[Federal Register: March 9, 2009 (Volume 74, Number 44)]
[Notices]               
[Page 9981-9983]
From the Federal Register Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:fr09mr09-27]                         

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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service

 
Umatilla National Forest, Pomeroy Ranger District, Pomeroy, WA; 
South George Vegetation and Fuels Management Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

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

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SUMMARY: The USDA Forest Service will prepare an environmental impact 
statement (EIS) to disclose environmental effects on proposed resource 
management actions in South George project planning area. This project 
would improve the health and vigor of upland forest stands by managing 
vegetation composition, structure, stand density, and diversity, and 
decrease the susceptibility to future wildland fires of 
uncharacteristic intensity by reducing ladder, surface, and canopy 
fuels. The project planning area is approximately 21,000 acres in size. 
Proposed project activities consist of commercial timber harvest, 
including treatment of activity and natural fuels within harvest units, 
non commercial thinning for fuels reduction purposes, temporary road 
construction (that will be decommissioned after project use), danger 
tree removal along haul routes, and landscape prescribed burning.

DATES: Comments concerning the scope of the analysis must be received 
by April 8, 2009. The draft environmental impact statement is expected 
September

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2009 and the final environmental impact statement is expected December 
2009.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Monte Fujishin, District Ranger, 
Pomeroy Ranger District, 71 West Main Street, Pomeroy, WA 99347. 
Comments may also be sent via e-mail to comments-pacificnorthwest-
umatilla-pomeroy@fs.fed.us or via facsimile to (509) 843-4621. Comments 
may be hand delivered to the Pomeroy Ranger District office between the 
hours of 7:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, excluding 
Federal holidays.
    It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times 
and in such a manner that they are useful to the agency's preparation 
of the environmental impact statement. Therefore, comments should be 
provided prior to the close of the comment period and should clearly 
articulate the reviewer's concerns and comments. The submission of 
timely and specific comments can affect a reviewer's ability to 
participate in subsequent administrative appeal or judicial review.
    Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names 
and addresses of those who comment, will be part of the public record 
for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be 
accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide 
the respondent with standing to participate in subsequent 
administrative appeal or judicial review.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Ed Koberstein, Project Team Leader, 
Pomeroy Ranger District, telephone (509) 843-1891 or e-mail 
ekoberstein@fs.fed.us. Individuals who use telecommunication devices 
for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal Information Relay Service 
(FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, 
Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: South George project planning area is 
primarily located in Asotin County, Washington with a small portion in 
Garfield County, Washington. The legal description of the area is as 
follows: portions of T.7N., R.44E., section 1; T.7N., R.43E., sections 
1-2; T.8N., R.43E., sections 1, 2, 10-15, 21-28, 33-36; T.8N., R.44E., 
sections 5-8, 17-20, 26-36; and T. 9N., R.43E., section 35. It is 
within South Fork Asotin Creek and Upper George Creek Subwatersheds of 
Asotin Watershed. Asotin Creek and Wenatchee Creek inventoried roadless 
areas (IRAs) are adjacent on the west and south sides of the project 
planning area. Existing forest roads (4400, 4300, and 4304) separate 
the IRAs from the project planning area boundary. Anatone Wildland 
Urban Interface (WUI) area is near the eastern boundary of the project 
planning area and is identified in the Asotin County Community Wildfire 
Protection Plan (CWPP). Approximately 550 acres within the project 
planning area is owned by Washington State Department of Fish and 
Wildlife.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The purpose and need for action in this project is to improve 
health, vigor, and resilience to fire, insects, and disease in upland 
forests that are outside their historical 3 pre-fire suppression 
conditions for species composition, structural diversity, stocking 
densities, and fuel loads. Additionally there is a need to provide 
sawlogs and wood fiber products for utilization by regional and local 
industry.
    Findings from historical range of variability analysis show that 
dry upland forest sites once dominated by old forest stands of 
ponderosa pine have closed in with shade tolerant species such as 
Douglas-fir and grand fir. Species composition on dry-forest sites 
indicates that Douglas-fir and grand fir are over-represented, and 
ponderosa pine is under-represented. For moist forest sites, species 
composition analysis shows that Douglas-fir, western larch, and 
lodgepole pine are under-represented and below their historical range, 
while grand fir and spruce-fir are over-represented. Findings also show 
that existing insect and disease susceptibility based upon historical 
range of variability is well above normal levels for defoliators 
(western spruce budworm and Douglas-fir tussock moth), fir engraver 
beetles, and root diseases (Armillaria and laminated root disease). The 
following statements summarize the purpose of and need for action in 
South George project planning area:
    Vegetation--There is a need to manage vegetation composition, 
structure, stand density, and diversity of landscape patterns toward 
desired future conditions across the landscape by favoring fire 
tolerant species, increasing old forest structure, and reducing 
stocking density to levels that resist insects, diseases, and stand-
replacing wildfire(s).
    Fuels--There is a need to improve suppression capability near 
private lands, and treat forest stands that deviate from natural fire 
regimes in terms of fire return interval and vegetative change from 
historical composition and density, specifically in condition class 2 
(moderately altered from historical range) and condition class 3 
(significantly altered from historical range). This would decrease the 
potential risk to wildfires of uncharacteristic intensity by reducing 
fuel loads to levels expected under natural fire disturbance regimes. 
This would be achieved by lowering stand densities, increasing the 
relative abundance of fire tolerant species, reducing existing ladder, 
surface, and canopy fuels, and reintroducing landscape prescribed fire 
into the ecosystem.
    Timber Production--There is a need to provide sawlogs and wood 
fiber for utilization by regional and local economies.
    Proposed Action--Following are brief descriptions of activities 
proposed for implementation, along with associated activities that 
would occur concurrently.
    Timber Harvest--Commercially harvest approximately 4,200 acres. 
Free thinning (an unevenaged prescription utilized when remaining 
structure and composition is paramount and suited for restoring old-
growth character of forests as well as reducing risk of wildfire) would 
be the primary silviculture prescription (approximately 3,300 acres). 
Some shelterwood and seed-tree prescriptions (approximately 900 acres) 
would be used in declining stands where thinning would not restore 
stand health or vigor. Treatments would tend to favor early seral tree 
species such as ponderosa pine and western larch. Harvest methods would 
include conventional ground based tractor logging (approximately 3,000 
acres), skyline logging (approximately 900 acres) and helicopter 
logging (approximately 300 acres). Some treatment units may include the 
removal of sawlogs, small diameter trees (generally less than 7.0 
inches diameter at breast height), and excess down wood for use as 
woody biomass products. Harvest objectives would vary by stand 
condition and fuel management objectives. The focus of treatment would 
be based on the desired quality of each treatment area after management 
rather than the quantity of products removed from each area.
    Fuel Treatments (activity and natural)--Treat to convert stands in 
condition classes 2 and 3 to condition class 1 (within historical 
range). Treatments would be designed to reduce ladder fuels to lower 
the risk of fire spread into the upper canopy, and reduce ground fuel 
that could contribute to uncharacteristic wildfire intensity and 
resource damage. Treatments would

