Proposed Action. Payette National Forest Over-Snow Grooming in Valley, Adams and Idaho Counties. United States Department of Agriculture

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1 United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service January 2012 Proposed Action Payette National Forest Over-Snow Grooming in Valley, Adams and Idaho Counties Payette National Forest Valley, Adams and Idaho County, Idaho Cover Photo: Snowmobiling on the PNF For Information Contact: Jane Cropp 800 West Lakeside Avenue, McCall ID (208)

2 The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) prohibits discrimination in all its programs and activities on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, and where applicable, sex, marital status, familial status, parental status, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, political beliefs, reprisal, or because all or part of an individual s income is derived from any public assistance program. (Not all prohibited bases apply to all programs.) Persons with disabilities who require alternative means for communication of program information (Braille, large print, audiotape, etc.) should contact USDA's TARGET Center at (202) (voice and TDD). To file a complaint of discrimination, write to USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, 1400 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C , or call (800) (voice) or (202) (TDD). USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.

3 Table of Contents Contents Introduction... 4 Document Structure...4 Introduction...4 Purpose and Need for Action...5 Proposed Action...6 Decision Framework...7 Public Involvement...8 Potential Concerns...8

4 INTRODUCTION Document Structure The Forest Service has prepared this document for presentation of the proposed action. The document is organized into two parts: Introduction: The section includes information on the history of the project proposal, the purpose of and need for the project, and the agency s proposal for achieving that purpose and need Description of the Proposed Action: This section provides a more detailed description of the agency s proposed action. This discussion also includes possible mitigation measures. Introduction The Payette National Forest (PNF) is seeking comments on a proposal to support and maintain the ongoing winter over-snow grooming program specific to groomed routes on the PNF, in cooperation with Valley County and the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation (IDPR). The current agreement, specific to the PNF, supports and maintains trail grooming in Valley, Adams and Idaho Counties. Valley County is the lead county behind this program and assumes the responsibility for completing the grooming work under the direction of a Cost Share Agreement and an annual operating plan. The cost agreement is for a five-year period. The current Cost Share Agreement expires April 30, The Forest is looking at which routes should continue to be groomed by this program, and which routes, if any, should be added or subtracted from the grooming program on the PNF. The grooming program has been authorized and implemented by a Cost Share Agreement on the PNF since The PNF portion of the over-snow grooming program is located on the New Meadows, Council, and McCall Ranger Districts of the PNF and is referred to by the grooming program as State Designated Area 43A, with a portion of the Council Ranger District groomed out of 43B. The groomed routes facilitate access to the backcountry for snowmobiling, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and other winter activities. Snowmobiling has grown immensely over the past ten years and the groomed trail opportunities bring in thousands of winter recreationists to the PNF and adjoining communities. The program utilizes 3-4 grooming machines that groom a route approximately 15 feet in width. A Decision Memo signed in 2001 authorized 237 miles of groomed routes on the PNF. This number is considered the baseline for groomed over-snow routes authorized and meeting Forest Plan Wildlife Standard TEST34, and is the maximum number of miles that can be authorized with this proposal, and still meet existing Forest Plan Standards. Any new routes proposed must fall within this mileage amount. 4

5 Current GIS mapping techniques calculate approximately 213 miles of over-snow routes on the PNF are currently groomed with the program. An additional 24 miles are groomed across private, state or other ownership lands, but still within the PNF boundary. Outside the PNF boundary but integral to connecting the system in the Rocky Flats area are additional over-snow routes through State and private lands. The groomed over-snow routes fall primarily on existing roadbeds. Of the 237 miles of over-snow routes currently groomed within the PNF boundary (This mileage figure includes federal, state, private and other lands), 229 miles (97%) are located on top of existing paved and/or gravel roadbeds and 8 miles (3%) are groomed cross-country. Cross Country is defined as routes that are not on an existing roadbed. The PNF Supervisor is the official responsible for deciding whether or not to continue the ongoing snow-grooming program within the project area. Purpose and Need for Action The purpose of the action is to authorize over-snow grooming on the PNF. The purpose of the agreement is to document the cooperation among the parties for the groomed snowmobile trails program within the boundaries of State Designated Area 43A and a portion of 43B on the PNF. This action is needed because there is a high demand for the PNF to provide the recreational and economical benefits of a groomed system, and the snow grooming cost agreement between the PNF, IDPR and Valley County expires in April An environmental analysis will be completed prior to the renewal of the agreement. Payette National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (LMRP) Direction (2003): This action responds to the management strategy, goals and objectives outlined in the 2003 Payette LMRP. The following section lists the pertinent objectives in the Plan pertaining to this Proposed Action. The desired future condition for winter recreation as stated in the PNF plan is to provide diverse winter dispersed recreation opportunities while protecting resource values. Goals: REGO03: Address current and emerging recreation conflicts, while maintaining recreation opportunities when possible. REOB06: Provide an array of winter recreation experiences, while mitigating conflicts between motorized and non-motorized use and wintering wildlife. Objectives: REOB16: Foster and strengthen partnerships between public and private sectors to effectively and efficiently manage recreation and tourism facilities. REOB19: Manage cross country travel to mitigate recreationist and big game conflicts on winter/spring ranges. 5

