: Hydrology and Water Resources, page 892; Satterlund and Adams 1992, Section 12.1.3.2).


Figure 3.1

A conceptual model of the effect of roads on flow timing, altering routing efficiency through extension of the drainage network (Wemple, et al. 1996).

More than 1,023 miles of road in the Last Chance and Spanish Creek watersheds were analyzed for their contribution to sedimentation and habitat degradation. The Last Chance and Spanish Creek watersheds comprise about 8 percent of the planning area. Road problems were found to provide sedimentation to streams on 914 sites, comprising a total of 1,188 acres, or 32 percent of the roads investigated. Additionally, 1,272 stream crossings contributing sediment directly to streams were identified along the same road miles, amounting to 1.2 problem crossings per mile of road (Clifton 1992, pages 27 and 40).

According to the Natural Resources Conservation Service 4, "The primary sources of sediment are streambank erosion, and sheet and rill erosion on road cut/fill slopes. Bank erosion on tributary streams to major streams in the valleys contributes 40 percent of the sediment to the mouth of the East Branch North Fork Feather River watershed. Road cut/fill slopes contribute an additional 43 percent. Banks of the major creeks in the valleys add approximately 15 percent of the total sediment production in the East Branch North Fork Feather River Watershed. Sheet and rill erosion on the ground and road surfaces, and gully erosion contribute approximately 2 percent" (Soil Conservation Service 1989 and Figure 3.2). Management activities contribute to background levels and condition affecting soil and water resources, reducing soil productivity, increasing soil erosion, degrading water quality, changing flow timing, decreasing channel stability, and consequently degrading aquatic and riparian habitats. Impacts to upland soil and hydrology can reduce growth and biomass production and the health and vigor of affected ecosystems.

Figure 3.2

Current Cumulative Effects

The effects of past impacts on soil, water and, aquatic and riparian ecosystems was analyzed for each watershed in the planning area. All public and private lands in these watersheds were analyzed with the information available (Appendix N and Map J). Maps displaying the location of each watershed with its identifying label are located in the project file. Watersheds containing less than 25 percent Federal lands were eliminated from the final analysis due to lack of information about lands in other ownerships.

The analysis contains two primary sets of information: (1) watershed sensitivity to soil erosion and channel degradation with a vegetation recovery modifier; and (2) existing watershed conditions, focusing on roads and streams as primary areas of accelerated erosion and sources of sediment (Soil Conservation Service 1989). Mass wasting, or landslide, is mostly localized. It does not appear to be a large problem in the planning area. Where it does occur, oversteepened slopes and roads are primary causes (Plumas FEIS, 1988, pages 3-94 through 3-96; Lassen FEIS, 1992, page 3-32). Other land disturbances, including impacts from livestock grazing, mining, urban development, wildfires, and logging, are included in the analysis.

The analysis rated each watershed from low to very high risk of cumulative effects. The average size watershed analyzed was 10,000 acres. Of the 348 watersheds evaluated, 42 rate high (12%) and 11 rate very high (3%) (Map J). The majority of the watersheds rated as very high risk are the Last Chance Creek, Little Last Chance Creek, Upper Indian Creek, and Sierra Valley watersheds on the east side of the Plumas and Tahoe National Forests, and along State Highway 70/89 from Sierraville to Quincy, California. Only four watersheds on the Lassen rated high and none rated very high.



 Footnotes:
4Formerly the USDA Soil Conservation Service

Environmental Consequences

Introduction

Land disturbing activities have direct and interrelated impacts on the ecosystem. Direct impacts are localized, but can directly affect offsite resources and ecosystems, and interact in an additive or synergistic manner to produce cumulative effects. Impacts such as increased fire intensities, livestock grazing, timber harvesting, road building, and mining can interact to affect soil and water processes, initiating an erosional cycle or decline of ecosystems that may be greater than any individual impact (Figure 3.3). Cumulative effects are not all adverse. Some can be beneficial, such as changes caused by land management and restoration projects designed to initiate watershed and stream recovery.

Because impacts of past and future management activities within the planning area are interrelated, they often also affect the aquatic and riparian ecosystems. For this reason, impacts to soil and water resources are used as indicators of impacts that could potentially affect riparian and aquatic ecosystems and the plant and animal species that depend on them.

Direct and cumulative impacts caused by roads, skid trails, and log landings are especially important. As compacted areas increase across a watershed, changing slope hydrology by disrupting and redistributing surface and subsurface water flow, site productivity decreases and the potential for accelerated erosion and stream sedimentation increases, and water quality degradation results. The change in surface and subsurface water flow and deterioration of water quality degrades aquatic and riparian habitats. Increases in soil compaction, soil erosion, and loss of organic matter degrade soil ecosystems and, as a consequence, the productivity of the land and its plants and animals.

Consequences Common to All Alternatives

All alternatives in the pilot project call for the use of heavy equipment for construction of defensible fuel protection zones, and to accomplish group selection and individual tree selection harvest. Alternative 5 differs from Alternatives 1 through 4 in that it emphasizes the use of prescribed fire and biomass extraction to reduce risk of high-intensity wildfires. All treatments are expected to affect soil directly and water indirectly. Soil disturbances are expected to range from low to severe compaction on gentle ground, to low to severe compaction and soil displacement on steeper slopes (Personal communication: Wayne Johannson, Soil Scientist, Plumas NF, July 1999; Personal communication: Randy Westmoreland, Soil Scientist, Tahoe NF, July 1999). In addition to compaction, the alternatives may affect soil productivity by reducing soil cover, increasing soil erosion, and reducing soil nutrients and organic material. Soil quality standards are defined in Forest Service Handbook 2509.18 - Soil Management Handbook.

All alternatives are expected to leave an adequate amount of woody ground cover on the project area. A recent study conducted in the planning area suggests that the current management activities effects on soil cover are acceptable, " . . . although the overall amount of ground cover was reduced, most units still have high amounts of ground cover" (Westmoreland 1999).

Operations under all alternatives are not expected to remove an amount of material that would affect the soil’s nutrient status. Nutrient losses are proportional to the amount of vegetation removed, and Forestwide, tree canopy represents approximately 10 percent of the total nutrient pool. Vegetation represents a greater portion of the nutrient bank on shallow, low productivity soils on the east side of the Lassen and Plumas National Forests where the total site nutrient bank is low compared to the deeper more highly productive soils on the west side. The most aggressive harvest operation is known as "whole tree logging" using a feller-buncher to remove approximately one-third of the tree canopy. However, even whole tree logging results in less than 4 percent loss of soil nutritients from the nutrient bank for any given site (Johannson 1996 and Nakamura 1995).

Figure 3.3 Links between forest management and water resource values. These links are for timber harvest management activity only. ( Moyle et al. 1996).

Thinning a stand of trees increases the amount of sunlight that reaches the ground and promotes the growth of grasses, shrubs, and forbs. Some of this new growth comes in the form of nitrogen-fixing plants that enrich the soil. Regrowth of biomass and increases in nitrogen fixation are expected to return the overall nutrient bank to pre-harvest conditions in an estimated 10 to 20 years. Where prescribed burning is used, specific levels of organic matter could be retained to ensure sufficient amounts of most nutrients remain onsite in the remaining live, unburned organic material and ash (Johannson 1996).

Fires, including prescribed burning, affect soil hydrologic function, structure, buffering capacity, ground cover, and biota (Forest Service Handbook 2509.13 and 2509.18). The conditions established before burning directly affect the severity of impacts. A low intensity burn that maintains a duff layer that meets soil quality standards and Forest Plan requirements should produce minimal effects, primarily a slight increase in soil erodibility (Johannson 1996). Prescribed burning can remove the soil cover and induce water repellency (hydrophobic soils) if the burn is too hot. Water repellency greatly increases erosion. The steeper the slope, the greater the threat of burning hot enough to create hydrophobic soils (Schultz and Roby 1996; Tiedemann et al. 1979; and DeBano and Rice 1973).

All alternatives are expected to improve some road-related, near-stream sediment "point sources" of water pollution. A minimum number of permanent roads would be constructed to better access fuelbreaks, and a number of temporary roads would be used to access other treatment areas. Temporary roads would be obliterated when access is no longer needed for the specified project. A small number of existing unneeded roads would be identified and decommissioned, and a few miles of road would be relocated, mostly away from near-stream areas. All alternatives result in a small net decrease in road miles.

Road construction, reconstruction, and relocation, and timber haul, road maintenance, dust abatement, and road closure and decommissioning would occur with implementation of any of the alternatives. All of these activities disturb soil increasing the potential for erosion. Soil erosion associated with these activities is reduced through transportation system design and implementation of standard Best Management Practices. All alternatives emphasize road reconstruction to improve water quality and aquatic habitat through improvements such as rocking, surface drainage, and stream crossing improvements. Road decommissioning would remove culverts and associated fills, treat road surfaces to reduce soil compaction, reduce slope angles, improve hydrology, and revegetate treated surfaces to begin the healing process.

Road maintenance to repair eroding surfaces, blocked drainage ditches, and stream crossings would also occur, but usually involve "blading" road surfaces and ditches. Any treatment that exposes new soil material to runoff would likely increase short-term erosion. An increased risk of water quality degradation usually accompanies this increased erosion potential. Such impacts to water quality are usually temporary and should decrease to pre-treatment levels after a few years as vegetation and debris levels are reestablished.

All alternatives are expected to reduce the susceptibility of the pilot project area to wildfire (Table 3.15). " . . . fire behavior can be modified by human intervention in three ways: (1) alteration of fuels during commercial timber harvest; (2) fuel reduction treatments, including mechanical treatment of fuels and prescribed burning; and (3) creation of shaded defensible fuel profile zones (fuelbreaks). The first two methods affect fire severity; the third affects fire size" (Sessions et al. 1996, pages 115 through 116). These activities would directly affect the amount of area that would burn and, subsequently, would be salvage logged. As the potential acres that could burn with high intensity wildfire decreases, the potential acres impacted by salvage logging would also decrease.

The cumulative effects of past, present, and expected future activities proposed by each alternative would positively or negatively affect water quality, aquatic and riparian conditions, and meadows and other wetland conditions in the short-term and long-term. On a watershed scale, these effects could have greater and farther-reaching impacts on aquatic and riparian species, and downstream and upstream conditions than simple "cause-and-effect" relationships might imply. Present and future activities may aggravate existing degraded conditions, or slow their recovery.

One primary impact of all alternatives would be a change in the existing density of permanent and temporary roads, skid trails, landings and other forms of soil compaction due to the large number of acres treated by heavy equipment. This increase in area treated by heavy equipment could increase cumulative watershed effects, detrimental soil disturbance such as compaction and erosion, diminish long-term soil productivity and infiltration capacity, and increase stream peakflow and sediment volume.

Although all alternatives are expected to decrease the total number of road miles on public lands, that decrease amounts to less than 1 percent of all roads negatively affecting aquatic/riparian ecosystems. (Table 3.7). The total benefits to the watershed from a reduction in acres negatively impacted by heavy equipment, high-intensity wildfire and subsequent salvage logging would be inconsequential, a mere 3 percent reduction in the total negative impacts expected to result from project implementation. (Tables 3.4 and 3.5 and Figure 3.5)

Methodology - The consequences of all alternatives on the cumulative effects to soil and water were determined by analyzing the amount of area that is in a disturbance condition called "equivalent roaded acres." This method standardizes past and planned disturbance activities (such as roads, timber harvest, prescribed burns, wildfires, private lands impacts, and similar activities) in terms of equivalent roaded acres through the use of disturbance coefficients (McGurk and Fong 1995; and Menning et al. 1996, Table 6, page 46). Equivalent roaded acres are used to identify the intensity and extent of impacts. Table 3.4, 3.5, and 3.6, compares equivalent roaded acres against a reference condition. The reference condition is defined as Alternative 1 (current activities as provided by the Forest Plans). Equivalent roaded acres describe a level of risk, not an index of actual effects. This tool is essentially an evaluation of risk due to management activities and not an outright prediction of the magnitude of cumulative effects (Menning et al. 1996). The impacts from private lands are included in the analysis method by making rough estimate assumptions about their current condition and attributing a single average value to such lands.

Table 3.6 is an evaluation of the positive and negative effects to soil and water by alternative. Current effects are estimated from known past activities that have not fully recovered. They include permanent features such as roads. Expected negative effects are the equivalent roaded acres expected from the implementation of the specified resource management activities for each alternative, including the effects of constructing a fuelbreak system, harvesting using the group selection and individual tree selection methods, and prescribed burning, as described for each alternative in Chapter 2. The expected positive effects of implementing each alternative are reduced road miles, reduced number of acres of high-intensity fire (as an average), and reduced number of acres of salvage logging resulting from a decreased risk of high-intensity wildfire. The total expected effect is a reduction of the negative effects by the positive effects, in terms of equivalent roaded acres. The bottom line compares each alternative’s total expected effects with those for Alternative 1.

