[Federal Register: February 22, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 36)]
[Notices]               
[Page 9760-9762]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr22fe08-25]                         

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Rangeland Allotment Management Planning on the Fall River West 
and Oglala Geographic Areas, Fall River and Pine Ridge Ranger 
Districts, Nebraska National Forest

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an environmental impact statement.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

SUMMARY: The USDA, Forest Service, will prepare an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) analyzing the management of rangeland vegetation 
resources, which includes livestock grazing, on the National Forest 
System (NFS) lands within the Oglala Geographic Area (OGA) of the 
Oglala National Grassland on the Pine Ridge Ranger District and the 
West Geographic Area (WGA) of the Buffalo Gap National

[[Page 9761]]

Grassland on the Fall River Ranger District of the Nebraska National 
Forest (Analysis Area).
    Proposed management actions would be implemented beginning in the 
year 2009. The agency gives notice of the full environmental analysis 
and decision-making process that will occur on the proposal so 
interested and affected people may become aware of how they may 
participate in the process and contribute to the final decision.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
within 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. The draft 
environmental impact statement is expected January 26, 2009 and the 
final environmental impact statement is expected April 24, 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments pertaining to this project on the 
Oglala Geographic Area to Charles R. Marsh, District Ranger, Pine Ridge 
Ranger District, 1240 W. 16th Street, Chadron, Nebraska 69337; send 
written comments pertaining to the Fall River West Geographic Area to 
Michael E. McNeill, District Ranger, Fall River Ranger District, P.O. 
Box 732, Hot Springs, SD 57747.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: For further information about the 
Oglala Geographic Area on the Oglala National Grassland, mail 
correspondence to Lora O'Rourke, Co-Interdisciplinary Team Leader, Pine 
Ridge Ranger District, 1240 W. 16th Street, Chadron, Nebraska 69337, 
Phone 308-432-4475. For further information about the West Geographic 
Area on the Buffalo Gap National Grassland, mail correspondence to 
Robert Novotny, Co-Interdisciplinary Team Leader, Fall River Ranger 
District, P.O. Box 732, Hot Springs, SD 57747.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Vegetation resources on approximately 94,000 
acres of NFS lands lying within the Oglala National Grassland in Sioux 
and Dawes Counties of northwest Nebraska, and approximately 117,000 
acres of NFS lands lying within the Buffalo Gap National Grassland in 
Fall River County of southwest South Dakota, are being analyzed to 
determine if and how existing conditions differ from desired conditions 
outlined in the 2001 Nebraska National Forest Land and Resource 
Management Plan (Forest Plan).
    Vegetation in the Analysis Area is characteristic of mixed-grass 
prairie and lesser amounts of ponderosa pine/juniper habitats. Short-
grass species include blue grama, buffalograss, and upland sedges. Mid-
grass species include western wheatgrass, green needlegrass, and to a 
lesser extent sideoats grama. Shrubs include Wyoming big sagebrush, 
greasewood, and yucca glauca. Some creeks transverse the area and 
support plains cottonwood, green ash, and willow.
    A large portion of the Analysis Area evolved under a history of 
homesteading in the early twentieth century, and a prolonged drought 
period combined with the economic depression of the late 1920s and 
early 1930s caused many of these homesteads to fail. Starting in 1930s, 
land was purchased through the northwestern Nebraska and southwestern 
South Dakota under the Land Utilization Project initiated by the 
Agricultural Adjustment Administration. This continued with the 
Bankhead Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937, which was designed to develop a 
program of land conservation. Administration of these lands was turned 
over to the Soil Conservation Service the following year and 
transferred to the United States Forest Service in 1954.
    Today the Oglala and Buffalo Gap National Grasslands support and 
provide a variety of multiple resource uses and values. Livestock 
ranching operations in the area depend on National Grassland acreage to 
create logical and efficient management units. Cattle and sheep, in 
accordance with 10-year term and/or annual temporary livestock grazing 
permits, are currently authorized to graze the allotments within the 
Analysis Area. In order to determine how existing resource conditions 
compare to desired conditions, data from monitoring and analysis 
(historical and present) will be used. During the past 5-7 years, 
drought conditions have impacted plant vigor, canopy, and litter cover 
in most parts of the Analysis Area.

