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Forest Service Assessment To Address Valley County's Request For Additional Snowmobile Grooming Rout

Published online: Dec 30, 2013 News
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The Cascade Ranger District of the Boise National Forest is soliciting scoping comments for the environmental analysis to address Idaho's Valley County's Request for Additional Snowmobile Grooming Routes in Valley County. The project area encompasses an estimated 243 miles of groomed over snow vehicle (OSV) trails under the existing Agreement with Valley County, located on the Cascade and Emmett Ranger Districts, and an additional 15.6 miles on the Cascade Ranger District, requested by Valley County.

Please refer to figures posted on the project webpage: Assessment to Address Valley County's Request for Additional Snowmobile Grooming Routes Project.

The Forest Service is contacting interested persons, groups and agencies to make them aware of the project and to gather pertinent feedback. Even if you have no specific concerns, you are being asked to respond if you desire to stay on the project's mailing list. To assist the Forest Service in meeting its goals of reducing our carbon footprint and to achieve a sustainable operation, the Forest Service is transitioning to a web-based electronic comment system that allows all interested parties to receive project material (scoping documents, updates, draft and final NEPA documents, and decisions) by e-mail.

This new system gives you direct control over which mailing lists you are subscribed to and immediate electronic access to project documents as they are posted online. It's easy, it's good for the environment, and it gives "on-demand" access to projects.

To subscribe to this new system, go online to: www.fs.fed.us/nepa/nepa_project_exp.php?project=43272. On the project website, you will see a box titled "Get Connected" on the right hand side of the page. Click on "Subscribe to Email Updates." When you click on that item, you will be prompted to provide your e-mail address and select a password. When you have logged in, you will be able to manage your account by subscribing to projects by Forest, District, project type, or project purpose. You will also be able to change your e-mail address and password. If you no longer wish to follow the project(s), simply delete your subscription. Once you are subscribed, you will receive all project information via e-mail, unless you request hard copies.

Only those who subscribe to the mailing list, submit comments, or notify the Forest that they would like to remain on the mailing list for this project will receive future correspondences on this project. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, without an associated name and address, receiving further correspondences concerning this project will not be possible.

Written, facsimile, hand-delivered, and electronic comments concerning this project would most useful in the NEPA analysis if received by Jan. 27, 2014. Comments received in response to this request will be available for public inspection and will be released in their entirety if requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. Comments received in response to this request will also be available for public inspection on the "Public Comment Reading Room" on the project webpage: Assessment to Address Valley County's Request for Additional Snowmobile Grooming Routes Project.

Hand-written comments must be submitted to: Cascade Ranger District, ATTN: Ronda Bishop, P.O. Box 696, Cascade, ID 83611 or hand-delivered to Ronda at the Cascade Ranger District during regular business hours of 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday, excluding holidays. Comments may also be submitted electronically through the Assessment to Address Valley County's Request for Additional Snowmobile Grooming Routes Project web page. To submit comments using the web form select "Comment on Project" under "Get Connected" on the right panel of the project web page.  

On March 27, 2013, a final rule revising 36 CFR Part 218 was published in the Federal Register and became effective on that date. The new rule replaces the previous project decision appeal rules defined in 36 CFR 215. The new rule provides the public an opportunity to comment and express concerns on projects before decisions are made, rather than after. The Forest Service believes this aligns with its collaborative approach to forest management and increases the likelihood of resolving those concerns, resulting in better, more informed decisions.  

Individuals and entities who submit specific written comments at this stage, the scoping comment period identified above, will be eligible to object. A second comment opportunity will also be provided during the notice and comment period for review of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Environmental Analysis (EA) document and those who provide specific written comments during this comment period will also be eligible to object. In cases where no identifiable name is attached to a comment, a verification of identity will be required for objection eligibility. If using an electronic message, a scanned signature is one way to provide verification. For more information on 36 CFR Part 218, see the Federal Register, Volume 78, No. 59, March 27, 2013.

Proposed Action

The Proposed Action would consist of modifying the existing cost-share agreement between the USDA Forest Service, Valley County, and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to respond to Valley County's August 2013 request. Under the terms of a modified agreement, Valley County would be allowed to groom an additional 15.6 miles of route within areas that have been identified as open to snowmobile use on the Boise National Forest.

- 1.6 miles on the Sulphur Creek road 442

- 2.0 miles on the Sand Creek road 437

- 2.0 miles on the Ditch Creek road 410

- 6.0 miles on the Burnt Log road 447

- 4.0 miles on the Horn Creek road 414

All of the proposed additional 15.6 miles would occur on existing Forest System Roads. Grooming activities would typically occur between Nov. 15 and April 30 annually, as determined by snow conditions. Groomed route widths would vary somewhat, but generally would not exceed 15 feet in width.

The Proposed Action does not evaluate or designate motorized or non-motorized trails or over-snow "play areas".

Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action

The current cost-share agreement expires on May 30, 2017. Valley County has requested additional routes to be included in the existing grooming program and associated cost-share agreement in order to allow continuation of the OSV grooming program on the Boise National Forest. The purpose of a modified cost-share agreement would be to document the cooperation among the various parties for the OSV grooming routes within the boundaries of State Designated Area 43c on the Boise National Forest, authorized under the 2012 Decision Notice/Finding Of No Significant Impact for the Snowmobile Trail Grooming in Valley, Gem, and Boise Counties Project, as well as any additional routes authorized as a result of this assessment and Decision.

Assessment of this action is needed to determine if all or some portion of Valley County's request to increase groomed snowmobile routes can be authorized to further facilitate an improved recreational experience within areas that have been identified as open to snowmobile use while still meeting other resource management objectives in this area.

Supplemental Information

Groomed OSV routes associated with the Proposed Action occur in management areas (MAs) 20 and 21.

The Responsible Official for this project is Forest Supervisor Cecilia R. Seesholtz.

Forest Plan Amendment

It is anticipated that a Forest Plan amendment may be required to add any additional miles of groomed snowmobile routes as proposed by the County. This amendment may be needed due to requirements under Forest Plan standard TEST34.

TEST34: Allow no net increase in groomed or designated over-the-snow routes or play areas, outside of baseline areas of consistent snow compaction, by LAU or in combination with immediately adjacent LAUs unless the Biological Assessment demonstrates the grooming or designation serves to consolidate use and improve lynx habitat. This does not apply within permitted ski area boundaries, to winter logging, and access to private inholdings. Also, permits, authorizations or agreements could expand into baseline routes and baseline areas of existing snow compaction, and grooming could expand to routes of existing snow compaction and routes that have been designated but not groomed in the past and still comply with this standard.

Forest Plan standards are binding limitations placed on management actions. Standards are typically action restrictions designed to prevent degradation of resource conditions, or exceeding a threshold of unacceptable effects, so that conditions can be maintained or restored over time. Standards must be within the authority and ability of the Forest Service to enforce. A project or action that varies from a relevant standard may not be authorized unless the Forest Plan is amended to modify, remove, or waive application of the standard (Forest Plan, as amended in 2010, page III-3.).

Additional information concerning the project may be obtained from Ronda Bishop at the address mentioned above or by calling 208-382-7460.  Scoping documents are available on the project web page: Assessment to Address Valley County's Request for Additional Snowmobile Grooming Routes Project