The potential reduction in acres burned by high-intensity wildfires assumes that all years have an equal chance of producing such burns. Historic data says this is not true, but for analysis purposes the effects of each alternative were treated equally, so an equal chance assumption was made.

Alternatives that increase equivalent roaded acres above the reference level (Alternative 1) may increase the risk of causing cumulative effects to soil productivity, water quality, and aquatic and riparian ecosystems. The majority of the increase in equivalent roaded acres (over 95%) is due to the negative effects of resource management activities proposed under each alternative. Less than 5 percent of the equivalent roaded acres are attributable to reductions in acres of high-intensity wildfire and roads.

All alternatives would result in some amount of detrimental soil disturbance. Soil productivity would be reduced and the cumulative effects of this reduction may affect surface vegetation and other biota and decrease water infiltration capacities, affecting soil hydrology and increasing the potential for surface erosion (Forest Service Handbook 2509.18; Johannson 1991; Westmoreland 1999). Natural recovery from detrimental soil disturbance, primarily compaction, may take longer than 40 years (Froehlich et al. 1985; Vora 1988) and multiple entries at both the site and watershed scale, can slow recovery by continually setting it back and maintaining or increasing detrimental disturbance levels (Moyle et al. 1996, pages 48 through 50) (Figure 3.4).

Though the negative impacts to soil and water would far exceed any foreseeable positive ones, some positive effects would be expected. These include: (1) decreased risk of susceptibility to wildfire and, therefore, decreased effects on soil and water, including salvage logging that normally occurs as a consequence of high-intensity burns; (2) a decrease in net road miles and a relocation of roads out of riparian areas; (3) road reconstruction to decrease drainage directly into stream channels thereby reducing erosion and sedimentation problems; (4) a slight increase in potential water yields; and (5) improved condition of streams, riparian areas, and meadows as a result of restoration projects, possibly increasing or extending summer flows.

Figure 3.4 Cumulative effect of differing recovery times for a driving variable and an impact. (Moyle et al. 1996).

In addition to reducing the number of acres where high-intensity burns could occur, the alternatives could reduce the risk of high-intensity wildfire damage along intermittent and

ephemeral stream channels. Under most alternatives, fuelbreak construction and other fuel reduction treatments could occur within intermittent and ephemeral channel streamside areas, where fuel loads are high and fire intensities could be magnified (Schultz and Roby 1996; personal communication: Denny Churchill, Plumas NF Soil Scientist, Randy Westmoreland, Tahoe NF Soil Scientist, Jim Bergman, Tahoe NF Hydrologist, Bob Schultz, Plumas NF Hydrologist, and Ken Roby, Lassen NF Hydrologist and Fish Biologist).

Other benefits include increased water yields and improved timing of flows. All alternatives may affect water yields because of the proposed vegetation treatments. However, any increase or decrease in water yields will probably be minor. Most of the effect would occur early in the runoff season (Schultz 1999; Satterlund 1992, Section 11.3.1; Dunne and Leopold 1978 pages 150 through 156). Water yield models were run by the Forest Service (Schultz 1999) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Huff et al. 1999) to test the alternatives for water yield changes in the pilot project area, using modifications of the procedures described in the document entitled, An Approach to Water Resources Evaluation for Non-Point Silvicultural Sources (A Procedural Handbook) (Forest Service 1980, Chapter 3).

Modeling runs calculated expected changes in water yield from baseline conditions that may result from forest thinning. The Schultz version modeled three watersheds believed to represent most of the watersheds in the pilot project area while the Oak Ridge National Laboratory version modeled the entire area. Both modeling efforts indicate that some water yield increase may be realized in the short-term (less than 10 years), diminishing quickly at first, then returning to baseline in 15 to 30 years (Schultz 1999). Repeating treatments or maintenance of existing treatments could maintain increased yields. The number and extent of the variables and constraints influencing actual water yield outputs realized would probably be less than calculated (Satterlund 1992, page 264; Schmidt et al. 1999; and personal communication: Schultz and Huff, June 9, 1999)

The timing of flows, both low flows and the flood flows, is most influenced by land treatments. Flood flows can be altered on a local level by the amount of drainage area added to the natural channel system due to poor road drainage and location, and by valley bottom (meadow) conditions. Low flows are most influenced on a local level by changes in soil conditions and stream, riparian area, and meadow (floodplain) conditions (Schultz 1999; Satterlund 1992, Section 11.3.1). All alternatives may affect both low flow and the flood flow conditions. Increasing low flow, or late season, amounts and decreasing flood flow peaks are the most likely changes that would occur where streams and their floodplains are restored (Ponce 1989; Satterlund 1992, Section 11.3.2). Vegetation management under most of the alternatives may affect low flows by increasing soil moisture and groundwater (Schultz 1999; Huff 1999; Satterlund 1992; and Ponce 1989).

Because roads can intercept and concentrate groundwater moving towards streams, and thereby increasing flood flows, all alternatives would be expected to have a slight, localized effect through reduction in total road mileage, moving roads away from streams, and reducing the direct discharge of water from roads to streams.

It is unknown what additional effects may occur from implementation of the proposed action and alternatives because of activities occurring in the foreseeable future on private lands. Judgements would be made about the impacts of private lands on pilot project watersheds during site-specific planning.

Table 3.4 Estimated and Expected Negative Effects
Displayed as Equivalent Roaded Acres 5 at the End of 5-Years
  Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative 3 Alternative 4 Alternative 5
Estimated Current 6 Effects
40,000
40,000
40,000
40,000
40,000
Expected Negative Effects 7
55,581
73,289
75,205
27,564
42,368


Footnotes:
  5Equivalent Roaded Acres (ERA) are derived from coefficients found in Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Addendum, Chapter 2, page 46.

  6Current equivalent roaded acres include existing impacts from roads, past harvest, past burns, and an estimate for land use on privately-owned lands.

  7Expected additional equivalent roaded acres include impacts from all land treatments, as described for the proposed action and each alternative.


Table 3.5 Expected Positive Effects
(Reduced 5-Year Equivalent Roaded Acres)
  Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative 3 Alternative 4 Alternative 5
Roads
162
360
360
239
45
Stand Replacing Fires
0
301
426
301
246
Post-fire Salvage Harvest
0
770
1,090
770
628
Total Positive Effects
162
1,431
1,876
1,310
919

Table 3.6 Total Expected Effects
(Combined Positive and Negative 5-Year Equivalent Roaded Acres)
  Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative 3 Alternative 4 Alternative 5
Negative and Positive Effects Combined
55,419
71,858
73,329
26,254
41,449
Percent (%) Change from Alternative 1
0
+ 30
+ 32
- 53
- 25

Note: All figures are approximations based on modeling assumptions and projections.

Table 3.4, 3.5, and 3.6 Summary: Alternative 3 would cause the greatest impacts to soil and water (+32%) and Alternative 4 would cause the least (-53%).

Figure 3.5

Table 3.7 Summary Comparison of Road Effects
(miles for 5 years)
  Alternative 1 Alternative 2 Alternative 3 Alternative 4 Alternative 5
Road Construction 
45 
100 
100 
67 
13 
Road Decommissioning 8
135 
300 
300 
200 
40 
Net Decrease in Roads 
90 
200 
200 
133 
27 
CWAP estimated target 9
230
230
230
230
230
Road Relocation 
45 
100 
100 
67 
13 
Road Reconstruction 
450 
1,000 
1,000 
667 
133 
Temporary Road Construction
135 
300 
300 
200 
40 
Road Maintenance
2,700 
6,000 
6,000 
4,000 
800 
Note: Roads for each alternative were estimated by applying a factor to the acres mechanically treated in each alternative. These factors were derived from sales on the Plumas National Forest similar to work required in each alternative.


 Footnotes:
8Road decommissioning includes those miles required by the existing program, plus those that would be funded by the pilot project. During the term of the pilot project, the decommissioning goal is for watershed improvements and engineering needs

  9Estimated planning area decommissioning target under the Clean Water Action Plan (CWAP).


Figure 3.6

Consequences by Alternative

Alternative 1

Expected Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - This is an indicator of the risk of causing detrimental soil disturbance, primarily by soil compaction, from the prescribed treatments. The more equivalent roaded acres, the greater the potential for detrimental soil disturbance. Also, the more equivalent roaded acres, the greater the likelihood that treatments will occur on slopes steeper than 20 percent, increasing the likelihood that soil displacement and soil erosion will also occur (Forest Service Handbook 2509.18 and personal communication: Wayne Johannson, Plumas NF Soil Scientist and Randy Westmoreland, Tahoe NF Soil Scientist). Alternative 1 is the reference condition.

Currently, equivalent roaded acres in the project area are estimated at 40,000. These equivalent roaded acres are considered current condition, but would be expected to decrease over time as soil conditions recover. Because detrimental soil compaction lasts several decades or longer (Thomas and Wert 1981), equivalent roaded acres are considered a long-term soil productivity loss. Over the pilot project area (1,528,667 acres) this amounts to 2.6 percent of the landbase that is devoted to roads, permanent skid trails, and landings. The amount does not include uninventoried roads or skid roads. Land use on private lands is estimated to add 30 to 40 percent more to the estimated current disturbance levels (Table 3.4).

Reduction of Near-Stream Road Miles - Reduction of near-stream road miles is considered an indicator of direct improvements to water quality and to aquatic/riparian ecosystems. Roads and road-like features (for example, skid trails and log landings) that are currently next to streams, lakes, wetlands, or other water bodies have the greatest risk of degrading water quality and disrupting aquatic/riparian ecosystems (Wemple et al. 1996; Satterlund 1992). Reducing the number of miles of near-stream roads can be of great benefit both in the short-term (annually) and in the long-term (decades). Approximately 45 percent, or 5,989 miles, of the total inventoried road miles in the watesheds of the planning area are in the near-stream area (Appendix P). Alternative 1 is the reference condition (Table 3.7 and Figure 3.6).

Road Construction, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Miles - Road work can cause short-term impacts to water quality as loosened and exposed soil material is washed from freshly bladed road surfaces, ditches, and cut banks. Recovery to pre-disturbance levels would be expected to occur within a few (1 to 3) years. The greater the number of road miles treated, the greater the potential impacts to water quality and aquatic ecosystems. Alternative 1, at 3,330 miles (Table 3.8), is the reference condition (Table 3.9 and Figure 3.7).

Aquatic and Riparian Restoration - This analysis represents a subjective evaluation of the potential to carry out the riparian restoration strategy outlined in this FEIS. Stream and streamside restoration work directly benefits aquatic and riparian ecosystems by either restoring them to their proper functioning condition or by enhancing their natural healing abilities. This is an integral part of the pilot project because it not only strives to help land areas move into their natural range of variability, but the results of the work help buffer the effects of short-term and long-term impacts resulting from resource management activities and other impacts (for example, increased sedimentation from road construction and maintenance or the effects of a large wildfire). Alternative 1 is the reference condition.

Combined Positive and Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - This measure is an indicator of the risk of cumulative effects of all treatments (past, present and foreseeable future) to soil productivity, water quality, and aquatic/riparian ecosystems. Both positive and negative effects are accounted for and result from resource management activities, road decommissioning, reduced acres of high-intensity fire, and reduced acres of fire-induced salvage harvest (Table 3.6 and Figure 3.5).

Because roads are areas devoted to a single purpose, they are considered unproductive lands. Most of the remainder of a pilot project area is considered productive land and disturbances that reduce productive potential could have an additive effect, decreasing productivity over more than a site-specific scale. Detrimental soil disturbances, primarily compaction, change soil properties and conditions affecting productivity potentials and soil hydrology, decreasing plant growth and vigor, decreasing soil biota and fertility, increasing the potential for surface erosion and instream flooding, degrading water quality, and changing aquatic/riparian ecosystems (McGurk and Fong 1995; Harr et al. 1975; Ziemer 1981).

All alternatives are likely to reduce soil productivity and may reduce water quality and aquatic/riparian ecosystems through increased equivalent roaded acres. Alternative 1 is the reference condition.

Level of Aquatic and Riparian Protection - The level of aquatic and riparian protection is determined by: (1) the width of protection zones along streams, lakes, and other water bodies, (2) the type of management activity allowed within the protection zone, (3) the buffering strategy between the protection zone and upslope resource management activities, and (4) the protection provided to headwater channels.

