Finding of No Significant Impact : Forsythe II Project

[Editor’s note: This is a portion of the entire release. The entire release can be found at http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/arp/landmanagement/projects/?cid=STELPRD3846763.]

 

Monte Williams, Boulder Ranger District.  The Forsythe II project area is located on the Boulder Ranger District of the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland (ARP) in Boulder and Gilpin Counties, Colorado. The entire project area encompasses 18,954 acres; 9,930 of those acres are National Forest System (NFS) lands, 2,187 acres are Boulder County Parks and Open Space lands, and 6,837 acres are private lands.

 
Elevation ranges from 6,082 to 8,945 feet. The project is generally located east of Nederland, CO and west of Gross Reservoir. The project legal descriptions include the following: T1N R72W Sec. 35, 36; T1N R71W Sec. 31, 32; T1S R73W Sec. 13, 24, 25; T1S R72W Sec. 1-3, 8-30, 33-36; T1S R71W Sec. 4-7, 18, 19, 29, 30; T2S R72W Sec. 3, 4.

 

BACKGROUND

 
On August 3, 2012 the Forsythe Fuels Reduction Project Decision Notice was signed authorizing vegetation treatments on approximately 5,005 acres (Forsythe Fuels Reduction Project Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact, p. 3). The purpose and need for the 2012 Forsythe project was to reduce hazardous fuels on National Forest lands that may contribute to the increased spread and intensity of wildfires and to manage increasing populations of mountain pine beetle (MPB). The vegetation treatment mapping was completed using the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) corporate Geographic Information System (GIS) vegetation database. Through the analysis, the 2012 Forsythe Fuels Reduction Project Decision Notice identified: 1,706 acres of lodgepole pine treatment, 306 acres of salvage/sanitation in the lodgepole pine cover type, 1,533 acres of ponderosa pine treatment, 209 acres of aspen restoration, 283 acres of meadow enhancement, and 968 acres of prescribed broadcast burning.

 
During implementation of the Forsythe Fuels Reduction Project, neighborhood residents expressed several concerns with the vegetation management activities, primarily based on the discrepancies between the existing and mapped vegetation. A Supplemental Information Report (SIR) was prepared in October 2014, to review the new information brought forward. The SIR focused on cover type discrepancy, treatment description as described in the Forsythe Fuels Reduction Environmental Assessment (EA) versus task order cutting prescriptions, and consistency of project implementation with design criteria (Forsythe Fuels Reduction Project SIR, 2014). The SIR documented that the information presented did not constitute significant new information or changed circumstances that would change the analysis of effects in the project area. However, District Ranger Sylvia Clark recommended that project implementation be halted so that additional public involvement and supplemental analysis could be conducted to utilize the more precise cover type information and location of specific treatment prescriptions to better display impacts and determine if modifications of treatments were warranted.

 
The Forsythe II Project was initiated under the authorities allowed in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (HFRA). To comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Forsythe II Project EA was prepared. The EA tiers to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared for the 1997 Revision of the Land and Resource Management Plan for the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland (Forest Plan). Documents in the project record, including detailed information from resource specialists, are available upon request from the Boulder Ranger District, Boulder, Colorado.

 

The objectives of the project are to:

 

• Reduce the severity and intensity of a wildfire within the wildland urban interface (WUI).
• Restore ponderosa pine/mixed conifer stands, aspen, and meadows/shrublands toward their characteristic species composition, structure, and spatial patterns in order to increase resistance and resiliency to future natural disturbance.
• Emulate natural disturbance in lodgepole pine dominated stands to mimic variable structural and spatial patterns across the landscape in order to increase resistance and resiliency to future natural disturbance.
• Provide private property landowners the opportunity to complete defensible space mitigation around their homes on adjacent NFS lands.

 

This project is needed to restore meadows/shrublands, ponderosa pine/mixed conifer and aspen stands and create variable structure and spatial patterns in lodgepole pine because of the high potential for catastrophic wildfires to occur in the area. The project area provides a critical community resource to Denver, as Gross Reservoir is one of their municipal water sources. There are hundreds of homes as well as infrastructure at risk within, adjacent to and near the project area. The increasing population and associated development in the area will increase this risk in the future. Tree thinning, broadcast burning, and patchcutting/clearcutting can significantly reduce the hazard of intense fires and increase the resistance and resiliency to future natural disturbances. The need to reduce forest fuels has been clearly demonstrated by the recent large-scale, high intensity fires occurring across the western United States and on the Front Range of Colorado.

 
The Black Tiger fire (1989), Overland fire (2003), Four Mile Canyon fire (2010), and most recently Cold Springs fire (2016), combined, burned almost 12,000 acres of land and destroyed 232 houses. The Cold Springs fire progressed into the project area under strong winds and had potential to continue burning had fire crews not been able to suppress it.

 

Increased fire activity can be attributed to at least four factors:

 

increasingly hot and dry summers, stronger winds, insect infestations, and human population growth in forested areas.

 

DECISION

 

After reviewing the environmental impacts disclosed in the EA, the comments received from the public and the Forest Plan, I intend to combine components of the four action alternatives as my draft decision. Under this decision, management activities will occur on 2,8551 acres of NFS lands within the Forsythe II project area to meet the objectives for this project. I also intend to allow the ingress/egress routes to be constructed, including all activities required for construction, after a special use permit is obtained. All treatment activities will follow the design criteria (see Appendix C) developed for the project to minimize the potential impacts. These acres are of the treatment and differ from the unit acres.