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also reduce fuel continuity in areas adjacent to private lands. 
Treatment objectives would be achieved though a combination of the 
following activities (more than one treatment may occur on a single 
acre): mechanical thinning (approximately 1,300 acres), prescribed 
burning of activity fuels (approximately 2,100 acres), grapple piling 
of activity fuels (approximately 1,000 acres) and yarding with tops 
attached. Non-commercial thinning by hand or mechanical methods would 
remove trees that are less than 10 inches diameter at breast height in 
stands with excess ladder fuels (approximately 200 acres).
    Road Management--To accomplish implementation of proposed 
activities approximately 32 miles of closed system roads and 45 miles 
of seasonally open roads would be used as haul routes. All system roads 
would remain the same after project implementation, closed roads would 
continue to be closed and seasonally open roads would continue with 
that designation. Approximately 3.0 miles of temporary road would be 
constructed, of which 1.4 miles would be constructed over previous road 
templates. All temporary roads would be decommissioned after project 
activity use. No new road construction is proposed.
    Danger Tree Removal--Danger trees would be felled and removed along 
all previously described haul routes used for timber sale activity. If 
considered economically feasible, they would be sold as part of a 
timber sale. Danger trees within Riparian Habitat Conservation Areas 
(RHCAs) would not be removed; they would be cut and left to provide 
additional coarse woody debris.
    Landscape Prescribed Fire--Landscape prescribed fire would occur 
across approximately 3,000 acres within the project planning area. This 
treatment would reintroduce fire to a fire-dependent ecosystem to 
lessen the effects of a future uncharacteristic large wildfire and 
improve forage quality for big game. In the project planning area, fire 
intensities would be kept low by keeping fire out of the overstory and 
burning mainly surface fuels. Individual tree and group torching would 
likely occur in areas where there is sufficient ladder fuels and in 
timber stands with high occurrences of mistletoe. Upon completion the 
area would likely be a mosaic of unburned, lightly burned, moderately 
burned, and intensely burned patches.

Responsible Official

    Monte Fujishin, District Ranger, Pomeroy Ranger District, Umatilla 
National Forest, 71 West Main Street, Pomeroy, Washington 99347.

Nature of Decision To Be Made

    The decision to be made is whether to approve the proposed action 
or any alternative way to achieve the desired outcome. No Forest Plan 
amendment is proposed.

Scoping Process

    This notice of intent initiates the scoping process, which guides 
the development of the environmental impact statement. Comments and 
input regarding this proposed action are being requested from the 
public and other interested parties in conjunction with this notice of 
intent. The comment period will be open for thirty days, beginning on 
the date of publication of this notice of intent. Response to the draft 
environmental impact statement will be sought from interested tribes 
and public beginning approximately in September 2009.
    It is important that reviewers provide their comments at such times 
and in such a manner that they are useful to the agency's preparation 
of the environmental impact statement. Therefore, comments should be 
provided prior to the close of the comment period and should clearly 
articulate the reviewer's concerns and comments. The submission of 
timely and specific comments can affect a reviewer's ability to 
participate in subsequent administrative appeal or judicial review.

    Dated: March 2, 2009.
Monte Fujishin,
District Ranger.
[FR Doc. E9-4764 Filed 3-6-09; 8:45 am]

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