  1. The reference condition, a variable width strategy, is used to delineate streamside management zones according to the determinations of an interdisciplinary team. The width may be as small as 25 feet along ephemeral streams or wider than 300 feet along perennial streams.
  2. An interdisciplinary team determines management activities that can take place in each streamside management zone. Both the Lassen and Plumas Forest Plans specifically require the development of a riparian area or streamside management zone management plan for any activity occurring in a riparian area or streamside management zone. Minimum requirements for these plans include the establishment of objectives for the vegetation within the zone, maximum allowable manipulation of that vegetation, and manipulation procedures. Also included are limits on soil disturbance and ground cover requirements, analysis of erosion hazards, specific mitigation measures needed, and identification of opportunities for restoration. The Tahoe Forest Plan emphasizes similar analyses and implementation requirements, but does not require the development of a specific riparian area or streamside management zone plan. Scheduled timber harvest is not allowed within riparian ecosystems.

  3. The Best Management Practices Evaluation Program of the Pacific Southwest Region has monitored the implementation and effectiveness of streamside management zones for control of water quality. Streamside management zone widths and management have been shown to effectively protect water quality when properly implemented (Roby 1999).
  4. Streamside management zones are designed to include aquatic and riparian ecosystems at a minimum. They may be widened to provide protection to aquatic and riparian ecosystems where an interdisciplinary team deems it necessary, such as the top of inner gorges or other sensitive land features. Management activities within this additional zone, or buffer, are designed to meet the needs of the riparian-dependent resources, and can include scheduled timber harvests.
  5. Headwater channels typically receive minimal protection widths (25 to 50 feet) and minimal protection from the impacts of management activities. The zone is usually designed to filter and capture sediment that may be generated upslope. Headwater channels are defined as those ephemeral channels showing evidence of recurrent annual scour or deposition. Those not showing evidence of scour or deposition do not require protection, but may be protected during site-specific planning and project layout.
Potential Water Yield Increase - The Act specifically requires monitoring and reporting changes in water yield as a result of the pilot project. Based on studies conducted for this analysis (Schultz 1999; Huff 1999), there is a potential, though slight, for increasing the amount of water released by the watersheds in the pilot project area. Water yields from the pilot project area are considered less than those before the year 1850 due to changes in vegetation and landscape that have occurred, influencing snow accumulation and retention, evaporation and melt, and transpiration from plants (Schultz and Roby 1996). These conditions could be altered to more closely mimic historic conditions and, possibly, water yields. Alternative 1 is the reference condition.

Alternative 2

Expected Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - An approximate increase of 30 percent over Alternative 1 could occur as a result of detrimental soil compaction caused by the use of heavy equipment to implement Alternative 2 (Table 3.4 and Figure 3.5). The actual increase would vary by the type of equipment used, the terrain on which the equipment operates, and soil type and soil moisture conditions. To maintain long-term, site-specific soil productivity, the general extent of detrimental soil disturbance should not exceed 15 percent of an area, including features such as roads, dedicated skid trails, and permanent landings (Lassen Forest Plan, pages 4-27 and 3-59; Tahoe Forest Plan, page V-36; Plumas Forest Plan, pages 4-43 and 4-44).

Alternative 2 could cause detrimental soil disturbances to exceed Forest Plan requirements at the site-specific level, but will have virtually no impact over the larger, pilot project area landscape. The risk of detrimental soil disturbance is higher than Alternatives 1, 4 and 5, and similar to Alternative 3.

Reduction of Near-Stream Road Miles - An estimated 100 miles of roads would be relocated (Table 3.7 and Figure 3.6). Most of the relocated road miles would be removed from riparian areas. Water quality and aquatic/riparian ecosystems would benefit directly. Roads with poor drainage (those that drain directly into a stream, lake, or other water body) are assigned a higher equivalent roaded acre coefficient (ranging from 1.5 to 2.25) than base coefficient of 1.0 (a road with good drainage), (Menning et al., 1996, page 46). The analysis in Appendix N uses a factor of 10 to weight roads in riparian areas (Appendix N, p. N-3). This means that a mile of road moved out of near-stream areas could equate to removal of 1.5 to 10 miles of upland roads. Relocation of 100 miles of near-stream roads would reduce the near-stream miles over the entire landscape by only 1.7 percent. The beneficial effects, therefore, would most likely only be site-specific and would not be measurable even at the watershed scale.

Road Construction, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Miles - An estimated 7,400 miles would be treated by Alternative 2 over the term of the pilot project. This is an additional 4,070 miles above the level in Alternative 1, or a 122 percent increase. The effect of this work is a short-term (1 to 3 year) risk of degrading water quality and aquatic ecosystems Table 3.9 and Figure 3.7).

Aquatic and Riparian Restoration - The expectation is that the riparian restoration strategy will be wholly or partially funded and that it would be in addition to what would be expected under Alternative 1.

Combined Positive and Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - The expected 5-year equivalent roaded acre impact, adding in both positive and negative effects, would increase 32 percent over Alternative 1 (Table 3.6 and Figure 3.5). The average reduction in acres burned by high intensity fires and subsequently salvage harvested are expected to be reduced approximately 20 percent (Table 3.15). In addition, there would be an estimated 200 fewer miles of roads than in Alternative 1, or a total reduction of 3 percent in the watersheds of the planning area. Some increase in overall impacts are expected over Alternative 1. The benefits would be low when evaluated over the entire pilot project area, although localized and pilot project watershed impacts and benefits would be measurable.

Level of Aquatic and Riparian Protection - The level of aquatic and riparian protection is compared to Alternative 1 and determined by: (1) the width of protection zones along streams, lakes, and other water bodies, (2) the type of management activity allowed in the protection zones, (3) the buffering strategy between the protection zone and upslope resource management activities, and (4) the protection provided for headwater channels.

  1. Under Alternative 2, a variable width strategy is used to delineate riparian habitat conservation areas according to the determination of an interdisciplinary team, and following the requirements developed by the Scientific Analysis Team Report, 10 as required by the Act (Appendix L). This variable width strategy includes "interim widths" that would be used for the term of the pilot project. The interim widths were developed by the Scientific Analysis Team to include both the physical and biological needs of aquatic/riparian ecosystems. The widths range from a minimum of 100 feet along intermittent and ephemeral streams, to more than 300 feet along perennial streams. They are generally wider than those used in the streamside management zone strategy in Alternative 1, and were developed to better meet the needs of most riparian-dependent resources. The streamside management zone widths used in Alternative 1 were primarily designed for protection of water quality.
  2. An interdisciplinary team determines management activities that take place within riparian habitat conservation areas; they are essentially prohibited unless watershed analysis indicates they are necessary to accelerate meeting desired ecological conditions (Forest Service 1993, page 281). Project-level analysis is conducted to evaluate cumulative watershed effects, define watershed restoration goals and objectives, implement restoration strategies, and monitor the results or effectiveness of all these measures (Forest Service 1993, page 455). Project-level analysis forms the basis for the management of these zones, similar to the streamside management zone plans described in Alternative 1.
  3. Riparian habitat conservation areas are designed to include aquatic and riparian ecosystems at a minimum. Riparian habitat conservation areas would be widened to provide protection to aquatic and riparian ecosystems by including the top of inner gorges, the outer edges of floodplains, riparian vegetation, a distance equal to the height one to two site trees, or the outer edges of sensitive land features, whichever is greatest. (U.S. Forest Service 1993 pages 447 through 448)
  4. Headwater channels are defined the same under all alternatives. Headwater channels are protected by a minimum width of 100 feet, although where site trees are taller, that height determines the width. Other features, as described in item 3 above, also must be included. Management activities would follow the same planning process as described in item 2 above.


Footnote:
  10Possible scenario based on modeling.  For comparative purposes only.

Riparian management under Alternative 2 is improved over that of Alternative 1 because management and width requirements are more comprehensive, taking into account not only water quality protection but the needs of the aquatic/riparian ecosystem.

Potential Water Yield Increase - A slight increase may be realized by the implementation of Alternative 2. This increase is an estimate and cannot be verified by direct monitoring.

Alternatives 3

Expected Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - An approximate increase of 35 percent over Alternative 1 could occur as a result of detrimental soil compaction caused by the use of heavy equipment to implement Alternative 3 (Table 3.4 and Figure 3.5). The actual increase would vary by the type of equipment used, the terrain on which the equipment operates, soil type, and soil moisture condition. Alternative 3 could cause detrimental soil disturbances that exceed Forest Plan requirements on a site-specific or subwatershed level, but will have little impact over the larger landscape. The risk of detrimental soil disturbance is similar to Alternative 2.

Reduction of Near Stream Road Miles - An estimated 100 miles of roads would be relocated (Table 3.7 and Figure 3.6). It is expected that most of the relocated road miles would be from riparian areas and that water quality and aquatic/riparian ecosystems would benefit directly. Relocation of 100 miles of near-stream roads would reduce the total near stream miles in the watersheds of the planning area by 1.7 percent. The beneficial effects would most likely only be site-specific and would probably not be measurable even at the watershed scale.

Road Construction, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Miles - An estimated 7,300 miles of road would be treated under Alternative 3 over the term of the pilot project. This is an additional 4,070 miles above the reference level in Alternative 1, or a 122 percent increase. The effect of this work is a short-term (1 to 3 year) risk of degrading water quality and aquatic ecosystems, similar to Alternative 2 (Table 3.9 and Figure 3.7).

Aquatic and Riparian Restoration - The expectation is that the riparian restoration strategy will be wholly or partially funded and that it would be in addition to what would be expected under Alternative 1.

Combined Positive and Negative Effects – Equivalent Roaded Acres - The expected 5-year equivalent road acre impact, adding together both the positive and negative impacts, would increase 32 percent over Alternative 1 (Table 3.6 and Figure 3.5). The average reduction in acres burned by high intensity fires and subsequently salvage logged are expected to be reduced approximately 30 percent, the greatest reduction of any alternative (Table 3.15). In addition, 200 more miles of roads would be reduced than in Alternative 1, or a total reduction of 3 percent in the watersheds of the planning area. The overall impacts compared to Alternative 1 may be measurable and are the highest of any alternative. The benefits derived from Alternative 3 are also the highest of all the alternatives, but would still be low when considered over the entire landscape. The benefits, however, would be measurable on a local scale and, possibly, at the watershed scale.

Level of Aquatic and Riparian Protection - The level of aquatic and riparian protection would be the same as that discussed under Alternative 2. As with Alternative 2, this alternative would be an improvement over Alternative 1.

Potential Water Yield Increase - A slight increase, similar to Alternative 2, may be realized by the implementation of Alternative 3. This increase is an estimate and cannot be verified by direct monitoring.

Alternatives 4

Expected Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - A reduction over Alternative 1 in the risk of detrimental soil disturbance of approximate 50 percent would be expected to occur as a result of implementing Alternative 4 (Table 3.4 and Figure 3.5). The expected effects on soils of Alternative 4 would not only be a reduction of impacts, but also an increase of area under recovery from the effects of past activities. Soil recovery can take 40 to 50 years or more, and much of the pilot project area has already been impacted by some type of management activity over the past several decades.

Reduction of Near Stream Road Miles - An estimated 67 miles of roads would be relocated (Table 3.7 and Figure 3.6). It is expected that most of the relocated road miles would be from riparian areas and that water quality and aquatic/riparian ecosystems would benefit directly. At the landscape level, near-stream road miles would be reduced by 1.1 percent, slightly less than Alternatives 2 and 3, but still greater than Alternative 1. The beneficial effects would only be site-specific and would most likely not be measurable at the watershed scale.

Road Construction, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Miles - An estimated 4,934 miles would be treated under Alternative 4 over the term of the pilot project. This is an additional 1,604 miles over Alternative 1, or an increase of 483 percent. The effect of this work is a short-term (1 to 3 year) risk of degrading water quality and aquatic ecosystems that is greater than Alternative 1, but less than Alternatives 2 and 3 (Table 3.9 and Figure 3.7).

Aquatic and Riparian Restoration - The expectation is that the riparian restoration strategy will be wholly or partially funded and that it would be in addition to what would be expected under Alternative 1.

Combined Positive and Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - The expected 5-year equivalent roaded acre impact, adding together both the positive and negative effects, would be 53 percent less than Alternative 1 (Table 3.6 and Figure 3.5). The average reduction in acres burned by high intensity fires and subsequently salvage logged are expected to be reduced by approximately 20 percent, similar to Alternative 2 (Table 3.15). Only an additional 43 miles of roads would be reduced over that of Alternative 1, a slight reduction over the total pilot project area. The benefits derived from Alternative 4 are similar to that of Alternative 2, but with much lower overall impacts to soil and water. These benefits would be low over the total landscape, but would be measurable on a local scale.

Level of Aquatic and Riparian Protection - The level of aquatic and riparian protection would be the same as that discussed under Alternative 2. As with Alternative 2, this alternative would be an improvement over Alternative 1.

Potential Water Yield Increase - Little to no increase would be expected over that of Alternative 1.

