[Federal Register: October 8, 2008 (Volume 73, Number 196)]
[Notices]               
[Page 58927-58929]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr08oc08-35]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Dakota Prairie Grasslands; North Dakota; Dakota Prairie 
Grasslands Land and Resource Plan Amendment and Site Specific Projects 
for the Elkhorn Ranchlands

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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

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SUMMARY: The purpose of this notice is to inform the public that the 
Forest Service intends to prepare an environmental impact statement for 
amending the Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land and Resource Management 
Plan (DPG Plan) pursuant to 16 U.S.C. 1604(f)(5) and 36 CFR 219.12. 
This includes approving certain site specific projects associated with 
the same lands.
    The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Forest and 
Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act (RPA) and the National 
Forest Management Act (NFMA) are among the laws that set forth the 
requirements for Forest Service planning. This DPG Plan amendment will 
determine management direction including land-use determinations, 
management area prescriptions, and standards and guidelines.
    The need for the DPG Plan amendment results from the recent 
acquisition of 5,200 acres of private land, the majority of which lie 
in a solid block east of the Little Missouri River in Billings County, 
North Dakota. Site specific project proposals relate to: (1) Restoring 
ecological functions and wildlife habitat, (2) improving livestock 
grazing opportunities, (3) enhancing heritage and recreation 
opportunities, and 4) promoting conservation activities.
    Respondents are encouraged to review grassland planning documents 
and the final response to the Scientific Review Team Report for more 
information on woody and riparian communities' restoration, prescribed 
burning, grazing management issues, and drought management strategies. 
Documents are available at: http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie/ and 
http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://www.fs.fed.us/ngp.
    The Forest Service will be soliciting comments from individuals, 
state and local governments, American Indians, federal agencies, and 
organizations on the scope of the analysis specific to this DPG Plan 
amendment and the site-specific projects proposed.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
within 45 days of the scoping letter. The draft environmental impact 
statement is expected in late May 2009 and the final environmental 
impact statement is expected November 2009.

ADDRESSES: Submit written comments to: Sherri Schwenke, DPG Plan 
Amendment Interdisciplinary Team Leader, Dakota Prairie Grasslands, 240 
W. Century Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota 58503 or by e-mail to: 
comments-northern-dakota-prairie@fs.fed.us. When commenting by e-mail, 
please be sure to list LRMP Amendment in the subject line and provide a 
U.S. Postal Service address so that we may add you to our mailing list.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Sherri Schwenke, DPG Plan Amendment 
Interdisciplinary Team Leader, Dakota Prairie Grasslands, 240 W. 
Century Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota 58503.

Background Information

    The USDA Forest Service manages over 190 million acres of public 
land in the United States of America. These public lands are managed in 
accordance with numerous laws enacted by Congress including the 
Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act (BJFTA), the National Forest Management 
Act (NFMA), 16 U.S.C. 1604 et seq. and the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield 
Act (MUSYA) 16 U.S.C. 528 et seq. which directs the agency to provide 
for the multiple use and sustained yield of the National Forest System 
lands. In addition, Congress has instructed the agency to develop land 
and resource management plans for the public land it manages (NFMA, 16 
U.S.C. 1604(a)), which includes the involvement of the American public 
in the planning process (NFMA, 16 U.S.C. 1604(d)). Of the public land 
managed by the Forest Service, approximately 4 million of those acres 
are National Grasslands. The National Grasslands lie primarily within 
the Great Plains states, with roughly 1.1 million of those acres 
occurring in North Dakota. The Little Missouri National Grassland in 
western North Dakota comprises over 1 million of those and is managed 
under BJFTA, NFMA and other authorities of the Forest Service. The 
National Grasslands in North Dakota are managed by the Forest Service 
as part of the Dakota

[[Page 58928]]

