Forest restoration project calls for 1290 miles of motorized trails around the Mogollon Rim to close
In addition to recent Travel Management Plans, The Forest Service has introduced a Forest Restoration Project in four Arizona National Forests. The project aims at restoring riparian areas and CLOSING ACCESS in the Coconino, Tonto, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Kaibab National Forests. The plan is to be implemented across 953,100 acres of public land over a period of 20 years.
The following information is provided DIRECTLY from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
What’s the plan all about?
You shouldn’t take my word for it. Use the sources I have provided and follow the links at the bottom of this page.
Four National Forests are working on a collaborative plan called the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). The Rim Country Restoration Project is part of the 4FRI. These road closures are in addition to the recent Travel Management Plans across all 3 National Forests in the project area. It’s important to note that 4 Arizona National Forests are included in 4FRI but only 3 are affected by this project.
The area affected by the proposal includes approximately 540,020 acres on the Black Mesa and Lakeside Ranger Districts of the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, 398,880 acres on the Mogollon Rim and Red Rock Ranger Districts of the Coconino National Forest, and 299,710 acres on the Payson and Pleasant Valley Ranger Districts of the Tonto National Forest.
Approximately 150 miles of existing non-system roads would be reconstructed or improved as part of
project implementation. Road decommissioning would occur on approximately 200 miles of existing system roads on the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and approximately 290 miles of roads on the Tonto National Forest. Up to 800 miles of unauthorized roads on all three forests could be decommissioned under this alternative.
Improve approximately 150 miles of existing non-system roads and construct approximately 350 miles of temporary roads for haul access; decommission when treatments are completed.
Relocate and reconstruct existing open roads adversely affecting water quality and natural resources, or of concern to human safety.
Mechanically thin trees and/or implement prescribed fire on approximately 952,330 acres. o
Mechanically thin trees and implement prescribed fire on approximately 1,260 acres in the Long Valley Experimental Forest (in coordination with the Rocky Mountain Research Station).
Implement prescribed fire alone on approximately 45,290 acres.
Mechanically thin and/or implement prescribed fire on approximately 68,360 acres of Mexican spotted owl (MSO) protected activity centers (PACs), approximately 128,800 acres of MSO recovery habitat, and approximately 500,940 acres of northern goshawk habitat.
Mechanically thin trees and/or implement prescribed fire to restore approximately 40,760 acres of grasslands and meadows (includes 21,550 acres of grassland cover type).
Conduct facilitative operations (thin and/or burn) on up to 157,270 acres of non-target cover types to support treatments in target cover types.
Planting, burning, and other activities to encourage reforestation on approximately 69,360 acres of understocked areas that were previously forested.
Restore hydrologic function and vegetation on approximately 9,570 acres of meadows.
Restore function in up to 470 miles of riparian streams and intermittent and ephemeral stream channels (non-riparian).
Restore up to 360 miles of stream habitat for threatened, endangered, and sensitive aquatic species.
Construct up to 200 miles of protective barriers around springs, aspen, Bebb’s willows, and bigtooth maples, as needed for restoration.
Project area and proposed changes under Alternative 2.
The plan focuses on a few major subjects.
The following information is provided DIRECTLY from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Dispersed Recreation and Motor Vehicle Use
Dispersed recreation and motor vehicle use display the same effects from Alternatives 2 and 3, while. Alternatives 2 and 3 might result in some reduction of recreation opportunities during active forest thinning and prescribed burning, and potentially longer slash treatment duration. Areas may be closed to the public due to hazardous conditions, which would result in forest user displacement and user dissatisfaction. There could also be an increase in crowding in nearby open forest areas.
Alternatives 2 and 3 propose to decommission 200 miles of existing system and unauthorized roads on the Coconino and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests and 290 miles on the Tonto National Forest. In addition, up to 800 miles of unauthorized roads on all three forests could be decommissioned under these alternatives. The Rim Country Project would adhere to the travel management decisions for the Coconino, Tonto, and Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests. Design features would address any issues related to the construction of temporary roads for haul access, insuring decommissioning of all temporary roads after treatments are completed. Hence, both alternatives would reduce access or ease of access to recreate in certain areas in the forests. However, decommissioning unauthorized roads could positively affect recreation resources by protecting resources and removing access to motorized recreation where unlawful.
Alternatives 2 and 3 would have similar effects but would vary proportionally with treatment area size. Minor effects would be mitigated through design features.