Alternatives 5

Expected Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - There would be a slight decrease in the effects as compared to Alternative 1 (Table 3.4 and Figure 3.5). This is largely due to the number of acres thinned for biomass material. Alternative 5 primarily uses prescribed burning to remove excess material on most of the acres treated. This type of treatment does generate a slight amount of disturbance, but disturbed areas would recover to pre-disturbance levels in a few years.

Reduction of Near Stream Road Miles - An estimated 13 miles of roads would be relocated (Table 3.7 and Figure 3.6). It is expected that most of the relocated road miles would be from riparian areas and that water quality and aquatic/riparian ecosystems would benefit directly. The reduction of near-stream road miles would be slight over the larger landscape and the beneficial effects would only be realized at a site-specific level.

Road Construction, Reconstruction, and Maintenance Miles - An estimated 986 miles would be constructed, reconstructed, and maintained under Alternative 5 over the term of the pilot project. This is 70 percent less than what would occur in Alternative 1. The effect of this work is a short-term (1 to 3 year) risk of degrading water quality and aquatic ecosystems that is slightly greater than Alternative 1, but less than Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 (Table 3.9 and Figure 3.7).

Aquatic and Riparian Restoration - The expectation is that the riparian restoration strategy would be wholly or partially funded and that it would be in addition to what would be expected under Alternative 1.

Combined Positive and Negative Effects - Equivalent Roaded Acres - The expected 5-year equivalent roaded acre impact, adding together both the positive and negative effects, is expected to be 25 percent less than Alternative 1 (Table 3.6 and Figure 3.5). The average reduction in acres burned by high intensity fires and subsequently salvage logged are expected to be reduced by just under 20 percent (Table 3.15). Because 70 percent fewer road miles would be constructed and decommissioned than under Alternative 1, there would be slightly more roads remaining. This would have no effect over the large landscape. The benefits derived from Alternative 5 are slightly less than those of Alternatives 2 and 4 and about half of Alternative 3, but greater than those of Alternative 1. These benefits would be low over the larger landscape, but would be measurable at a local scale.

Level of Aquatic and Riparian Protection - The level of aquatic and riparian protection is compared to Alternative 1 and determined by: (1) the width of protection zones along streams, lakes and other bodies, (2) the type of management activity allowed within the protection zones, (3) the buffering strategy between the protection zone and management activities upslope, and (4) the protection provided for headwater channels.

  1. Under Alternative 5, a variable width strategy would be used by an interdisciplinary team following the strategies found in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project Report (Kondolf et al. 1996; Kattelmann and Embury 1996 with Appendix: Management and Land Use Buffers by Erman, Costick, and Beckwitt; Menning et al. 1996). This strategy, like that of Scientific Analysis Team guidelines used in Alternatives 2, 3, and 4, delineates a riparian protection zone where the standards for management must meet the needs of the aquatic/riparian ecosystem. This strategy is not based on water permanence or the presence of certain biota, but rather attempts to connect the entire aquatic system and the needs of riparian-dependent species (Kondolf et al. 1996). The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project strategy is based on three areas of ecological processes (community, energy, and land-use influence areas), plus a mathematical formula for deriving land use buffer widths (Forest Service 1998, page 103).

  2. Although both the streamside management zone (Alternative 1) and Scientific Analysis Team (Alternatives 2, 3, and 4) strategies are variable width, they are based on specific features on the ground, slope categories, and erosion potentials. The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project strategy applies a similar approach to the delineation community/energy zones, but then adds a variable, protective buffer width where management activities would be geared to limiting local climatological changes that might extend into the zone and result in negative biological responses (Kattelmann and Embury, 1996, page 272).
  3. Interdisciplinary teams determine management activities that take place within riparian zones and buffers. Management activities would be prohibited until watershed analyses are completed. The watershed analyses would included identification of desired conditions and management objectives for the established zones and buffers. Only those activities necessary to accelerate meeting desired ecological conditions would occur within the zones.
  4. Activities occurring in the land use buffer are more relaxed than those occurring in the community/energy zone, but stricter than those outside the buffer. Allowable activities in the buffer would still need to demonstrate protection or enhancement of water quality and riparian dependent species, and provide other functions such as wood recruitment and local climate control. As slope or soil hazards increase, protection is reduced and process functions change. The land use buffer is, therefore, widened and the management activities would be adjusted to reduce risks to acceptable levels.
  5. Headwater channels would be afforded the same protection and strategy as all other channel types. The community/energy zone along downstream reaches is simply an energy zone, but management options would still be restricted to those necessary to accelerate meeting desired ecological conditions, both onsite and downstream. Management in the land use buffer would still protect or enhance water quality and other functions such as large wood.
The width requirements under Alternative 5 are likely to be more protective than those of Alternative 1 and, possibly, the Scientific Analysis Team guidelines used in Alternatives 2, 3, and 4. Riparian management under this alternative would be improved over that of Alternative 1 because the protection zone, buffers, and management activities recognize a greater array of attributes and processes influencing riparian-dependent species. Large-scale watershed analyses are required before planning any activity with the zone and buffer area would provide a comprehensive approach to meeting riparian management objectives.

Potential Water Yield Increase - An immeasurable decrease may occur from the implementation of Alternative 5. This decrease is an estimate and cannot be verified by direct monitoring.

Summary of Effects

All alternatives are expected to affect soils and water directly, indirectly, and cumulatively (Tables 3.8, 3.9, 3.10, and Figure 3.7). In addition, and because of the offsite effects from impacts to soil and water, aquatic/riparian ecosystems may be directly, indirectly, or cumulatively affected. The greatest risk from implementing any of the alternatives is decreased soil productivity caused by detrimental soil disturbances, primarily compaction and displacement, from the use of heavy equipment. This is in addition to the levels of disturbance affecting each site currently and each pilot project watershed. The watershed analysis conducted for this FEIS identified several watersheds at high and very high risk of cumulative effects, primarily from soil disturbances. Natural soil recovery rates can be in excess of 40 years and multiple entries into sites and watersheds at a rate that is greater than site-specific recovery rates could cause onsite additive effects and offsite cumulative effects.

The primary objective of the Act is to reduce the amount of area burned by high-intensity wildfires. The benefits to soil and water of meeting this objective are expected to be minor, reducing impacts by less than 5 percent under all alternatives. Alternatives 2 and 3 are expected to increase impacts to soil and water 30 and 49 percent, respectively, over Alternative 1. The benefits to soil and water under Alternative 3 are the greatest, but the risks are also high. The benefits to soil and water under Alternative 3 are approximately 30 percent greater than Alternative 2, but still a minor increase overall. Alternative 4 is expected to provide approximately equal benefits to soil and water as Alternative 2, and greater benefits than Alternative 1. The negative impacts that would be expected under Alternative 4 are about 50 percent less than Alternative 1. Alternative 5 shows improvements over Alternative 1, but, of all the action alternatives, would provide the least benefit to soil and water resources. The negative impacts under Alternative 5 would be less than Alternative 1.

The only other major effect is the increased, short-term (1 to 3 year) risk of degrading water quality by the road construction, reconstruction, and maintenance work. Over 50 percent of all roads would be affected during the term of the pilot project. Compared to Alternative 1, Alternatives 2 and 3 would be expected to have the greatest risk, while Alternative 4 would have a moderate risk. Alternative 5 would cause the least risk. All other road related effects are minor. The estimated reduction of road miles and miles relocated from riparian areas is very small as compared to the total miles of roads and the total miles or road in near-stream locations. Reducing 200 miles of roads is only 3 percent of all known roads in the pilot project area and relocating 100 miles of roads out of riparian areas is only 4 percent of the total pilot project area near-stream roads. The expected effects would mostly be site-specific.

The aquatic-riparian program includes establishment of protection zones and buffers and management activities that would protect and, where needed, restore aquatic/riparian ecosystems. All action alternatives would provide effective protection that is expected to be better than Alternative 1. Water yields are not expected to change measurably over the reference level in Alternative 1.

Table 3.8 Summary of Effects of Alternatives on Soil and Water
  Alternative1 Alternative2 Alternative3 Alternative4 Alternative5
Expected negative effects 55,581
(reference)
64,787 68,586 26,068 53,989
Reduction of near stream miles 45
(reference)
100 100 67 12
Road construction, reconstruction, and maintenance miles 3330 7400 7400 4934 986
Aquatic and riparian restoration Current program
(reference)
Current program plus riparian restoration strategy Current program plus riparian restoration strategy Current program plus riparian restoration strategy Current program plus riparian restoration strategy
Combined positive and negative effects 
(ERA)
162
(reference)
1,431 1,876 1,310 919
Level of aquatic and riparian protection SMZ +LRMP standards and guidelines

(Reference)

RHCA + wtsd analysis + SAT standards and guidelines
(improvement over Alt 1)
RHCA + wtsd analysis + SAT standards and guidelines
(improvement over Alt 1)
RHCA + wtsd analysis + SAT standards and guidelines
(improvement over Alt 1)
E/C zone + Land use buffer + wtsd analysis 
(improvement over Alt 1)
Potential water yield increase (reference) slight increase slight increase no increase slight decrease
ERA = Equivalent roaded acres RHCA = Riparian habitat conservation area
SMZ = Streamside management zone SAT = Scientific Analysis Team guidelines
LRMP = Land and Resource Management Plan E/C = Energy/community zone
Wtsd = watershed

Table 3.9 / 3.10 and Fig 3.7

Disclosures

Relationship of Short-Term Uses and Long-Term Productivity or Effects - The management proposals under the proposed action and alternatives are expected to have long-term effects on soil productivity. Detrimental soil disturbances are caused by the short-term use of productive land areas (land areas not devoted to roads, designated skid trails, or permanent landings) to harvest, transport, and process trees. This short-term use is expected to cause a long-term decrease in the amount of productive land. Production potential is reduced because of the lengthy recovery times required. Recovery time is further lengthened, and the amount of land with reduced production potential increased, by reentry into areas that have not fully recovered.

Unavoidable Adverse Effects - Because detrimental soil disturbances can only partially be mitigated, all alternatives are expected to increase the amount of area affected.

Irreversible Commitment of Resources - There would be no irreversible commitments of soil, water, and aquatic/riparian resources.

Irretrievable Commitment of Resources - There would be no irretrievable commitments of soil, water, and aquatic/riparian resources.

Other Relevant Disclosures - There are no other relevant disclosures.

Fire and Fuels

Affected Environment

The following describes the existing condition and susceptibility of the planning area to large damaging fires. For an in-depth overview of fire in the Sierra Nevada, reference The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project: Final Report to Congress. This short summary has been developed from information most pertinent to the planning area. According to McKelvey et al., (1996), fire ignited by lightning and Native American inhabitants of the region, was common in the Sierra Nevada prior to 20th century suppression efforts. Pre-European settlement fire return intervals were generally less than 20 years throughout a broad area that extended from the foothills through the mixed conifer forests. In the 20th century, the extent of fire across the area was greatly reduced by fire suppression. This reduction in fire activity, coupled with selective harvest of large pine, generated a dense forest of smaller trees having a higher proportion of white fir and incense cedar than existed before fire was suppressed. These changes have increased fuel levels on the forest floor, and increased "ladder fuels," or small trees and brush that lift fire into the forest canopy. This increase in fuel, coupled with the suppression of low to moderate intensity fires, has increased fire severity in the planning area.

Fire Statistics in the Pilot Project Area

Information on fires greater than 100 acres was analyzed from the Forest Service’s Pacific Southwest Region Fire Statistical Database for the years 1970 to 1996. This period was selected for analysis because it provides an accurate record of current large fire risk and a fire suppression organization similar to what exists today.

Fires Greater than 100 Acres in Size - As shown in Table 3.11 and Table 3.12, approximately 307,500 acres burned in the planning area between 1970 and 1996. Only 1 percent of these fires accounted for 98 percent of the acres burned. Of 8,943 fires of all sizes that occurred between 1970 and 1996, only 82 escaped initial suppression action and grew to a size of 100 acres or more. Of these 82 fires, only 7 burned more than 6,000 acres. As shown in Figure 3.8, approximately 60 percent were caused by humans and accounted for nearly 40 percent of the acres burned. Another 40 percent were caused by lightning and accounted for 60 percent of the acres burned. The increase in the acres burned by lightning-caused fires was sometimes attributable to shortages of fire fighting resources during multiple lightning fire events.

