Subject: Coconino Forest Plan Revision - May 2016 Update

 

 

 

May 2016 Plan Revision Update

As noted in the Spring 2016 Plan Revision Update we distributed last month, we received over 1,100 individual comments on the proposed revised plan and the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) during the 90-day comment period.  Since the close of the 90-day comment period, we have been reviewing those comments and making adjustments to plan components used in alternatives B, C, and D.  Now that we have completed that process, we would like to share that work with you and give you an idea of what we have been working on over the last two years.  We are using these adjusted alternatives as we are preparing the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS).  To review these adjustments and find other information on the forest plan revision effort, please visit our website: http://go.usa.gov/gnzY.

Adjustments to Alternative B

In response to comments received during the 90-day comment period on the DEIS and proposed revised plan (Alternative B), a number of adjustments have been made to the structure and language in the proposed revised plan.  These adjustments were designed to address specific comments, to remove or integrate duplicative plan language, to clarify or elaborate on plan language, and to add new plan language.  As part of the adjustment process, the proposed revised plan was reviewed from cover to cover and reorganized to make it easier to use.  Alternative C and D share the structure of the proposed revised plan and many of its components.  The adjustments described in this section also apply to the shared structure and plan components in alternatives C and D.  Examples of the adjustments that have been made to the proposed revised plan include:

Clarifying the descriptions for Plan Decisions (desired conditions, objectives, standards, guidelines, suitability, and monitoring) in Chapter 1;

Applying a consistent format to the General Description and Background subsections;

Consolidating broad ecosystem-wide plan direction from a variety of resource sections into a new section called All Ecosystems;

Adding a description of and plan direction for karst to the Biophysical Features section;

Reorganizing the plan direction in the Water Quality, Water Quantity, and Aquatic Systems section into new sections called Watersheds and Water, Constructed Waters, and Riparian Areas;

Reorganizing the plan direction in the Vegetation section by renaming the section Terrestrial Ecological Response Units (ERUs) and moving the plan direction on Riparian Types into the new section called Riparian Areas;

Updating desired conditions on Potential Natural Vegetation Types (PNVTs) in the renamed Terrestrial ERUs section to align with most current information and renaming PNVTs as ERUs;

Consolidating the plan direction on wildland urban interfaces into a new section called Wildland Urban Interface;

Renaming the Energy and Minerals section to Mineral Resources to more accurately identify the contents of the section;

Reorganizing the Recreation section into new subcategories on All Recreation, Developed Recreation, Dispersed Recreation, and Trails and Trailheads;

Consolidating the plan direction on interpretation and education into a new section called Interpretation and Education;

Relocating the direction on specific areas from the forest wide direction sections to the appropriate Management Area direction;

Expanding the General Description and Background subsections for Management Areas to include more detailed information on the resources present in the Management Areas;

Renaming the Fort Valley/Mount Elden Management Area as the Mount Elden Management Area;

Renaming the Upper Clear Creek Management Area as the East Clear Creek Management Area;

Reorganizing the overarching Sedona/Oak Creek Management Area direction into the Red Rock, Oak Creek Canyon, Sedona Neighborwoods, and House Mountain management areas, all of which contain the relevant language from the overarching Sedona/Oak Management Area and allow them to be stand alone management areas;

Renaming the Sedona/Oak Creek Management Area as the Red Rock Management Area;

Reorganizing the plan direction on watersheds important for municipal water supplies into the C.C. Cragin Watersheds, Inner Basin, and Lake Mary Watersheds management areas;

Expanding plan direction for the Verde Valley Management Area by stepping down forest wide direction from the Watershed, Recreation, and Riparian sections for specific application to the management area;

Reorganizing the plan direction on Designated Wilderness Areas;

Updating the Recommended Wilderness section to reflect the removal of the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area and the inclusion of the Abineau potential wilderness area;

Reorganizing the plan direction on Wild and Scenic Rivers;

Reorganizing the National Trails and Scenic Byways section into separate sections called National Trails and Scenic Roads;

Adding information on state scenic roads to the Scenic Roads section;

Relocating the plan direction on quiet areas and seasonal closures from the forest-wide direction on Recreation into the specific management areas where the quiet areas and seasonal closures are located;

Updating the Research Natural Areas and Botanical and Geological Areas section to reflect the designation of both the Cottonwood Basin Geological and Botanical Area;

Adding a new section that addresses Inventoried Roadless Areas;

Updating the discussion on grazing suitability in Chapter 4; and

Updating the Recreation and Transportation Suitability table in Chapter 4 to reflect that mechanized travel would be not be suitable within botanical and geological areas, except on designated trails.