6 REOB23: Provide networks of marked and designed snow machine, cross-country ski, and other winter travel routes and trailhead facilities, while meeting other resource goals and objectives. REOB25: Provide opportunities for backcountry winter recreation in areas without wintering wildlife conflicts. REOB26: Support winter trail management through cooperative agreements with other agencies and groups. TEOB28: During travel planning, identify areas of concentrated snow compaction activities (designated trails, snow play areas) in lynx habitat within LAUs, and minimize snow compaction in those areas to reduce potential conflicts. Standards: TEST34: Allow no net increase in groomed or designed 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. Guidelines: REGU27: Winter recreation opportunities should be managed to provide for user safety and to minimize user conflicts. Winter recreation management should recognize that some activities are not compatible in the same locations and should be separated when needed to maintain user safety and quality recreation experiences. REGU28: When resolving conflicts between winter recreation user groups, appropriate consideration and protection should be given to capital investments such as groomed and/or designated trails. Proposed Action The Proposed Action would continue to support and maintain the ongoing winter oversnow grooming program in cooperation with Valley County and IDPR. The grooming season could occur any time, snow-dependent, from November 15 April 30 th. The Proposed Action does not evaluate designation of motorized or non-motorized over-snow areas. The groomed over-snow routes considered in this Proposed Action and within the defined Project Area are displayed on three maps labeled Payette National Forest Over Snow Grooming in Valley, Adams, and Idaho Counties Central Map, North Map and South Map. The Proposed Action will focus the analysis on PNF lands. The Proposed Action would continue to authorize a total of 237 miles of allowable grooming on PNF lands. Of that 237 miles, only 225 miles would be groomed at this time. This mileage figure includes approximately 213 miles of existing over-snow routes plus 12 miles of new 6

7 over-snow proposed routes for a total of 225 miles. This would leave approximately 12 miles available for future grooming purposes before reaching the threshold of 237 miles, the baseline for groomed over-snow routes. The proposed new routes are all located on the Council Ranger District, south of the Middle Fork of the Weiser road area. (See the South Map). The new groomed trails are proposed to: replace former groomed routes that were located on roads that have been since obliterated; provide a route higher in elevation when lower elevation routes are not available for grooming on low snow years; and to facilitate some loop groomed routes. The over-snow grooming would be authorized from November 15 thru April 30 th annually. The cross-country routes are not groomed until there is sufficient snow-pack, typically over 5 feet of snow. Mitigation Measures In addition to Forest Plan standards and guidelines designed to mitigate impacts, the following measures have been identified to date and would be used. These design features have been incorporated by the Forest Service to reduce or prevent undesirable effects resulting from proposed management activities and have been, and would continue to be, a part of the annual operating plan for the Valley County grooming program. The trail grooming would be authorized from November 15 thru April 30 th annually. Even with these dates, grooming shall not occur when the ground surface is exposed and soil damage or rutting could occur. The operator shall consider recent, current, and forecasted weather and snow conditions to ensure these conditions are met. All fuel and other chemicals shall be stored at the groomer storage facilities or outside Riparian Conservation Areas (RCAs). All equipment maintenance and refueling shall occur at the storage facilities or outside the RCA. Spill containment equipment shall be kept at the storage facilities. Decision Framework Given the purpose and need, the deciding official reviews the proposed action and the other alternatives in order to make the following decisions: If the Responsible Official is able to make a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) based upon the effects of the alternatives, the Responsible Official will decide: Should the PNF authorize over-snow trail grooming on PNF lands, and if so, how many miles should be approved? If approved, what mitigation measures and/or monitoring should be applied to the project? 7

8 Public Involvement The proposal was listed in the Schedule of Proposed Actions beginning November The proposal is being provided to the public and other agencies for scoping, notice and comment beginning in January In addition, in honoring the Forest Service s trust responsibilities, and in compliance with laws, regulations, and policies, the agency will coordinate with the Shoshone-Paiute, Shoshone-Bannock, and Nez Perce Tribes. Comments are specifically requested on the proposed action and are most helpful if they pertain directly to the project area described above. Issues identified that are outside the scope of this proposal will not be addressed at this level of planning. Comments should be received no later than February 17, If you have any questions, the key contact person for this proposed action is Jane Cropp, Payette National Forest Recreation Specialist, at (208) Address comments to: Payette National Forest, Attn: Jane Cropp, 800 West Lakeside Ave., McCall, ID Comments can also be ed to: Note: Comments received in response to this Proposed Action package will be available for public inspection and will be released in their entirely if requested pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act. The Forest will use your comments to aid us in determining if relevant environmental effects may be associated with this proposal. Using the comments from the public, other agencies, and the Tribes, the interdisciplinary team will develop a list of issues and other concerns to address in the Environmental Assessment. Potential Concerns During preliminary internal scoping the Forest Service identified three concerns during the initial evaluation of the proposal: Concern #1: Effects on other winter recreation users including back country skiers. Concern #2: Effects to sensitive and threatened and/or endangered wildlife species, habitat fragmentation, reduction of habitat, and disruption of wildlife use patterns. Concern #3: Effects on economic, cultural and social stability of the local community. Eliminating grooming on the existing trails may affect the economic stability of the local communities. Following formal scoping these three concerns would be further evaluated to determine if an issue exists. Any additional issues or concerns identified during the scoping period will be evaluated in the EA. 8

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