Table 3.11 Acres Burned in Fires Greater than 100 Acres in Size
FOREST ACRES BURNED
Lassen National Forest
159,500
Plumas National Forest
94,500
Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest
53,500
TOTAL
307,500

Table 3.12 Number and Size of Fires Greater than 1,000 Acres Since 1970
ACRE CATEGORY NUMBER OF FIRES 
(Lassen NF)
NUMBER OF FIRES 
(Plumas NF)
NUMBER OF FIRES 
(Sierraville RD)
1,000 to 1,999
1
7
1
2,000 to 2,999
0
2
0
3,000 to 3,999
1
3
0
4,000 to 4,999
0
3
0
5,000 to 5,999
1
2
0
Acres burned by all fires over 6,000 acres in size 9,580 (unnamed)
23,000 (Lost)
24,000 (Findley)
39,500 (Campbell)
44,700 (Barkley)
33,000 (Clarks) 46,800 (Cottonwood)

 

Figure 3.8 Cause of Fires Greater than 100 Acres

Fire Risk - Fire risk in this EIS is defined as the probability that a fire will occur.

Map E displays the areas around communities and other populated areas, and the area east of the Sierra crest having the highest lightning occurrence and probability of a fire.

Areas Prone to Large Fires - Some topographic features such as elevation, slope, and aspect are useful indications of where large fires are likely to occur. Fire records indicate, for example, that almost 90 percent of burned acres are below 6,500 feet elevation. Map F displays large fires that have occurred since 1900 and Map G displays large fires that have occurred since 1970. In many cases, overlapping or adjacent fires burned in the same vicinity but appear as a single large fire. Southeast and west aspects are the driest during the summer, with wind patterns generally flowing from the southwest. Forest types on these aspects tend to be pine and grass types that spread fire more quickly than the compact surface fuels found in short-needled fir forests.

Conditions in the Planning Area that Affect Wildfire Hazard - Wildfire hazard is defined as those conditions that promote the spread and intensity of fire and increase the difficulty of suppression. Fuel accumulations, continuity of fuel beds, presence of ladder fuels, proportion of dead fuels, and landscape-level fuel patterns contribute to the final size and severity of fire. Environmental conditions, including wind and fuel moisture greatly influence the spread and intensity of fire.

Weather and Drought Cycles - Weather and drought cycles greatly influence fire patterns and severity in the planning area. Weatherspoon and Skinner (1996) concluded that recent drought years, during which many large, severe fires burned (McKelvey and Busse 1996), appear to be relatively common viewed on a time scale of centuries (Graumlich 1993). Two of the seven fires in the planning area that burned more than 10,000 acres occurred during drought cycles. The other five burned during times when it was hot and dry, but not during drought years. Winds associated with critical fire weather patterns vary across the planning area and are most often the reason fires become large. Since 1970, most of the acres burned have under southwest and north wind conditions.

Patterns on the Landscape - The wildfire hazard to an area can be reduced when continuity of fuels is disrupted; fuel ladders and surface fuel concentrations are removed, and landscape patterns form barriers to the spread of fire or result in lower fire intensities. Map L displays fuel reduction projects on public and private lands in various stages of completion. In recent years, projects on public lands have been accomplished in conjunction with the timber sale program, hazardous fuels reduction programs, and other resource programs. Projects shown on Map L were designed with the objective of establishing fire-tolerant stands (in terms of species, size, and structure), and reducing the potential for crown fire initiation and spread. Some projects are large enough in scale to influence large fire spread on a localized basis. For the most part, however, large expanses of highly flammable fuel are present across the planning area.

Surface Fuels- One component of wildfire hazard is the amount of on-the-ground fuels. Like other areas in the Sierra Nevada, accumulation of surface fuels is higher than what is thought to have occurred in Pre-European settlement times.

Stand Structure - Wildfire hazard by forest types can, in part, be assessed by analyzing changes in stand structure due to changes in fire return intervals during the time since fire has been suppressed on national forests (Table 3.13). Skinner and Chang (1996) have described the important role fire plays in regulating fuel accumulations and influencing horizontal and vertical continuity of fuels. Table 3.13 shows that approximately 46 percent of the acres in the planning area are in forest types that are now more susceptible to large stand-destroying fires because of the interruption of natural cycles. These forest types could benefit from silvicultural treatments that mimic natural fire regimes and prescribed burning to restore the ecological function of fire.

Table 3.13 Natural Fire Return Intervals and Estimated Fire Cycles Lost
In Forest Types of the Sierra Nevada. 12
FOREST TYPE AMOUNT IN THE PLANNING AREA NATURAL FIRE RETURN INTERVALS
(YEARS)
ESTIMATED FIRE CYCLES LOST 
(YEARS)
  ACRES % AVERAGE RANGE  
Ponderosa pine
56,821
2
5 to 10
2 to 25
8.5 to 17
Mixed conifer
717,338
30
8 to 20
3 to 60
4.3 to 10.6
Eastside pine
328,283
14
8 to 15
2 to 25
5.7 to 10.6
Red fir
102,961
4
15 to 65
5 to 130
1.3 to 5.7

Figure 3.9 13  indicates that forest types that missed the most natural fire return intervals and now burn with increased intensities than occurred before the suppression era. Figure 3.10 is not an indication of hazard, but shows what forest types burn most frequently in the planning area, compared to the onset of more effective fire suppression.


Footnotes:
  12California Spotted Owl Revised Draft Environmental Impact Statement, page 3-73

  13Data supplied by Sierra Nevada Plan Amendment Environmental Impact Statement Project.


Figure 3.9
Average Distribution of Disturbance Classes by Forest Type
as a Result of Large Fires During the Past 78 to 85 Years

Figure 3.10
Percent of Area by Forest Type that Burned
Each Decade During the Past 78 to 85 Years

Snags - Areas with high numbers of snags promote the spread of fire and increase the difficulty of suppression (Table 3.14). Snags receive and produce embers that generate spot fires away from the main fire. Snags increase the difficulty of suppression because they must be felled before fire fighters can work in an area or establish control points further away. Forest inventory plots taken between 1992 and 1995 show different strata types with snag levels that would reduce the efficiency of fire suppression.

Table 3.14 14 Snag Levels by Strata
  PERCENT OF PLOTS WITH MORE THAN 4 SNAGS PER ACRE
  M4G M4N P3N M3P M3G M3N R3P R3G R3N R4G
Lassen NF
20
67
60
60
25
8
0
0
53
63
Plumas NF
50
0
14
30
0
62
20
50
82
100
Sierraville RD
0
0
0
0
0
0
0
50
0
50



Footnotes:
  14Includes all decay classes.


Wildfire Susceptibility - Wildfire susceptibility is the combination of the probability of a fire igniting (risk) combined with the intensity at which it will burn (hazard). Map I displays the eastside zone and Map C the areas around communities. Parts of the Feather River Canyon, Deer Creek drainage, and Mill Creek drainage are the most susceptible to wildfire.

Summary of Large Fire Potential - Areas around communities are most at risk from human-caused fires that often escape initial suppression and become large. Lightning fires account for the most acres burned within the planning area. The risk of lightning is highest east of the Sierra crest (the eastside, transition, and part of the west central zones). Natural disturbance patterns in eastside pine, ponderosa pine, mixed conifer-pine, and mixed conifer-fir were disrupted due to fire suppression, therefore, stand replacing fires have increased. The majority of large fires occur below 6,500 feet. The highest severity fires are often associated with high southwest and north winds and fire risk is the greatest on south and southwest slopes.

Environmental Consequences

Effects Common to All Alternatives

Reduction of Wildfire Threat in the Urban Interface Fuel reduction projects coordinated with defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments around human communities and urban interface lands, could reduce the spread of fire from communities into the forest and from the forest into communities. The effects the pilot project would have on reducing the number of homes and structures lost to wildfire is dependant, in part, on the actions taken by property-owners to reduce the flammability of their property. Map L displays projects proposed or completed on private lands as part of a coordinated fuels management strategy.

Air Quality All agencies and the public typically conduct prescribed burning during the same time period, degrading air quality in the short-term, while fires are burning. Impacts of short-term air quality degradation can be reduced with coordination of burning activities through the Northeast Air and Smoke Alliance. Alternatives 2 and 3 would generate the most PM10 and PM2.5 15 emissions in the first 5 years (Appendix X, Tables 1 through 3). Alternatives 1 and 4 would generate the least PM10 and PM2.5 emissions. In Plumas County, maximum emissions would be generated in all alternatives except Alternative 1. In Lassen County, Alternative 1 would generate maximum emissions.



Footnote:
  15PM 2.5 is defined as fine particles less than 2.5 microns in diameter.  PM10 is defined as fine particles less than 10 microns in diameter.  Appendix X further defines emission standards.


PM10 and PM2.5 emissions would increase above historic levels in Lassen and Plumas Counties under Alternatives 2, 3, and 5, due to increases in prescribed burning. Alternative 1 would generate the lowest projected emissions. Alternatives 2, 3, and 5 would degrade air quality on burn days. All alternatives are projected to increase emissions relative to historic burning and wildfire (Appendix X, Table G). PM10 or PM2.5 emissions from household wood burning and fugitive dust from soil-disturbing activities in or outside the pilot project area would add to smoke from prescribed burning. These additional impacts should be analyzed at the site-specific level.

Emissions of smoke during prescribed burning would impair visibility in some locations. Smoke emissions could adversely affect the health of sensitive individuals, particularly asthmatics, children, and the elderly, especially near a prescribed burn. Unpleasant odors and reduced air quality could also affect the recreational experience of visitors to Wilderness Areas. Regulatory authorities are primarily concerned with public exposure to PM10 and PM2.5 concentrations measured in 24-hour increments. Emissions from prescribed burning projects would be managed for dispersion and separation over time and space to minimize the potential for violation of standards.

The NFSPUFF Model (Appendix J) was used to predict downwind smoke dispersion and PM10 concentrations by simulating a worst-case scenario (Appendix J). Modeling results showed that the proposed action and alternatives are unlikely to create conditions in violation of State or Federal standards. However, additional air quality analysis of exact meteorological and field conditions would be needed at the site-specific level to determine downwind impacts to sensitive areas, including the closest area in the State of Nevada.

All alternatives prescribe biomass and pretreatment actions that remove material that, if burned, would generate emissions that degrade air quality. Biomass and pretreatment activities reduce emissions: (1) Alternative 3 reduces PM10 emissions by 14,230 tons annually, (2) Alternative 2 reduces emissions by 13,300 tons annually, and (3) Alternative 5 reduces emissions by 1,300 tons annually. Alternative 1 reduces emissions by 5,150 tons annually and Alternative 4 reduces emissions by 6,430 tons.

Effects of Inadequate Treatment of Activity Fuels - The FARSITE model (van Wagtendonk, 1996) was used to analyze the effects of not adequately treating fuels generated by resource management activities. The model indicated that inadequate treatment of fuels would increase fire intensities, resulting in more damage to the ecosystem and fires that are more difficult to control.

The Effects of Wildlife Habitat Requirements on Fire Behavior - The different elements that affect fire behavior and suppression, such as surface fuels, aerial fuels, and snags are addressed, including the consequences of retaining levels required by interim direction to protect California spotted owl and carnivore habitat requirements. Overstory canopy cover is the only element that varies by alternative. The timber stand is used as the measurement area for meeting interim guidelines for California spotted owl for canopy, down logs, and snags.

Needle cast, small twigs, large logs, and brush are all components of surface fuels and affect the speed and intensity of fire. Pacific Southwest Region Soil Quality Standards and Forest Plan requirements for small diameter fuel and ground cover would be met by all alternatives, and desired fire behavior objectives could be met by all alternatives.

Suitable California spotted owl habitat and the forest carnivore network requires maintenance of 10 to 15 tons of the largest logs per acre. This requirement would affect the ability of the proposed action or the alternatives to reduce fire intensity and fire line construction rates, depending on the size, distribution, and decay class of logs in fuel reduction or defensible fuel profile zones. However, experience in the planning area suggests that this requirement rarely conflicts with desired fire behavior objectives.

Aerial Fuels The abundance and distribution of small and large trees affect fire intensity and spread.

Crown Fire InitiationBy removing 90 percent of the small diameter trees that function as a fuel ladder, surface fires are less likely to spread into the forest canopy. Maintaining sufficient distance between the ground and tree crown reduces the potential for surface fires to reach the canopy and spread to larger trees. The removal of small diameter trees to achieve fire management objectives would not conflict with interim direction for the protection of California spotted owl or forest carnivore habitat requirements.

Crown Fire Spread The probability that a crown fire would develop in a defensible fuel profile zone or area fuel treatment area is low, given designated criteria for surface and ladder fuels. Effectiveness in limiting the spread of a crown fire initiated outside the defensible fuel profile zone or area fuel treatment locations would depend on whether adequate tree crown spacing could be met without compromising other resource needs. Although there is little empirical evidence to determine what the threshold is, 40 percent crown cover would be used in this analysis to reduce crown fire spread in extreme burning conditions. The consequences of retaining the different levels of canopy cover prescribed by the proposed action and alternatives would affect how well the desired fire behavior objectives would be met.