As noted above, several adjustments were made to the proposed revised plan to incorporate elements of alternatives C and D.  Comments on the rationale for recommending the Strawberry Crater Addition, Walker Mountain, and Davey’s potential wilderness areas as part of this alternative prompted a review of the potential wilderness evaluation process.  After a thorough review of the available information, it was determined that the Walker Mountain potential wilderness area would not be carried forward in proposed revised plan and the Abineau potential wilderness area, which is included in Alternative C, would be added to the proposed revised plan.  Both the Walker Mountain and Abineau potential wilderness areas remain part of Alternative C.

The proposed revised plan was also modified to incorporate another element from Alternative C.  In addition to proposing the Cottonwood Basin Geologic Area, the proposed revised plan now also includes the proposal for the adjacent Cottonwood Basin Botanical Area.  To facilitate implementation and management of these new areas, the boundaries for both the geological and the botanical areas have been adjusted to coincide with range pasture boundaries in the area.  This adjustment reduced the proposed geological area from 217 acres to 185 acres and the proposed botanical area from 1,635 acres to 578 acres.

One of the recreation suitability determinations from Alternative D has been incorporated into the proposed revised plan, too.  Under the proposed revised plan, mechanized travel would be allowed on designated system trails in botanical and geological areas, otherwise these areas are not suitable for mechanized travel.

Adjustments were made to plan language to address a wide range of comments.  In some cases, plan direction was moved from one type of plan component to another.  For example, plan direction in a desired condition may have been more appropriately included as a guideline.  In other cases, several similar plan components may have been merged into one component.  The desired conditions related to scenery were edited to remove language that merely described an area.  This information was either moved to the appropriate General Description and Background section or to the Landscape Character Description document, a scenery inventory component for the Scenery Management System.

Due to these adjustments, the proposed revised plan that is being analyzed under Alternative B in this FEIS is different from the proposed revised plan that was analyzed in the DEIS.  To reflect this change, the modified version of Alternative B will be referred to as Alternative B (modified) in the FEIS.  While Alternative B (modified) is not the same as Alternative B from the DEIS, it does not contain elements that were not part of the four alternatives considered in the DEIS.  Furthermore, the adjustments to Alternative B are not substantial changes that are relevant to environmental concerns.

Adjustments to Alternative C

In response to comments received during the 90-day comment period and as part of the restructuring associated with the proposed revised plan, several adjustments were made to Alternative C.

Several commenters questioned the appropriateness of naming the additional management areas in the alternative as “Wildlife Habitat Management Areas.”  These commenters suggested that the management areas only restricted public motorized access and were not a comprehensive approach to wildlife management.  To address these comments, ”Wildlife Habitat” was removed from the names of these management areas.  In addition, the East Clear Creek Wildlife Habitat Management Area was renamed the Blue Ridge Management Area.  However, no plan components included in the management areas being added by Alternative C were changed.  Also, the additional management areas proposed under Alternative C have been adjusted to include similar detail and structure to the other management areas under consideration in alternatives B (modified), C, and D.

One of the primary differences between the proposed revised plan and Alternative C is that Alternative C retains the old growth retention direction from the 1987 Forest Plan.  The description of how plan components from the proposed revised plan would be changed under Alternative C has been adjusted to reflect the changes to the proposed revised plan.  For example, the names of the vegetation types have been changed to reflect the use of Ecological Response Units instead of Potential Natural Vegetation Type.

Next Steps

The adjusted version of the proposed revised plan has been posted to our website.  No comment period is being established on the adjusted proposed revised plan; we just want to share the adjusted version of the proposed revised plan with you.  We have also posted a report that includes our draft responses to your comments on the proposed revised plan.  These draft responses to your comments provide insight into how we addressed your comments and why adjustments were made to the proposed revised plan.  We are still working on comments on the DEIS.  Those responses and final responses to your comments on the proposed revised plan will be included in the FEIS which should be available in Spring 2017.

We have begun preparation of the FEIS, which analyzes the effects of the alternatives with the above described modifications.  As part of formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, our team is compiling a biological assessment required by the Endangered Species Act to analyze the potential impacts to federally listed threatened and endangered species.  We expect to formally start the consultation process this summer.  Once these steps are complete, the plan and FEIS will undergo any necessary final adjustments.  This puts us on track to distribute the new revised Plan and the FEIS in Spring 2017.

Contact Us

As we finalize the plan and environmental impact statement, we will continue to keep you informed of our progress.  If you have questions, please contact Vernon Keller, Forest Planner, at (928) 527-3415 or vkeller@fs.fed.us.  To update your existing contact information, please email us at: coconino_national_forest_plan_revision_team@fs.fed.us

Thank you again for your continued interest in the future of the Coconino National Forest!