 
It is expected that implementation of the management activities could take 10-15 years to complete. The implementation of the treatments will be completed by contractors and/or by USFS employees. The treatments could be done by either mechanized equipment (mechanically) or hand crews with chainsaws (manually). Mechanized equipment operations are limited by the percent slope and amount of rock within a unit. Treatment units that are over 30% slope will be treated manually. However, there may be short distances within a unit where a machine could be working on slopes up to 40%. In some instances, a unit may be designated as a mechanical unit but there may be areas within the unit that are too steep or rocky for a machine to work. In those circumstances, these areas will be treated manually or left untreated.

 

DECISION RATIONALE

 

I have carefully considered all the alternatives and the potential impacts presented in the EA and comments received from both USFS resource specialists and the public to help make my decision. The four action alternatives developed for the project took into account concerns brought forward by USFS resource specialists as well as those through the public involvement process. These four action alternatives, the No Action Alternative, and the four alternatives considered, but not analyzed in detail, fulfill consideration of a reasonable range of alternatives.

 
There were nine key issues and seven other issues raised during the comment period that were considered during the analysis. Specific information on each issue can be found in Chapter 1, Section 1.7 of the EA.

 
The action alternatives and design criteria were developed to address these issues. My decision responds to the purpose and need for this project described in Chapter 1, Section 1.3 of the EA; addresses the issues identified by USFS resource specialists and the comments received from the public during the scoping and comment periods; and meets the requirements of the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). I have made this decision based on the rationale described below.

 
I considered whether the proposed activities would comply with the general direction outlined in the Forest Plan as well as the goals, standards, and guidelines. I also considered the direction outlined in the four geographic areas (Caribou, Lump Gulch, Thorodin, and Sugarloaf) this project falls within. After reviewing Chapter 3 of the EA, I found that the current effective habitat in all four geographic areas is estimated to be lower than Forest Plan percentages due to changes in the project area since 1997. Based on data used for the Forest Plan, mapped effective habitat occurred in the project area as of the 1997 Forest Plan. The Forest Plan developed in the mid-1990s, listed the percentages of effective habitat by geographic area (Forest Plan FEIS Appendix B (pg. 15-16). The geographic areas, which partially occur in the Forsythe II project area, were between 41% – 59% (Table 27 of EA). Changes in effective habitat on NFS lands are due to increased private home development (construction of roads accessing private lands); increased recreation use (development of unauthorized social trails); and changed vegetation conditions (including hazardous fuels, vegetation treatments, natural and human caused fires, etc.). Fuels treatments, particularly patchcuts and clearcuts, can reduce effective habitat when they are located near roads or trails.

 
Because the effective habitat is currently estimated to be lower than what the Forest Plan states and proposed activities will likely further decrease effective habitat, two non-significant site specific amendments will be needed. These amendments will remove the applicability of Forest Plan Goal 95 and Forest Plan Standard 2 under Management Area 3.5 for effective habitat. The ARP is not currently undertaking a formal Forest Plan revision process. Because the completion of the Forest Plan revision process is not imminent and the last Forest Plan revision was approximately 19 years ago, these non-significant Forest Plan Amendments are being proposed at an appropriate time. In addition, guidance states that in most cases, the later the change, the less likely it is to be significant to the current forest plan. This change will take place during this planning period. Forest Plan Goal 95 affects the 9,930 acres of NFS lands within the Forsythe II project area Forest Plan Standard 2 under Management Area 3.5 affects 8,634 acres of NFS lands within the project area. These site-specific amendments will not affect the long-term relationship between levels of goods and services projected by the Forest Plan.

 
The No Action Alternative would not meet the purpose and need for the project, therefore, I am not selecting this alternative. Although all four action alternatives meet the purpose and need of the project individually, my decision to combine components from all four action alternatives addresses wildlife, soils, and hydrology concerns. I feel my intended decision will best meet the objectives of the project by reducing the severity and intensity of a wildfire within the wildland urban interface and increasing the resistance and resiliency to future disturbances while attending to the concerns brought forward by the public. In my review of the EA, I feel there has been sufficient site specific environmental analysis completed on the alternatives which has culminated with my decision.

 

FINDING OF NO SIGNIFICANT IMPACT (FONSI)

 

After considering the environmental effects described in the EA, review of public input, and the use of project design criteria, I have determined that the actions of my intended decision will not have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment considering the context and intensity of impacts (40 CFR 1508.13 and 40 CFR 1508.27).

 

Therefore, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will not be prepared. I base my finding on the following, organized by sub-section of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) definition of significance cited above.

 

Objections may be mailed, hand delivered, faxed, or emailed.

 

Mailing Address:
USDA Forest Service
Region 2 Rocky Mountain Region
Attn: Strategic Planning – Objection Reviewing Officer
740 Simms Street Golden, CO 80401-4720

 
Hand delivered:
740 Simms Street Golden, CO 80401-4720
Mon – Fri 8:00 A.M. – 4:30 P.M., excluding holidays

 
Fax:
(303) 275-5134

 
Email:
r02admin_review@fs.fed.us

 

Acceptable formats for electronic objections are: .rtf, .pdf, .doc, or .docx. For electronically submitted objections, the sender should normally receive an automated electronic acknowledgment from the agency as confirmation of receipt. If the sender does not receive an automated acknowledgment of the receipt of the objection, it is the sender’s responsibility to ensure timely receipt by other acceptable means.

 

IMPLEMENTATION

 

If no objection is received, implementation of this decision may occur on, but not before, five business days from the close of the objection filing period. If an objection is received, the decision may not be signed until after five business days following the issuance of the Reviewing Officer’s response to the objection.

 

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION

 

For further information concerning this draft decision, contact Cambria Armstrong, Interdisciplinary Team Leader, 2150 Centre Avenue, Building E, Fort Collins, CO 80526, (970) 295-6768, or cnarmstrong@fs.fed.us.

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