Deferred and Offbase AreasSome offbase and deferred areas are susceptible to large-scale, high intensity fire (Appendix J, section III reveals the rationale that was used to determine susceptibility). Deferring fuel reduction treatments in these areas for a period of 5 years would not change their susceptibility to wildfire. Defensible fuel profile zones and area treatments adjacent to such areas could reduce the potential for fire spread into or out of those areas. The probability of a large fire occurring in offbase and deferred areas increases with time. Deferring fuel reduction treatments could result in large-scale fragmentation of habitat from wildfire and adversely impact watersheds.

Effects Common to Alternatives 2, 3, and 4

Changes in Fire Behavior and Suppression Effectiveness Defensible fuel profile zones increase the rate of spread in some forest types due to fuel-bed consisting of finer fuels, increased fuel temperature and increased exposure to wind. However, fire suppression effectiveness is increased by fireline construction rates, increased aerial retardant and decreased intensity at which the fire is burning. The increase in fire effectiveness outweighs the increase in fire rate of spread.

Snags and Fire Fighter Safety - Dead trees greater than 15 inches in diameter at breast height (DBH) and greater than 20 feet tall affect fire spread and fire fighter safety. The interim direction for the protection of California spotted owl requirement that 8 snags per acre be retained in defensible fuel profile zones could compromise fire fighter safety in those zones and make fire suppression efforts less effective. Defensible fuel profile zone prescriptions in Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 may give a false sense of security to fire fighters who may believe the zones offer safer control points than they actually provide.

Provisions for firefighter safety, including determination of the abundance and distribution of snags in defensible fuel profile zones, would be assessed at the site-specific level, and analyzed within a site-specific biological evaluation. Locations determined necessary in a biological evaluation as requiring maintenance of high snags levels would pose an unacceptable risk to fire fighters and would be mapped as a "fuel reduction zone."

Consequences of Implementing Scientific Analysis Team Guidelines Related to Defensible Fuel Profile Zone Effectiveness The Scientific Analysis Team guidelines for riparian protection would not compromise defensible fuel profile zone effectiveness in Alternative 2, 3 and 4 if the defensible fuel profile zone segment were adequately staffed with suppression resources. Approximately 22 percent of the pilot project area would be in riparian buffers, many of which intersect defensible fuel profile zones. Scientific Analysis Team guidelines allow hazardous fuel accumulation reduction within riparian habitat conservation areas to meet riparian management objectives.

Consequences of Small Group and Individual Tree Selection Harvest - Small group selection harvests could be consistent with the desired condition for defensible fuel profile zones if group selection harvests were done at the zone edge, away from the primary control point, and at a density consistent with the desired 90 percent reduction of ladder fuels in the defensible fuel profile zones. Weatherspoon (1996) reported that defensible fuel profile zones require periodic regeneration. Long rotation, low-density versions of group selection harvests might be the best silvicultural method for this purpose. When accomplished adjacent to defensible fuel profile zones, small group selection and individual tree selection harvest, alone or in combination, could increase the efficiency of defensible fuel profile zones by outside reducing fuels. The intensity at which a fire approaches a defensible fuel profile zone would be reduced, and in turn, would reduce the potential for wildfire spotting across the defensible fuel profile zone. Where small group and individual tree selection harvests are accomplished apart from defensible fuel profile zones, and residual fuels left untreated, group selection and individual tree selection harvest would increase fire hazard.

The only area classified as late successional old growth (ranks 4 and 5) outside the offbase and deferred areas, and also rated "highly susceptible to fire" is along the escarpment between Milford and Janesville, California. Deferring management in this area for the term of the pilot project would reduce the continuity of the system of defensible fuel profile zones. Interruption of this defensible fuel profile zone segment would reduce the potential for keeping the wildfire from spreading down the escarpment into communities.

Consequences by Alternative

Uncertainty Associated with Comparison of the Direct and Indirect Effects of the Proposed Action and Alternatives - It is easier to predict fire behavior and suppression capability in specific fuel reduction treatment areas, than to determine how those areas would affect the spread of fire across a landscape. Fire management personnel from the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests estimated numbers of acres burned and associated damage from wildfires based on experience. A FARSITE model simulation was used to evaluate how fuel treatment patterns could influence fire spread across the landscape. This information was used to compare capacity to reduce large-scale, high intensity wildfire.

Wildfires are likely to continue in the planning area at a frequency and severity comparable to fire regimes of the last 30 years. The consequences of implementing the proposed action and Alternatives would be shaped, in part, by burning conditions, resource availability, topographic location, and design criteria of each alternative. This analysis only models treatments designed for the proposed action and alternatives.

Alternative 1

Fuel Management - Current management prescribes 25,000 acres of timber harvest annually. Fire hazard reduction projects totaling approximately 80,000 acres would be accomplished in conjunction with the timber sale program for the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests resulting in fuel hazard reduction where timber harvest targets can also be achieved.

Approximately 3 percent of the public lands in the planning area are currently being treated through a hazardous fuel reduction program. Approximately 7 percent of the forest types in the planning area, thought to have missed the most natural fire return intervals (Ponderosa pine, eastside pine, and mixed conifer), would likely be treated in the next 5 years. Map L displays areas treated in recent years through the timber sale program, a hazardous fuel reduction program, or the Forest Health Pilot Program. Most areas shown on Map L, if treated, are sufficient in size and location to effectively limit the spread of large fire. Small areas are shown Map L because they are in locations where future treatments could provide connectivity between strategic areas and establish control points. Many of the projects displayed on Map L were accomplished through the salvage provisions in the Recission Act (Public Law 104-19). The Recission Act emphasized treating high-risk fire hazard areas using Forest Health Pilot Project funds. These funds may be unavailable in the future. Currently, approximately 22,000 acres of defensible fuel profile zones within the project area have been constructed in the pilot project area.

Projection on Acres Burned and Associated Wildfire Severity - Wildfire burned approximately 307,500 acres in the planning area between 1970 and 1996. The Clarks Fire burned 33,000 acres on the Plumas National Forest. The Cottonwood Fire burned 46,800 acres on the Tahoe National Forest. The Barkley Fire burned 44,700 acres on the Lassen National Forest. These stand-replacing events generated large, contiguous blocks of early seral vegetation and degraded watersheds and wildlife habitat. In the absence of a landscape-scale fuel management strategy, these stand replacement fires would not only continue, but would likely increase in frequency and severity if drought years become more frequent, the rate of fuel accumulation continues, or more fires escape initial attack suppression action.

Fuel Reduction Activities Associated with Current Management - Hazardous fuel reduction programs are expected to continue at current levels, approximately 16,000 acres annually. Most of the accomplishments in this program are underburning projects aimed at maintaining past fuel reduction areas or, in combination with current harvest operations, reducing natural fuel accumulations and those generated by timber harvest. Estimated fuel reduction accomplishments for the term of the pilot project, using current management direction, would be 80,000 acres of underburning; 5,000 acres of machine pile and burn; and 3,000 acres of hand pile and burn for a total of 88,000 acres of burning treatments. Estimated costs for this level of accomplishment is $15,400,000.

Calculations for annual maintenance burning of the areas already treated through the hazardous fuel reduction program assume underburning on a 10-year rotation (the estimated 10-year fire return interval for many forest types within the planning area). Starting in the year 2010, 10 percent of the fuel reduction projects would be re-burned annually. Site-specific determinations would be made based on estimated fire return intervals and desired fire behavior objectives.

Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning - The maintenance program for fuel reduction treatments under Alternative 1 provides for 8,000 acres of maintenance annually, at a cost of approximately $1,100,000 per year.

Alternative 2

Fuel Management Alternative 2 provides for construction of between 200,000 and 300,000 acres of defensible fuel profile zones in the period of time covered by the pilot project. For this analysis, defensible fuel profile zone design criteria are based on desired fire behavior characteristics in a completed defensible fuel profile zone. The analysis is based on these design criteria displayed in Appendix J, Table 1.

Alternative 2 reduces canopy cover to 40 percent, when necessary to limit the spread of crown fire and improve wildfire suppression effectiveness. Defensible fuel profile zones would be located near urban interface and other high use areas and would buffer high-value natural resources. The completed defensible fuel profile zone network would divide forested lands into many areas less than 5,000 acres in size and a few areas as large as 20,000 to 30,000 acres in size. Most areas would be between 5,000 to 20,000 acres in size. Approximately 12 percent of the public lands in the planning area would receive defensible fuel profile zone treatments. The defensible fuel profile zones would be established in approximately 13 percent of the forest types (Ponderosa pine, eastside pine, and mixed conifer) thought to have missed the most natural fire return intervals. A combination of prescribed fire, timber harvest, mechanical or hand thinning of small diameter trees, machine or hand piling of fuels, and mechanical crushing or shredding of brush would be used to establish and maintain the defensible fuel profile zones. Prescribed burning, without prior harvest, would be used to reduce surface fuels or raise the height of the forest crowns.

Alternative 2 prescribes defensible fuel profile zones adjacent to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area, where the areas of late successional old growth forest are highly susceptible to fire. A defensible fuel profile zone buffer adjacent to this Wilderness Area could reduce the potential of fire spreading into or out of the wilderness. A defensible fuel profile zone adjacent to the Lassen Volcanic National Park and Caribou Wilderness would buffer and add to prescribed fire use by the National Park.

Carnivore Denning Habitat In carnivore denning habitat, Alternative 2 prescribes the 60 percent canopy closure required for carnivore denning habitat in red fir forests. Due to reduction in surface and ladder fuels and the location of most of the carnivore denning habitat, 60 percent canopy cover would probably not compromise fire suppression effectiveness.

Projection of Acres Burned and Associated Wildfire Severity- A defensible fuel profile zone adjacent to the urban interface would increase the potential for fire containment, and decrease the potential for spread into or out of the urban interface.

The construction of defensible fuel profile zones in the flat terrain of the eastside zone is likely reduce the greatest number of acres burned by wildfire because the eastside zone is where most of the large fires in the planning area occur (Table 3.15). Past fire fighting experience on the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests reveals that fire suppression in defensible fuel profile zones and similar stand structures can successfully control the lateral spread of fire.

Defensible fuel profile zones in the broken terrain common to most of the planning area would be less effective at controlling wildfire. Fire spread in broken terrain is influenced more by topography, aspect, vegetation type, and burning conditions than by stand structure. Defensible fuel profile zone construction in broken terrain would help reduce the number of acres burned in the absence of high winds, reduce lateral fire spread in high wind conditions, and improve suppression efficiency on ridgetops where control action is likely to take place.

The defensible fuel profile zone network in Alternative 2 provides buffers around many protected activity centers and spotted owl habitat areas. The effectiveness of defensible fuel profile zones in reducing damage to spotted owl habitat would vary depending on burning conditions and the availability of fire fighting resources. Underburning in protected activity centers along defensible fuel profile zone segments would reduce flammability of the protected activity centers and increase protection of owl habitat.

Past experience, FARSITE model simulations, and simulations from the SAFE FOREST model, suggest that Alternative 2 could reduce acres burned by up to 25 percent (53,000 to 77,000 acres) over the next 30 years. Alternative 2 would not reduce damage within the fire perimeter, except inside defensible fuel profile zones. These estimations were made using an assumption that defensible fuel profile zones have snag densities compatible with fire fighter safety requirements. Where prescribed snag densities conflict with safety requirements, estimates in the number of acres burned may be higher than estimated. The relative difference between alternatives concerning number of acres burned would be unchanged.

Estimates of fuel treatment and associated costs are based on treatment requirements from similar projects within the planning area in recent years (fuel reduction in small group and individual tree selection harvests are not included). Estimated fuel reduction accomplishments for the term of the pilot project for Alternative 2 would be 128,000 acres of underburning; 16,000 acres of machine pile and burn; and 16,000 acres of hand pile and burn for a total of 160,000 acres of burning treatments. Estimated costs for this level of accomplishment is $34,800,000.

Calculations for annual maintenance burning of the defensible fuel profile zones established during the project assume underburning on a 10-year rotation (the estimated 10-year fire return interval for many forest types within the planning area). Starting in the year 2010, 10 percent of the defensible fuel profile zone would be maintained each year. Site specific determinations would be made at the site-specific level and based on estimated fire return intervals and desired fire behavior objectives.

Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning - The maintenance program for fuel reduction treatments under Alternative 2 provides for 22,000 acres of maintenance annually, at a cost of approximately $3,000,000 per year. The availability of brush disposal funds for multi-product (sawlog and biomass) sales has been variable in the planning area in recent years and depends on the value of the product and cost to remove the product. Funding for reduction of hazardous fuels is projected to increase from previous years. Some defensible fuel profile zone construction would result in increased distribution of brush species. Brush species and amounts of decadent material affect fire intensity. The potential increase in brush distribution could be reduced by increasing the amount of canopy closure to a degree that would not compromise effectiveness for reducing the potential for crown fire. An increase in the amount of brush ingrowth in defensible fuel profile zones would increase fire intensity, decrease suppression capabilities, and make defensible fuel profile zones ineffective control points. Where this occurs, crushing, shredding, removal, or prescribed fire would be used to reduce the amount of brush and achieve desired fire behavior objectives.