Purpose and Need for Action

    Two primary influences help to shape the need for this project.
    The Rescission Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-19, Section 504), directed 
the Forest Service to complete National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) 
analysis on all grazing allotments. This analysis will comply with that 
direction.
    The 2001 Forest Plan established goals, objectives, standards, and 
guidelines for resource management on the Nebraska National Forest and 
Associated Units. The Forest Plan identifies livestock grazing as an 
appropriate multiple use under certain conditions.
    The Forest Service will evaluate the existing authorized livestock 
use, livestock management, and rangeland vegetative conditions within 
the Analysis Area and will assess the relationship with the desired 
vegetative conditions identified within the Forest Plan. Any 
differences between the two will establish the need for any livestock 
management adjustments to meet or move existing vegetative conditions 
toward Forest Plan desired conditions.
    The purpose of the project is to address any need for adjustments 
by determining whether to continue to permit livestock grazing on all, 
or part, of the Anaysis Area and under what conditions and management 
strategies.
    Proposed Action: Implement vegetation management strategies through 
an adaptive management process, which includes authorizing livestock 
grazing within the Analysis Area that will meet or move toward desired 
vegetative conditions as identified in the Forest Plan. Adaptive 
management is defined as a process where land managers implement 
management practices that are designed to meet Forest Plan standards 
and guidelines and that would likely achieve the desired conditions in 
a timely manner. If monitoring shows that desired conditions, as 
described by Forest Plan Direction, are not being met, then an 
alternate set of management actions would be implemented to achieve the 
desired results. The proposal may generate the need to develop new or 
update existing allotment management plans (AMPs).
    The AMPs will be prepared for individual allotments and implemented 
in the 2009 grazing season and beyond.
    The Forest Plan identifies lands within the OGA and FRWGA as 
containing lands that are capable and suitable for grazing by domestic 
livestock. These lands are to be monitored to evaluate both 
implementation and effectiveness of management actions.
    In all cases, vegetation management tools will be used that meet 
Forest Plan objectives, standards, and guidelines and that will 
maintain or move existing resource conditions toward desired conditions 
for that geographic area. If monitoring indicates that practices are 
being properly implemented and that resource trends are moving toward 
meeting desired conditions in a timely manner, management may continue 
unchanged. If monitoring indicates that there is a need to modify 
management practices, adaptive options as analyzed in the EIS will be 
selected and implemented.
    The Analysis Area provides habitat for many wildlife species (game 
and non-game) including three management indicator species (MIS) and 
their

[[Page 9762]]