This section includes key effects and conclusions for terrestrial and plant threatened, endangered, and proposed species and critical habitat listed under the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended, Forest Service Southwestern Region Sensitive Species, forest management indicator species, and migratory birds. The Terrestrial Wildlife Report (Schofer et al. 2018) and Botany and Weeds Report (Crisp 2018) are incorporated by reference. Aquatic species were analyzed separately in the Aquatics Report (Coleman 2018). See the specialist reports (project record) for detailed information on methodology, analysis assumptions, best available science and data, habitats, populations, and effects that are not repeated in this section.
The following section described the affected environment and effects of alternatives relating to threatened, endangered, and Forest Service sensitive species that may occur or have habitat in the project area. The analysis presented is summarized from the following report which is incorporated by reference: Aquatic Specialist Report for Rim Country, by Stephanie Coleman, 2019. The indicator for riparian/wetland vegetation was used as a surrogate for the riparian conditions. A more comprehensive analysis of Watershed Condition Framework scores for the Rim Country Project Area as they relate to aquatic species and habitats can be found in the Aquatic Specialist Report (Coleman 2019)
This section details the affected environment and environmental consequences for the threatened, endangered and Southwestern Region Regional Forester’s sensitive plants (hereafter Southwestern Region sensitive plants), within the project area. It establishes the baseline against which the decision-maker and the public can compare the effects of the action alternatives. This section also describes the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of implementing each alternative on threatened, endangered and Southwestern Region sensitive plants. It presents the scientific and analytical basis for the comparison of the alternatives presented in the Alternatives section. The information presented here is part of the Botany and Noxious Weeds specialist report (Crisp 2018), which is incorporated by reference.
Noxious and Invasive Weeds
The noxious and invasive weed analysis is part of the Botany and Weeds Report (Crisp 2018), which is incorporated by reference.
A summary of the Recreation Report is presented here and the specialist report (Wright 2018) is incorporated by reference. The potential effects of the 4FRI Rim Country Project on recreational opportunities was not raised as a concern by the public. A summary of the Recreation Report is presented here and the specialist report (Wright 2018) is incorporated by reference. The potential effects of the 4FRI Rim Country Project on recreational opportunities was not raised as a concern by the public.
A summary of the scenery report is presented here. The specialist report (Fargo 2019) is incorporated by reference. This analysis for the Rim Country Project is consistent with scenery-related Apache-Sitgreaves, Coconino, and Tonto Forest Plan direction, USFS policies, and applicable elements of Forest Service Scenery Management Systems.
Unavoidable Adverse Effects
Though both action alternatives (Alternatives 2 and 3) were designed to move resources toward desired conditions, implementation of either one would result in some unavoidable, short-term, adverse effects. At the same time, implementation of Alternative 1, the no-action alternative, would also result in some unavoidable, short-term, adverse effects from forest management activities that are part of other projects and from wildfires that may occur within or near the Rim Country project area.
Adverse effects from implementation of either of the action alternatives would be limited in extent and duration by ensuring that management activities are consistent with standards and guidelines from the forest plans and proposed amendments. Project design features, found in Appendix C, along with mitigations and protocols in Appendix J of the Programmatic Agreement between the Southwestern Region of the Forest Service, the Arizona, New Mexico, Texas and Oklahoma State Historic Preservation Offices and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, would apply to both action alternatives and would provide additional means and mitigations to avoid or minimize adverse effects while still meeting the purpose and need of the project.
COMPARISON OF ALTERNATIVES
The DEIS shows the current impact on the project area compared to the proposed changes. The Forest Service is giving three alternatives.
The Rim Country Draft Environmental Impact Statement documents the analysis of three alternatives, including the no-action (Alternative 1), the Modified Proposed Action (Alternative 2), which is the preferred alternative, and one additional alternative (Alternative 3). Alternatives 2 (as modified) and 3 respond to issues brought up by the public during the scoping period. The alternatives are described below.
Alternative 1: No Action
Alternative 1 is the no-action alternative as required by 40 CFR 1502.14(c).3 It represents no changes to current management, and current forest plans would continue to be implemented. Ongoing vegetation treatments and fire management activities, as well as road maintenance, recreation, firewood gathering, authorized livestock grazing, and other activities already authorized in separate NEPA decisions would continue. There would be no other restoration activities approved with the Rim Country Project. The potential direct, indirect, and cumulative effects from no action will be analyzed. The no-action alternative is the baseline for assessing the action alternatives (Alternatives 2 and 3).