Alternative 3

Fuel Management Alternative 3 provides for construction of between 90,000 to 135,000 acres of defensible fuel profile zones and 110,000 to 165,000 acres of area fuel treatments, for approximately 200,000 and 300,000 acres of fuel reduction in the period of time covered by the pilot project. For this analysis, defensible fuel profile zone design criteria are based on desired fire behavior characteristics in a completed defensible fuel profile zone. The analysis is based on these design criteria displayed in Appendix J, Table 1.

Defensible fuel profile zone and area fuel treatments would be located near urban interface and other high-use areas. Area fuel treatments would vary from less than 50 acres to more than 1,000 acres, but would be designed and arranged in a pattern that would reduce the intensity at which fire was likely to spread. In broken topography, these treatments would generally be located on the upper portions of south-facing slopes, but could extend to the slope base. Defensible fuel profile zones in Alternative 3 are mostly short sections of treated strips and are not connected to each other as they are in Alternative 2. They are usually located on south-facing aspects exposed to southwest winds that influence the spread of large fire in the planning area, in areas with the highest frequency of fire, and in vegetation types most susceptible to stand replacing fires.

Construction of a combination of defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments would move approximately 12 percent of the public lands in the planning area toward landscape patterns similar to those prior to European settlement. Approximately 27 percent of forest types thought to have missed the most natural fire return intervals would be treated.

Defensible fuel profile zones would provide a protective buffer adjacent to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area, where areas of late successional emphasis are rated highly susceptible to fire. A defensible fuel profile zone adjacent to this Wilderness Area could reduce the potential of fire spreading into or out of the Wilderness Area. A defensible fuel profile zone adjacent to the Lassen Volcanic National Park and Caribou Wilderness would buffer and possibly enhance prescribed wildfire use by the National Park. As in Alternative 2, Alternative 3 would buffer protected activity centers and spotted owl habitat areas to reduce the potential for spotted owl habitat loss to wildfire.

Alternative 3 does not maintain as much open canopy in suitable owl nesting and foraging habitats as Alternative 2. The goal in suitable owl nesting and foraging habitat management prescriptions is to retain a two-layered, large tree canopy, while removing small diameter trees and surface fuels. Maintaining a 50 percent canopy closure in suitable owl foraging habitat is thought to be within the natural range of variability of forest types that area fuel treatments are modeled in (Fites 1996). Given the design criteria for surface and ladder fuels, low potential for crown fire spread is anticipated. Defensible fuel profile zones and area treatments would be effective in reducing fire severity and spread, although, less flexibility exists to reduce canopy compared to Alternative 2. A 70 percent canopy closure within suitable owl nesting habitat is outside the natural range of variability. Less damage would occur from a wildfire in these treated areas outside the natural range when compared to untreated stands, however, more damage is expected when compared to Alternative 2 or criteria that is designed within the natural range of variability.

Projection of Acres Burned and Associated Wildfire Severity -Defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments adjacent to the urban interface would increase the potential for fire containment, and decrease the potential for spread into or out of the urban interface. Of all the alternatives, Alternative 3 has the greatest potential to reduce numbers of acres burned and associated damage because it prescribes the greatest amount of fuel treatment in areas with the highest burn potential. Area fuel treatments located adjacent to defensible fuel profiles zones would reduce the intensity of fire and reduce the amount of spotting that would occur over the defensible fuel profile zone. Defensible fuel profile zones are also effective fire control points. Based on experience, Alternative 3 could reduce acres burned by up to 35 percent (76,000 to 108,000 acres) over the next 30 years (Table 3.15). These estimates were made assuming design criteria for suitable owl foraging and nesting habitats could be reduced to 40 percent if necessary to achieve fire behavior objectives. Although this would not always be the case, differences would be minor. Like the estimates for Alternative 2, these estimates are based on professional judgement of fire management personnel. The estimates of fuel treatment and associated costs are based on treatment requirements from similar projects within the planning area in recent years (fuel reduction in small group and individual tree selection harvests are not included). Estimated fuel reduction accomplishments for the term of the pilot project for Alternative 3 would be 137,000 acres of underburning; 17,000 acres of machine pile and burn; and 17,000 acres of hand pile and burn for a total of 171,000 acres of burning treatments. Estimated costs for this level of accomplishment is $37,200,000.

Calculations for annual maintenance burning of the defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments established during the project assume underburning on a 10-year rotation (the estimated 10-year fire return interval for many forest types within the planning area). Starting in the year 2010, 10 percent of the defensible fuel profile zone would be maintained each year. Site specific determinations would be made at the site-specific level and based on estimated fire return intervals and desired fire behavior objectives.

Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning - The maintenance program for fuel reduction treatments under Alternative 3 provides for 23,000 acres of maintenance annually, at a cost of approximately $3,200,000 per year.

The availability of brush disposal funds for multi-product (sawlogs and biomass) sales has been variable within the planning area in recent years and depends on the amount of small sawlogs in the sales. Funding for reduction of hazardous fuels is projected to increase from previous years.

Alternative 4

Fuel Management Alternative 4 provides for construction of approximately 64,000 acres of defensible fuel profile zones and 60,500 acres of area fuel treatments in the period of time covered by the pilot project. For this analysis, defensible fuel profile zone design criteria are based on desired fire behavior characteristics in a completed defensible fuel profile zone. The analysis is based on these design criteria displayed in Appendix J, Table 1. The strategy of this alternative is the same as that used by Alternative 3, although it accomplishes fewer fuel reduction treatments. Approximately 50 percent of the treatments would be defensible fuel profile zone construction and 50 percent area fuel treatments.

Alternative 4 is different from Alternative 3 in that defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments would be not be constructed in areas of late successional emphasis adjacent to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area. No reduction of fire spread potential into or out of the Wilderness Area would be achieved during the pilot project period. Defensible fuel profile zones adjacent to the Lassen Volcanic National Park and Caribou Wilderness would also be deferred, providing no protective buffer that could enhance the use of prescribed fire in the National Park.

Projection of Acres Burned and Associated Wildfire Severity - As in Alternatives 2 and 3, defensible fuel profile zone and area fuel treatments in Alternative 4 would be constructed along urban interface and high-use areas. Area fuel treatments would form patterns similar to those described in Alternative 4. Approximately 5 percent of the public lands in the planning area would begin to take on landscape patterns similar to those existing before European settlement. Alternative 4 would treat approximately 11 percent of the forest types thought to have missed the most natural fire return intervals.

The effectiveness of Alternative 4 to reduce acres burned was estimated to be similar to that of Alternative 2 (Table 3.15). This estimate was based on the opinion that it would be approximately 40 percent less effective than Alternative 3 in reducing the severity and spread of fire on broken terrain, based on the reduction of acres treated. Alternative 4 is expected to be equally effective as Alternatives 2 and 3 in the flatter terrain of the eastside zone where up to a 25 percent reduction in acres burned (53,000 to 77,000 acres) has been estimated. However, less reduction in severity within a fires perimeter is expected due to the reduction in area fuel treatments. Estimates of fuel treatment and associated costs are based on treatment requirements from similar projects within the planning area in recent years (fuel reduction in small group and individual tree selection harvests are not included). Estimated fuel reduction accomplishments for the term of the pilot project for Alternative 4 would be 75,000 acres of underburning; 9,000 acres of machine pile and burn; and 9,000 acres of hand pile and burn for a total of 93,000 acres of burning treatments. Estimated costs for this level of accomplishment is $20,200,000.

Calculations for annual maintenance burning of the defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments established during the project assume underburning on a 10-year rotation (the estimated 10-year fire return interval for many forest types within the planning area). Starting in the year 2010, 10 percent of the defensible fuel profile zone would be maintained each year. Site specific determinations would be made at the site-specific level and based on estimated fire return intervals and desired fire behavior objectives.

Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning - The maintenance program for fuel reduction treatments under Alternative 4 provides for 12,000 acres of maintenance annually, at a cost of approximately $1,700,000 per year.

The availability of brush disposal funds for multi-product (sawlogs and biomass) sales has been variable within the planning area in recent years and depends on the value of the product and the cost to remove the product. Funding for reduction of hazardous fuels is projected to increase from previous years.

Some defensible fuel profile zone construction would result in increased distribution of brush species. Brush species and components affect fire intensity. The potential increase in brush distribution at the project level could be reduced by increasing the amount of canopy closure to a degree that would not compromise its effectiveness for reducing the potential for crown fire. An increase in brush ingrowth in defensible fuel profile zones would increase fire intensity, decrease suppression capabilities, and make defensible fuel profile zones ineffective control points. Where this were the case, crushing, shredding, removal, or prescribed fire could be used to achieve desired fire behavior objectives.

Alternative 5

Fuel ManagementAlternative 5 provides for construction of 150,000 to 200,000 acres of area fuel treatments in the period of time covered by the pilot project. The fuels management strategy for Alternative 5 prescribes mosaics of area fuel treatments to reduce the risk of moderate to high intensity wildfire. Emphasis is placed on treating areas within and immediately adjacent to the urban interface and along major transportation routes. Alternative 5 proposes to reintroduce fire as an important process in the ecosystem and reduce excessive fuel accumulation using prescribed fire. Prescribed fire would be used to restore the ecological function of fire and reduce the potential for high intensity wildfire. When prescribed burning would not meet these objectives, understory thinning would be prescribed along with burning. Area treatments could move approximately 7 percent of the public lands within the planning area toward a landscape pattern similar those that existed prior to European settlement. Approximately 18 percent of the forest types thought to have missed the most natural fire return intervals would be treated.

Area fuel treatments in Alternative 5 would provide a protective buffer adjacent to the Thousand Lakes Wilderness Area where areas of late successional emphasis are highly susceptible to fire. Area fuel treatment adjacent to the wilderness area could reduce the potential of fire spreading into or out of the Wilderness Area. Area fuel treatments adjacent to the Lassen Volcanic National Park and Caribou Wilderness would buffer and could possibly enhance prescribed wildfire use by the National Park. Area treatments along the urban interface and matrix 16 lands would be similar to those in unsuitable California spotted owl habitat described in Alternative 3. Other habitat areas or aquatic emphasis areas would usually have denser overstory canopy.



Footnotes:
    16Matrix lands are identified as lands without specific goals and objectives to maintain old forest values, aquatic values and riparian health, or retention of roadless character.


Projection of Acres Burned and Associated Wildfire Severity - The location of area fuel treatments adjacent to urban interface and other high hazard areas could reduce wildfire intensities similar to reductions anticipated with Alternatives 3 and 4, but would be affected by the implementation of Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project guidelines for aquatic and riparian protection. In Alternative 5, approximately 44 percent of the pilot project area (nearly twice the amount required by the Scientific Analysis Team guidelines used in Alternatives 2,3, and 4) would be included in protective buffers. Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project guidelines allow hazardous fuel accumulation reduction in "land-use buffers," (the outer riparian buffer) and restrict prescribed fire use in the "community energy buffer," (the inner riparian buffer), unless such treatments are proved necessary through site-specific analysis. These restrictions, especially in areas with ephemeral channels, limit area fuel treatments to a greater degree than restrictions in Alternatives 3 and 4.

Alternative 5 is the only alternative that prescribes no defensible fuel profile zones. Since no defensible fuel profile zones are constructed under Alternative 5 there are no expectations that safe fire control points exist. Fire fighters would be at risk of injury from snags.

Where prescribed fire alone would not restore the ecological function of fire, or reduce wildfire intensity, mechanical treatment (through timber sales to remove small diameter trees along the urban interface and matrix lands at risk) would be used, service contracts or force account projects utilizing mechanical or hand treatments in combination with prescribed fire would be preferred to achieve optimum results.

Mechanical treatment using "thinning from below" silvicultural prescriptions is allowed in the late successional old growth network outside of high quality areas, Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project land use buffers, California spotted owl home range, and forest carnivore denning areas. Mechanical harvest is allowed in the Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project community-energy zone buffer to protect human health and safety. The use of prescribed fire is minimized in the inner buffer of aquatic conservation areas. Hand removal of small diameter trees (followed by prescribed burning) is allowed in highly ranked late successional old growth areas (ranks 4 and 5) and areas of late successional emphasis.