habitats. These MIS species are the sharp-tailed grouse, sage grouse, 
and black-tailed prairie dog. Habitat for the swift fox, a Forest 
Service Region 2 sensitive species, also exists.
    Consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as required 
by the Endangered Species Act (ESA), will be completed on all proposed 
activities.
    An interdisciplinary team has been selected to do the environmental 
analysis, as well as prepare and accomplish scoping and public 
involvement activities.
    Possible Alternatives: Potential alternatives include:
    1. No action, No change from authorized grazing use or current 
situation.
    2. No Grazing.
    3. Livestock grazing incorporating adaptive management to meet the 
Forest Plan goals, objectives, standards, and guidelines.
    Responsible Officials: Charlie R. Marsh, District Ranger at the 
Pine Ridge Ranger District, 1240 W. 16th Street, Chadron, Nebraska 
69337; and Michael E. McNeill, District Ranger at the Fall River Ranger 
District, P.O. Box 732, Hot Springs, South Dakota 57747-0732 are the 
Responsible Officials for making the decision on this action. They will 
document their decision and rationale in a Record of Decision.
    The Responsible Officials will consider the results of the analysis 
and its findings and then document their decisions in two separate 
Records of Decision (ROD), one for the OGA and one for the FRWGA. The 
decisions will determine whether or not to authorize livestock grazing 
on all, part, or none of the Analysis Area, and if so, what adaptive 
management design criteria, adaptive options, and monitoring will be 
implemented so as to meet or move toward the desired conditions as 
specified in the Forest Plan.
    Nature of Decision To Be Made: The EIS is not a decision document. 
The purpose of the EIS document is to disclose the direct, indirect, 
and cumulative effects of the proposed action and other alternatives 
that are analyzed. After providing the public an opportunity to comment 
on the specific activities described in the alternatives, the 
Responsible Officials will review all alternatives and the anticipated 
environmental consequences of each in order to make the following 
decisions:
    1. Whether or not to authorize livestock grazing within the 
Analysis Area in whole or in part.
    2. If grazing is to be Authorized, (a) what grazing systems and 
prescribed livestock use would be implemented; (b) what structural and 
non-structural range improvements would be necessary; and (c) what type 
of monitoring program would be proposed.
    3. Identify any ``mitigation measure'' needed to implement the 
decision.
    Individual Allotment Management Plans (AMPs) would then be 
developed to incorporate conditions outlined in the Record of Decision. 
These AMPs will become part of each associated term grazing permit 
issued.
    Scoping Process: Concurrent with this notice of intent, letters 
requesting comments will be sent to interested parties. Anyone who 
provides comments to the draft EIS or expresses interest during the 
comment period will have standing in the process.
    Public involvement will be especially important at several points 
during the analysis, beginning with the scoping process. The Forest 
Service will seek information, comments, and assistance from Federal, 
State, local agencies, tribes, and other individuals or organizations 
who may be interested in, or affected by, the proposal. The scoping 
activities will include: (1) Engaging potentially affected or 
interested parties by written correspondence, (2) contacting those on 
our Forest media list, and (3) hosting public information meeting(s).
    Preliminary Issues: Preliminary issues include:
    1. Effects of proposed management strategies on natural ecosystems. 
This includes elements such as native and desirable nonnative plant and 
animal communities, black-tailed prairie dog management, riparian 
areas, upland grasslands, wooded draws, ponderosa pine forested areas, 
areas of hazardous fuels, and threatened, endangered, sensitive, and 
management indicator species.
    2. Social-economic effects (positive or negative) on livestock 
grazing permittees and the local economy from changes in livestock 
management.
    3. Effects of proposed livestock grazing strategies on recreational 
activities and/or experiences.
    Comment Requested: This notice of intent initiates the formal 
scoping process that guides the development of the environmental impact 
statement.
    Early Notice of Importance for Public Participation in Subsequent 
Environmental Review: A draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) 
will be prepared for comment. The comment period on the draft 
environmental impact statement will be 45 days from the date the 
Environmental Protection Agency publishes the notice of availability in 
the Federal Register.
    The Forest Service believes, at this early stage, it is important 
to give reviewers notice of several court rulings related to public 
participation in the environmental review process. First, reviewers of 
draft environmental impact statements must structure their 
participation in the environmental review of the proposal so that it is 
meaningful and alerts an agency to the reviewer's position and 
contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 435 U.S. 519, 
553 (1978). Also, environmental objections that could be raised at the 
draft environmental impact statement stage but that are not raised 
until after completion of the final environmental impact statement may 
be waived or dismissed by the courts. City of Angoon v. Hodel, 803 F.2d 
1016, 1022 (9th Cir. 1986) and Wisconsin Heritages, Inc. v. Harris, 490 
F. Supp. 1334, 1338 (E.D. Wis. 1980). Because of these court rulings, 
it is very important that those interested in this proposed action 
participate by the close of the 45-day comment period so that 
substantive comments and objections are made available to the Forest 
Service at a time when it can meaningfully consider them and respond to 
them in the final environmental impact statement.
    To assist the Forest Service in identifying and considering issues 
and concerns on the proposed action, comments on the draft 
environmental impact statement should be as specific as possible. It is 
also helpful if comments refer to specific pages or chapters of the 
draft statement. Comments may also address the adequacy of the draft 
environmental impact statement or the merits of the alternatives 
formulated and discussed in the document. Reviewers may wish to refer 
to the Council on Environmental Quality Regulations for implementing 
the procedural provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act at 
40 CFR 1503.3 in addressing these points.
    Comments received, including the names and addresses of those who 
comment, will be considered part of the public record on this proposal 
and will be available for public inspection.

(Authority: 40 CFR 1501.7 and 1508.22; Forest Service Handbook 
1909.15, Section 21)

    Dated: February 7, 2008.
Charles R. Marsh,
District Ranger, Pine Ridge Ranger District.
    Dated: February 7, 2008.
Michael E. McNeill,
District Ranger, Fall River Ranger District.
[FR Doc. E8-2880 Filed 2-21-08; 8:45 am]

BILLING CODE 3410-11-P