Prairie Grasslands unit. The Dakota Prairie Grasslands (DPG) went 
through the land and resource management planning process as part of 
the Northern Great Plains planning process which resulted in a signed 
Record of Decision in July, 2002 adopting the Dakota Prairie Grasslands 
Land and Resource Management Plan (DPG Plan). Furthermore, a livestock 
grazing specific Record of Decision adopting the grazing portion of the 
DPG Plan was signed in September, 2006 after an independent Scientific 
Review Team evaluated the findings in the DPG Plan and Final 
Environmental Impact Statement.
    The Elkhorn Ranchlands acquisition was completed in April of 2007. 
As this acquisition occurred after the Records of Decision for the DPG 
Plan, the Forest Service must undertake a plan amendment process in 
order to manage the newly acquired lands in accordance with law.
    The proposed DPG Plan amendment process also recognizes Pub. L. 
110-161, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008, Division F--
Department of the Interior, Environment, and related agencies 
appropriations act, 2008, Title IV, General Provisions, Sec. 424 which 
sets forth provisions for land sales to offset the acquired Elkhorn 
Ranch lands. Section 424(g) of the act provides that federal land 
grazing use of the Elkhorn Ranch shall be managed through the grazing 
agreement between the Medora Grazing Association and the Forest 
Service, and that the animal unit months (AUMs) for both federal and 
private lands encompassing the Elkhorn Ranch shall become part of the 
grazing agreement held by the Medora Grazing Association to be 
reallocated to its members in accordance with their rules in effect as 
of the date of the enactment of the act.
    The Forest Service recognizes the Medora Grazing Association as the 
permittee for the grazing use as determined during the planning process 
for the Elkhorn Ranch lands which includes both this amendment to the 
DPG Plan and subsequent allotment management plan (AMP) development. 
The current Grazing Agreement with the Medora Grazing Association will 
be the instrument used to permit the grazing use.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: This section provides more information 
regarding the purpose and need for the amendment as well as the 
proposed action for the management prescriptions, et al. On April 25, 
2007, the USDA Forest Service completed the acquisition of the Elkhorn 
Ranchlands located in the Badlands of western North Dakota from the 
Eberts family. The acquired lands are strongly associated with the 26th 
President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt. He operated a ranch 
on the lands in the mid-1880s. The acquisition was widely supported by 
over 50 conservation groups, The Friends of the Elkhorn, public 
officials, and private citizens.
    As discussed above, with regard to the acquisition of the Elkhorn 
Ranch lands, Section 424 of Pub. L. 110-161 sets forth provisions for 
land sales to offset the acquired Elkhorn Ranch lands. This legislation 
also provided that ``[t]he multiple uses of the acquired Elkhorn Ranch 
shall continue.'' Pub. L. 110-161, Sec. 424(h). The Forest Service's 
approach to the acquisition includes maintaining traditional uses such 
as livestock grazing, hunting, and oil and gas activities. Further, 
consistent with section 424(h), the Forest Service is committed to its 
legislatively mandated multiple-use mission and has stated that it 
intends to embark on a public planning process to bring these lands 
under the management direction of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land 
and Resource Management Plan (DPG Plan).
    In August 2007, the Forest Service initiated a resource assessment, 
which is the first step in determining how the agency would include 
these lands under DPG Plan management direction.
    The assessment was conducted by a Dakota Prairie Grasslands 
interdisciplinary team (IDT). Open houses were held in Dickinson, 
Medora, and Bismarck, North Dakota, during September 2007. The results 
of the resource assessment and the public input during that process 
contributed to the purpose and need and proposed action for the DPG 
Plan amendment and the site-specific project proposals. Common themes 
included: (1) use the land for grazing but as a forage reserve or 
``grassbank'', restore native vegetation on the ranchlands, protect the 
``viewshed'' from the historic ranch home site, limit impacts from 
development, and provide primitive recreation opportunities that 
involve limited structural development. The complete resource 
assessment can be found on the Dakota Prairie Grasslands Web site: 
http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/leaving.cgi?from=leavingFR.html&log=linklog&to=http://www.fs.fed.us/r1/dakotaprairie/.

DPG Plan Amendment Proposal

Purpose and Need for Action

    The Forest Service proposes to amend the 2002 DPG Plan to establish 
management direction for the 5,200-acre Elkhorn Ranchlands and to 
adjust the management direction assigned to the associated national 
grassland range allotments (18,000 acres). More specifically the 
purposes of the amendment are as follows:
     Determine suitability of acquired lands for grazing (36 
CFR 219.12).
     Include the associated range allotments in the management 
area designation for the Elkhorn Ranchlands.
     Establish Grassland Plan management direction for the 
Elkhorn Ranchlands.
     Preserve historical values.
     Conserve ecological values.
     Restore the land and improve watershed health.
     Restore the viewshed as seen from Theodore Roosevelt's 
Elkhorn Ranch site to native plant communities that blend into the 
other undeveloped portions of the viewshed.

Proposed Action

    The Forest Service proposes to amend the DPG Plan to establish 
management direction on 5,200 acres of National Forest System lands 
acquired in 2006 and 2007, and assign compatible management direction 
to the associated range allotments (18,000 acres). This includes 
applying the grasslands wide direction from Chapter 1 of the DPG Plan 
and allocating the lands to appropriate MA designations (DPG Plan, 
Chapter 3).

Site-Specific Project Proposals

Purpose and Need for Site-Specific Projects

    The site-specific projects related to the recently acquired 5200 
acres and the adjoining 18,000 acres are intended to:
     Preserve historical values
     Restore the land and improve watershed health
     Determine what will be done with the buildings, center 
pivot, and other facilities on the site
     Determine the level of recreation development and what 
associated facilities would be built on site
     Restore the historic viewshed
    The need for the projects is based upon the condition of the lands 
as well as DPG Plan direction for infrastructure and recreation in the 
badlands setting.

Site-Specific Projects Proposed Action

    Several projects are to be proposed to address the on-the-ground 
conditions and DPG plan direction.

Responsible Official

    David M. Pieper, Grasslands Supervisor, Dakota Prairie Grasslands, 
240 W. Century Avenue, Bismarck, North Dakota 58503.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The Forest Service will decide what the management direction will 
be for

[[Page 58929]]

the acquired lands and whether or not to adjust the management 
direction assigned to the associated national grassland range 
allotments, as well as whether or not to implement site-specific 
project proposals for the project area.

Scoping Process

    A scoping letter will be issued concurrent with the publication of 
this notice of intent. The specifics of the proposed action(s) will be 
laid out in the letter and also will be posted on the Dakota Prairie 
Grasslands Web site for review. Comments to scoping should be received 
within 45 days from the date on the letter.

Comment Requested

    The Forest Service will be soliciting comments from individuals; 
Federal, State, and local governments; American Indians, and 
organizations on the scope of the analysis to be included in the draft 
environmental impact statement for the DPG Plan amendment and from 
those that may be interested in or affected by the proposed action to:
     Identify potential issues.
     Identify issues to be analyzed in depth.
     Eliminate insignificant issues or those which have been 
covered by a relevant previous environmental analysis.
     Identify potential environmental effects of the proposed 
action.
     Identify and explore alternatives to the proposed action.
    Comments received will be considered in preparation of the draft 
environmental impact statement. A range of alternatives will be 
considered after public comments are received and analyzed. One of 
those considered will be a ``No Action'' alternative for the site-
specific projects proposed.
    Early Notice of Importance of Public Participation in Subsequent 
Environmental Review: A draft environmental impact statement will be 
prepared for comment. The comment period on the draft environmental 
impact statement will be 90 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 90-day comment period so that 
substantive comm