Estimated fuel reduction accomplishments for the term of the pilot project for Alternative 4 would be 111,000 acres of underburning; 14,000 acres of machine pile and burn; and 14,000 acres of hand pile and burn for a total of 139,000 acres of burning treatments. Estimated costs for this level of accomplishment is $30,200,000. It is likely that actual costs would be greater due to increase in control lines necessary to minimize prescribed from entering ephemeral channels and smaller underburn areas due to implementation of Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Protection riparian protection guidelines.

Calculations for annual maintenance burning of the defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments established during the project assume underburning on a 10-year rotation (the estimated 10-year fire return interval for many forest types within the planning area). Starting in the year 2010, 10 percent of the defensible fuel profile zone would be maintained each year. Site specific determinations would be made at the site-specific level and based on estimated fire return intervals and desired fire behavior objectives.

Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning - The maintenance program for fuel reduction treatments under Alternative 5 provides for 19,000 acres of maintenance annually, at a cost of approximately $2,700,000 per year.

The availability of brush disposal funds for multi-product (sawlogs and biomass) sales has been variable within the planning area in recent years and depends on the value of the product and cost to remove the product. Funding for reduction of hazardous fuels is projected to increase from previous years.

Summary

Alternative 3 is expected to have the greatest potential to reduce fire severity within the perimeter of fires that escape initial attack suppression action (Table 3.16). Alternative 3 is also predicted to have the greatest potential to reduce the number of acres burned by fires that escape initial attack. Table 3.17 displays the cost of initial fuel reduction treatments for activities proposed in the different Alternatives. Table 3.18 displays the costs of maintenance. These costs were based on historic costs from similar projects within the Planning Area. Alternative 3 is expected to cost the most followed by Alternative 2. Alternative 5 could be higher than displayed based on the uncertainty of implementation of projects using Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project guidelines.

Table 3.15 Reduction in Acres Burned over 30 years
ALTERNATIVE REDUCTION IN ACRES BURNED
  ACRES PERCENT LESS THAN REFERENCE (ALTERNATIVE 1)
Alternative 2
53,000 to 77,000
17 to 25 
Alternative 3
76,000 to 108,000
25 to 35
Alternative 4
53,000 to 77,000
17 to 25
Alternative 5 Possibly similar to Alternative 4, but use of SNEP guidelines for prescribed fire in inner buffers for ephemeral channels may limit fuel treatments more than SAT guidelines used in Alternatives 2,3, and 4  

Table 3.16 Change in Fire Severity
  CHANGE IN FIRE SEVERITY FROM REFERENCE
(ALTERNATIVE 1)
Alternative 2 No change from current management
Alternative 3 Greatest reduction in severity
Alternative 4 Second greatest reduction in severity
Alternative 5 Undetermined, possibly similar to Alternative 4

Reliance on defensible fuel profile zones may compromise the safety of fire fighters attempting to use them as control points. Alternatives 2, 3, and 4 may raise false expectations of safe control points when they may be no safer than elsewhere in the forest. Alternative 5 includes no defensible fuel profile zones, so no expectations are created, however, the risk of injury still exists. Maintenance of defensible fuel profile zones will depend on funding allocations. Prescribed fire may be used when air quality standards would be met. Estimations for prescribed burning for fuel reduction and maintenance along with associated costs are based on historic data within the planning area. Alternative 5 costs may be higher than historic costs.

Table 3.17 Costs of Initial Fuel Reduction Treatments
  TOTAL ACRES TO BURN TOTAL COST ($)
Alternative 1
89,000
15,600,000
Alternative 2
161,000
35,100,000
Alternative 3
172,000
37,500,00
Alternative 4
94,000
20,400,000
Alternative 5
140,000
30,400,000

Table 3.18 Acres and Costs for Maintenance Burning
  ACRES EACH YEAR COST EACH YEAR ($)
Alternative 1
8,000
1,200,000
Alternative 2
23,000
3,300,000
Alternative 3
23,000
3,300,000
Alternative 4
13,000
1,900,000
Alternative 5
19,000
2,700,000

Disclosures

Relationship of Short-term Actions to Long Term Effects - All action alternatives are designed for the same long-term goal – to reduce fire hazard by continuous treatment and maintenance of pilot project fire hazard reduction activities. An assumption is made that fuel treatment would continue after the project ended. Based on this assumption, the ability of the proposed action and alternatives to reduce wildfire hazard in the project area over the long-term is equal. What happens in the pilot project area following completion of the pilot project would shape fire risk conditions in the years to come. This assumption is based on K. Johnson, N. Sessions and J. Franklin (1996) findings that defensible fuel profile zones on the Plumas and Eldorado National Forests reduced the size of wildfire as a first step toward reducing fire severity, and also reduced the potential for escape of prescribed fire. With an aggressive fuel reduction program, little long-term difference was found between alternatives using a strategy including defensible fuel profile zones and those without this strategy. Because scale and pace of future area fuel treatments is unknown, measurement of goal achievement would best be evaluated following pilot project accomplishment (Table 3.19).

Table 3.19 Modeled Fuel Reduction Treatments
ALTERNATIVE AMOUNT OF PONDEROSA PINE, EASTSIDE PINE, AND MIXED CONIFER - PINE PROPOSED FOR FUEL REDUCTION TREATMENT (%)
1 7
2 13
3 27
4 11
5 18

Unavoidable Adverse Effects There are no known unavoidable adverse effects related to fire and fuels.

Irreversible Commitment of Resources - There would be no irreversible commitments of resources related to fire and fuels.

Irretrievable Commitment of Resources - There would be no irretrievable commitments of resources related to fire and fuels.

Other Relevant Disclosures - There are no other relevant disclosures.

Visual Resources

Affected Environment

The visual resource is the physical appearance of the planning area. A number of natural factors affect the appearance of a particular area including slope, elevation, geology, soils, vegetation, and abundance of water. The interrelationship of these factors is the basis for dividing land into landscape provinces.

The planning area is divided into two distinct landscape provinces - The Sierra Nevada landscape province, and the Northeast Volcanic province. The southernmost part of the planning area is in the Sierra Nevada landscape province and is characterized by rugged granitic mountains. The High Lakes area of the Lassen National Forest and the Gold Lake area of the Plumas National Forest typify this portion. In sharp contrast, the remainder of the planning area is in the Northeast Volcanic province, a forested upland plateau, characterized by the Sierraville District of the Tahoe National Forest. Dotted with faulted ridges and lava flows, the Northeast Volcanic province supports eastside pine and mixed conifer forests interspersed with extensive rangelands. This landscape province includes portions of the Modoc Plateau in the Lassen National Forest. These general landscape types provide the settings for a variety of recreational activities enjoyed by Forest visitors and permanent residents. The natural appearance of these landscapes contributes greatly to their popularity and appeal.

Pleasing scenery has long been recognized as a major "amenity yield" from forestland. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and later the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resource Planning Act of 1974, as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976, assured productive and aesthetically pleasing forests. The demand for visual quality is difficult to measure objectively, but can be inferred from various sources. The number of laws and policies that consider aesthetics and visual resource has increased significantly in the past decade and reflects public concern.

The California State Scenic Highways Master Plan recognized Highway 89 as a potential State Scenic Highway through the Lassen National Forest. The Tehama County General Plan recognizes the Highway 32 along Deer Creek as having County-level scenic significance. Highway 44 through the Lassen National Forest with its old growth ponderosa pines has been designated a Forest Service Scenic Byway. The Feather River Scenic Byway on the Plumas National Forest is also designated a Forest Service Scenic Byway.

Another indicator of concern for scenic quality is the number of people whose recreation activities it enhances. Activities that are enhanced by scenic quality, such as sight-seeing, driving for pleasure, and hiking, represent over 70 percent of the total recreation on National Forest System lands. Recreation use in the Pacific Southwest Region exceeds that of other Forest Service Regions, and recreationists' concern for scenery is known to be high.

Historically, the provinces have presented a largely undisturbed, natural landscape to public view. The visual resource trend, however, has been declining somewhat for the last 40 years. This is a direct result of the natural landscape being altered by road construction, timber harvesting, structures, brush field clearing, and utility corridors. The existing visual condition inventory (topographic maps available at the Supervisor's Office) maps the visible degrees of disturbance to the natural landscape. Existing visual condition defines how the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests looked in 1980, rather than how they will look in the future, and serves as a benchmark.

Environmental Consequences

Effects on scenic quality are measured by the degree of change from the natural condition of an area. A landscape may appear natural or heavily altered depending on the extent of the management activities in the area. The most significant effects on the visual resources are from vegetation and landform alterations typically associated with resource management activities such as timber harvest and road construction. Visual quality objectives 17 have been established across the Lassen, Plumas, and Tahoe National Forests based on the National Forest Visual Management System.



Footnotes:
  17U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.(1974):. National Forest Landscape Management, Volume 2, Chapter 1, The Visual Management System.  USDA Agricultural Handbook 462,  page 47.

Direct and Indirect Effects

Timber harvest would affect visual quality because the removal of trees creates strong visual contrasts of line, form, color, and texture when compared to natural landscapes. These impacts are of most concern when seen from primary and secondary travel routes and visitor destinations. Alteration of undisturbed landscapes by timber harvest may be considered negative even if the desired visual quality objective is met, because the existing visual conditions will be changed. In general, the visual effects of timber management are more acceptable where there is existing disturbance to the natural landscape than in places where no change in natural scenery has occurred. Timber management may also be used to improve visual quality, particularly where there are opportunities to rehabilitate unacceptable modification of the landscape, or to remove unwanted view-screening vegetation.

Alternative 1

Alternative 1 is the no action alternative. The visual resources in the planning area would continue to be governed by the existing direction disclosed in the respective Forest Plans, as amended.

Alternative 2

Alternative 2 would produce the most visual impact on the landscape. Some of the defensible fuel profile zones would be in the viewshed of communities, recreation areas, and travelways. The design of the defensible fuel profile zones includes irregular spacing and feathering of the edges to soften the visual impact and allow the area to be natural in appearance. If left untreated, the landscape would be at higher risk for high intensity wildfires that could result in blackened hillsides and viewshed degradation. Group selection harvests of 8,700 acres per year, create openings up to 2 acres in size that would remain visually subordinate to the landscape and add visual diversity. Fuel reduction activities along roads and urban areas promote visual penetration into the forest.

Alternative 3

Alternative 3 would construct defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments. It would have less visual impact on the landscape than Alternative 2. The impacts of the defensive fuel profile zones are similar to those described for Alternative 2. The area fuel treatments would follow contours of the land and remain visually subordinate to the landscape.

Alternative 4

Alternative 4 would construct defensible fuel profile zones and area fuel treatments and have less visual impact on the landscape than Alternative 2 or 3 because of the reduced acres of treatment.

Alternative 5

Alternative 5 would create forest openings up to ½ acre in size and prohibit timber harvest greater than 2 acres in size. Alternative 5 uses strategically located area fuel treatments that emphasize prescribed fire, biomass removal, and understory thinning. Fuels management and silvicultural treatments range between 30,000 to 40,000 acres per year. Management activities, under Alternative 5, would remain visually subordinate to the characteristic landscape as compared to Alternatives 2, 3 and 4.

Cumulative Effects

Forest Plan standards and guidelines for visual resource management would apply to the proposed action and all alternatives. All alternatives would result in a change in the existing visual condition in treatment areas. Significant changes in existing visual condition could result from road construction to access timber harvest areas due to soil color contrast produced. Also, significant changes in the existing visual condition could result from construction of defensible fuel profile zones on the landscape, as seen from sensitive travel routes, communities, and recreation areas. Special consideration would continue to be given to areas that are visible from sensitive travel routes. Factors such as visual sensitivity, scenic quality, and distance from viewers would continue to be used to direct project design. On private lands adjoining National Forest System land, timber harvest has occurred and is expected to continue. Private land owners are not expected to change their land management activities; therefore, cumulative adverse impacts may occur on National Forest System land viewsheds where the private lands are seen from campgrounds, communities, and primary travel routes.

Forest Plan standards and guidelines for visual resources require that the highest possible visual quality be maintained throughout the planning area. Management activities are blended with the surrounding landscape to reduce sharp contrasts in line, form, color, and texture. This is generally more pleasing to visitors.

The Middle Fork of the Feather River is a designated Wild and Scenic River. This area contains high scenic values and would be managed such that management activities remain visually subordinate to the characteristic landscape.

Disclosures

Relationship of Short-term Actions to Long Term Effects Short-term changes in existing visual condition resulting from resource management activities may prevent catastrophic, wildfire induced, changes to the long-term visual condition.

Unavoidable Adverse EffectsThere are no known unavoidable adverse effects related to

Irreversible Commitment of Resources - There would be no irreversible commitments of resources related to.

Irretrievable Commitment of Resources - There would be no irretrievable commitments of resources related.

Other Relevant Disclosures - There are no other relevant disclosures.

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