Alternative 2: Modified Proposed Action
Alternative 2, the preferred alternative, is the Proposed Action as presented for scoping, with additional detail, clarifications, corrections, and modifications in response to public comments received. Changes made to the Proposed Action in response to public comment include: Modifications to acreages and mileage of treatments based on additional modeling. Additional clarity, details, and definitions of key terms used. Elimination of even-aged shelterwood silvicultural prescriptions to address dwarf mistletoe infections, replaced with regular restoration treatments.
In addition, the proposal to mechanically thin trees and implement prescribed fire on approximately 1,260 acres in the Long Valley Experimental Forest was dropped from this alternative, as well as from the Rim Country Project. In discussions with researchers with the Rocky Mountain Research Station, it was decided that experimental treatments for the experimental forest would be analyzed in a separate NEPA analysis.
This alternative, as modified, responds to the Dwarf Mistletoe Mitigation issue through the use of intermediate thinning (IT) treatments and/or the application of prescribed fire to address moderate and high levels of mistletoe infection. The presence of dwarf mistletoe will not be used to prioritize areas for treatment, but it will be addressed where it exists. Considerations for implementing IT treatments and prescribed fire will be included in the implementation plan as they continue to be developed with the 4FRI Stakeholder Group. Other restoration activities in Alternative 2 include vegetation treatments (mechanical thinning and burning) using the Flexible Toolbox Approach for Mechanical Treatments (see appendix D of the DEIS), as well as comprehensive restoration treatments for meadows, springs, streams, and riparian habitat using the Flexible Toolbox Approach for Aquatic and Watershed Restoration Activities (see appendix D of the DEIS). Alternative 2 also includes treatments to restore habitat for wildlife and rare species.
Alternative 3: Focused Restoration
This alternative is designed to focus restoration treatments in areas that are the most highly departed from the natural range of variation (NRV) of ecological conditions, and/or that put communities at risk from undesirable fire behavior and effects. High-value assets will be better protected and burn boundaries will be designed to create conditions safe for personnel and to ensure fire can meet objectives. Treatment areas would be chosen to optimize ecological restoration, those areas that are most important to treat and can be moved the furthest toward desired conditions. Focusing on the higher priority ecological restoration will result in fewer acres being treated.
The intermediate thinning (IT) treatments and/or the application of prescribed fire proposed in Alternative 3 will be used to address moderate and high levels of mistletoe infection, similar to Alternative 2, but to a lesser extent on the fewer acres proposed for mechanical treatment and fire. The presence of dwarf mistletoe will not be used to prioritize areas for treatment, but it will be addressed where it exists, using the same types of treatments as Alternative 2. Considerations for implementing IT treatments and prescribed fire will be included in the implementation plan as they continue to be developed with the 4FRI Stakeholder Group.
Alternative 3 responds to the Smoke/Air Quality, Economics, Roads, and Dwarf Mistletoe Mitigation issues. The restoration activities listed for Alternative 3 include vegetation treatments (mechanical thinning and burning) (Figure 8), using the Flexible Toolbox Approach for Mechanical Treatments (see appendix D); as well as the same comprehensive restoration treatments as proposed in Alternative 2 for grassland and meadows, springs, streams, riparian habitat, using the Flexible Toolbox Approach for Aquatic and Watershed Restoration Activities (see appendix D), wildlife habitat, and rare species restoration.
PUBLIC COMMENTING IS OPEN!
HURRY! TIME IS RUNNING SHORT DEADLINE: Jan 16, 2020
SUBMIT A COMMENT
Before submitting a comment you MUST read the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) and learn about the changes.
Before submitting a comment you MUST read the SPECIALIST REPORT that concerns you the most.
All documents are listed below.
If you are concerned about the trail closures, read the Transportation Special ReportHERE.
Kevin is an American outdoorsman born and raised in rural Arizona who grew up exploring the Arizona backcountry with his father. Today, he and his son travel to the most remote regions of Arizona, scavenging for the remains of early western pioneers. As a lifelong outdoorsman, Kevin has learned to stick close to his roots while engaging in important advocacy work regarding motorized access to public lands. You can find his work in many local and nationwide publications, including The Western Journal, 4Low Magazine, and his website AZBackroads.com.
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