[Federal Register: November 13, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 220)]
[Notices]               
[Page 67118-67120]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr13no08-13]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Black Hills National Forest, Mystic Ranger District, SD, Slate 
Castle Project Area

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement 
(EIS).

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SUMMARY: The Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact 
statement on a proposal to use multiple vegetation treatments focused 
on reducing the threat to ecosystem components including forest 
resources from an existing insect and disease epidemic (mountain pine 
beetle), creating a landscape condition more adapted to fire and that 
reduces potential for high severity wildfire near at-risk communities 
and in the wildland-urban interface. The proposal is being planned for 
the 44,500 acre Slate Castle Project Area that includes about 38,300 
acres of National Forest System land and about 6,200 acres of 
interspersed private land. The project area generally extends from 
northwest of Hill City, South Dakota and east of Deerfield Lake. This 
project will be conducted as an authorized project under Section 102 of 
the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA). Actions proposed 
for the Slate Castle Project Area include the following:
     Thin and harvest approximately 31,000 acres of pine stands 
using a variety of methods to treat mountain pine beetle (MPB) infested 
stands, reduce the overall density of pine trees and create a mosaic of 
structural stages across the landscape. Both commercial harvest and 
noncommercial thinning will be used to reduce the stand density, and 
associated fuel hazard conditions and susceptibility to mountain pine 
beetle infestations.
     Reduce the amount of fuels that currently exists and that 
created by vegetation treatment activities. Treatment could include 
lopping, chipping, crushing, piling and burning, and creating fuel 
breaks along roads and adjacent to private property, particularly those 
properties with houses and subdivisions. Prescribed broadcast and pile 
burning of up to 35,000 acres is also planned to disrupt the continuity 
of surface and canopy fuels, and to increase the quantity and quality 
of forage for big game and other wildlife resources.
     Remove conifers from hardwood stands such as aspen and 
birch, and restore meadows on approximately 4,400 acres to provide 
habitat diversity and additional wildfire protection by restoring 
natural fuel breaks.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis would be most 
useful if received by 30-days following the date of this notice. The 
draft environmental impact statement is expected to be

[[Page 67119]]

available for public review by March 2009 and the final environmental 
impact statement is expected to be completed by July 2009.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Robert J. Thompson, District 
Ranger, Black Hills National Forest, Mystic Ranger District, Slate 
Castle Project Area, 8221 South Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota 
57702. Telephone Number: (605) 343-1567. E-mail: comments-rocky-
mountain-black-hills-mystic@fs.fed.us with ``Slate Castle'' as the 
subject. Electronic comments must be readable in Word, Rich Text or PDF 
formats.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: If you have any questions or need 
additional information, please contact Katie Van Alstyne, Team Leader 
or Robert J. Thompson, District Ranger, at the Mystic Ranger District 
office in Rapid City at (605) 343-1567.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The actions proposed are in direct response 
to management direction provided by the Black Hills National Forest 
Land and Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan). The site specific 
actions are designed, based on Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines, to 
move existing resource conditions in the Slate Castle Project Area 
toward meeting Forest Plan Goals and Objectives. The project area 
generally extends from northwest of Hill City, South Dakota and east of 
Deerfield Lake. Anticipated issues include: reducing MPB infestation 
and risk; protecting local communities, private and public lands, 
infrastructure and access from severe wildfire; associated fire and 
fuels hazard reduction needs in the wildland-urban interface; support 
or opposition to forest thinning using commercial timber harvest; 
impacts of vegetation treatment and multiple forest uses on wildlife 
habitat. The range of alternatives analyzed in the EIS is expected to 
be consistent with Sec. 104 of HFRA.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The purpose of the Slate Castle Project is to:
     Move toward achieving desired land and resource 
conditions, as provided by the Forest Plan.
     Reduce the threat to ecosystem components including forest 
resources, from the existing insect and disease (mountain pine beetle) 
epidemic.
     Restore resource conditions to a healthy, resilient fire-
adapted ecosystem.
     Help protect local communities and resources from 
catastrophic wildfire.
    This project is focused on implementing management actions that 
move toward achieving:
     Desired conditions and objectives embodied in Goals 2, 3, 
7, and 10 of the Forest Plan (as amended).
     Goals and objectives applicable to Forest Plan Management 
Area (MA) 2.2--Research Natural Areas (~40 acres); MA 3.7--Late 
Successional Forest Landscape (~460 acres); MA 5.1--Resource Production 
Emphasis (~23,800 acres); and MA 5.4--Big Game Winter Range Emphasis 
(~13,960 acres), that lie within Slate Castle Project Area, described 
in Chapter III of the Forest Plan (Phase II Amendment).
     Goals of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) of 2003 
(HR 1904) and other National level initiatives and policy that provide 
procedural tools to hasten processes focused on reducing insects or 
disease on public and adjacent private lands, and reducing the 
probability and occurrence of severe wildfire in the fire adapted 
ecosystems, especially near at risk communities and in the wildland-
urban interface. Moreover, it is appropriate that proposed actions be 
designed in consideration of the fuels hazard reduction management 
recommendations and guidelines provided by the Pennington County 
Community Wildfire Protection Plan of 2007.

Proposed Action

    Proposed actions include the following:
     Thin and harvest approximately 31,000 acres of pine stands 
using a variety of methods to treat MPB infested stands, reduce the 
overall density of pine trees and create a mosaic of structural stages 
across the landscape. Both commercial and non-commercial sized trees 
would be removed utilizing multiple contracts including stewardship, 
timber sale, and service contracts.
     Disrupt the continuity of surface and canopy fuels to help 
reduce the potential for large-scale, intense wildfire spread. 
Treatment could include thinning, lopping, chipping, crushing, piling, 
and burning; restoring natural fuel breaks by removing conifers that 
have encroached upon meadows and hardwood stands on approximately 4,400 
acres; creating fuel breaks along roads and adjacent to private 
property--particularly those properties with houses and subdivisions. 
Prescribed broadcast and pile burning of up to 35,000 acres is also 
planned to reduce the natural, as well as the management-caused 
accumulation of fuels and to benefit big game and other wildlife 
resources.

Responsible Official

    Robert J. Thompson, District Ranger, Mystic Ranger District, Black 
Hills National Forest, 8221 South Highway 16, Rapid City, South Dakota 
57702.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The decision to be made is whether or not to implement the proposed 
action or possible alternative at this time.

Scoping Process

    Comments and input regarding the proposal will be received via 
direct mailing from the public, other groups, and agencies during the 
initial public comment period in November and December 2008. If you 
would like to be more involved, a public meeting is scheduled for 
Tuesday, December 2, 2008, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the City Hall 
conference room in Hill City, South Dakota. Comments submitted based on 
this NOI will be most useful if received within 30 days from the date 
of this notice. Response to the draft EIS will be sought from the 
interested public beginning in March 2009.

Comment Requested

    This notice of intent provides information that the agency will 
prepare an environmental impact statement in response to public comment 
and feedback during the November and December 2008, scoping period. 
Comments received will assist the planning team to develop the mailing 
list for the draft EIS and help identify key issues and opportunities 
used to refine the proposal or possible alternative and mitigation 
measures. Comments on the DEIS will be requested during the 45 day 
comment period following the Notice of Availability, expected to be 
published in the Federal Register in March 2009 (See discussion below).
    Early Notice of Importance of Public Participation in Subsequent 
Environmental Review: 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 reviewers 
position and contentions. Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. NRDC, 
435 US. 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

[[Page 67120]]

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 statement. 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.

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

    Dated: November 5, 2008.
Craig Bobzien,
Forest Supervisor, Black Hills National Forest.
 [FR Doc. E8-26797 Filed 11-12-08; 8:45 am]

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