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Chugach National Forest; Alaska; Notice of a Proposed Amendment to the Chugach National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, Applying Only to the Sterling Highway Milepost 45-60 Project

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government

Chugach National Forest; Alaska; Notice of a Proposed Amendment to the Chugach National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, Applying Only to the Sterling Highway Milepost 45-60 Project

Gregory C. Smith
Department of Agriculture
28 September 2018


[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 189 (Friday, September 28, 2018)]
[Notices]
[Pages 49060-49062]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-21153]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Forest Service


Chugach National Forest; Alaska; Notice of a Proposed Amendment 
to the Chugach National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, 
Applying Only to the Sterling Highway Milepost 45-60 Project

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice; project-specific amendment to the Chugach National 
Forest 2002 Land and Resource Management Plan.

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SUMMARY: On May 31, 2018, the U.S. Department of Transportation, 
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) signed a Record of Decision for 
the Sterling Highway MP 45-60 Project, which involves highway 
construction and reconstruction near Cooper Landing, Kenai Peninsula 
Borough, Alaska. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service 
participated as a cooperating agency with FHWA and Alaska Department of 
Transportation and Public Facilities in the preparation of the draft 
and final Environmental Impact Statements (EIS). To support the FHWA 
decision, the Forest Service proposes a project-specific Land and 
Resource Management Plan (Forest Plan) amendment to make the selected 
route consistent with the Chugach Forest Plan.

DATES: Publication of this notice marks the initiation of a public 
comment period for the proposed action. Comments concerning the scope 
of the analysis must be received by November 13, 2018. The agency 
expects to release a draft Record of Decision for the proposed 
amendment in late 2018.

ADDRESSES: Send written comments to Chugach National Forest 
Supervisor's Office, Attn: Sterling Highway Plan Amendment, 161 East 
1st Avenue, Door 8, Anchorage, AK 99501. Comments may also be sent via 
email to comments-alaska-chugach@fs.fed.us, or via facsimile to 907-
743-9476.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Detailed information about the 
Sterling Highway Project, including the FHWA's Record of Decision, 
FEIS, and related reports, is available at http://sterlinghighway.net/. 
For information related specifically to the Forest Plan amendment, 
please contact David Fitz-Enz, Forest Planner, Chugach National Forest 
at 907-743-9595 or dfitzenz@fs.fed.us.
    Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) 
may call the Federal Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 
between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

Background

    This notice is specific to the Forest Service. The FHWA was the 
lead Federal agency for the Sterling Highway Mile 45-60 Project EIS and 
Record of Decision, which was signed on May 31, 2018. The decision, 
implementing the ``Juneau Creek Alternative,'' requires 3.3 miles of 
new road construction across lands managed by the Chugach National 
Forest in the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska. The Forest Service must 
determine whether to consent to the transfer of a highway easement for 
these lands under 23 U.S.C. 317. This consent is conditioned on the 
Forest Service completing a project-specific plan amendment because the 
new route is inconsistent with a Forest Plan standard prohibiting new 
road construction within a certain type of brown bear habitat. This 
notice pertains only to this project-specific plan amendment.
    The policy for project consistency with prior plans amended using 
the 2012 Planning Rule is set out at FSH 1909.12, Chapter 20, Section 
21.33. For a plan developed or revised under a prior planning 
regulation (1982 Planning Rule) that is amended pursuant to the 2012 
Planning Rule, the consistency requirement is that the 2012 Planning 
Rule consistency provisions at 36 CFR 219.15(d) apply only to plan 
component(s) added or modified in conformance with, and as defined by, 
the 2012 Planning Rule. With respect to other plan provisions, the 
Forest Service's prior interpretation of consistency applies, that 
projects need only be consistent with plan standards and guidelines. 
(See 2012 Final Rule 77 FR 21162, 21241 (April 9, 2012); 1991 Advanced 
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking 56 FR 6508, 6519-6520 (Feb 15, 1991) and 
the 1995 Proposed Rule, at 60 FR 18886, 18902, 18909 (April 13, 1995).)
    As analyzed and disclosed in the Sterling final EIS, this project 
is also inconsistent with one guideline related to brown bear habitat. 
This inconsistency does not require a plan amendment (Forest Plan, p. 
3-22), but is

[[Page 49061]]

briefly mentioned here because it will be documented in the Forest 
Service's Record of Decision.

Purpose and Need for Action

    The FHWA decision for the Sterling Highway MP 45-60 Project 
approves construction of new highway that crosses 3.3 miles of National 
Forest System land. The Forest Service must determine whether to 
consent to the transfer of a highway easement for construction and 
maintenance of the highway on these lands under 23 U.S.C. 317. This 
consent is conditioned on the Forest Service completing a project-
specific Forest Plan amendment because the new route is inconsistent 
with a Forest Plan standard prohibiting new road construction within 
important brown bear feeding areas.
    These feeding areas were mapped for this project in collaboration 
with Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and the new highway employs 
many design features to minimize effects to brown bear habitat. The 
purpose of this plan amendment is to provide a project-specific 
variance exempting the requirement for full consistency with this one 
forestwide standard related to brown bear habitat. The variance would 
apply only to this project. Completion of this amendment is required 
for the Forest Service to consent to the appropriation of lands for 
highway construction.

Proposed Action

    The proposed action is to exempt the Sterling Highway MP 45-60 
Project from the following standard in the 2002 Chugach Forest Plan 
(Forest Plan, p. 3-29):
    ``Standard 1, Brown Bear Habitat Management. On the Kenai Peninsula 
geographic area, manage areas of forest cover approximately 750-feet 
from both sides of important bear feeding areas in specific areas of a 
stream where salmon are concentrated in pools, below falls, or where 
broad spawning flats result in localized feeding concentrations of 
bears to provide cover for brown bears while feeding, or between brown 
bears and humans. Important brown bear feeding areas will be located 
with the advice of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Within the 
750-foot brown bear management zone the following activities will not 
be allowed: a. new road construction; b. any vegetation management not 
intended to maintain or improve ecological conditions for brown bear. 
This standard does not prohibit relocation, reconstruction, or 
maintenance of existing roads and trails in these areas. During the 
process of reconstruction or relocation, emphasize opportunities to 
locate roads or trails outside of these brown bear zones.''
    The amendment would exempt this standard only for the Sterling 
Highway MP 45-60 Project. It is considered a project-specific amendment 
because it would not change the applicability of Forest Plan 
requirements for other projects.
    The Forest Service's decision will be supported by the 
environmental analysis contained within the FHWA final EIS. The FHWA 
has selected the ``Juneau Creek Alternative'' in their Record of 
Decision. The draft and final EIS issued by FHWA include a discussion 
of Forest Plan consistency, including the need for this project-
specific amendment. They also disclose the environmental effects of 
this project on brown bear habitat. The draft and final EIS is 
available at http://sterlinghighway.net/SHWPI_New.html. The following 
are selected sections of the final EIS describing the effects of the 
selected alternative related to the need for the plan amendment and to 
effects on brown bear habitat: the Executive Summary, Section 3.2--Land 
Use Plans and Policies (pp. 3-50--52; 3-56), Section 3.7--Cumulative 
Effects (pp. 3-589--390), Section 3.22--Wildlife (pp. 3-456--457; 3-
472--477; 3-478-482; 3-488--3-491).

Responsible Official

    The Forest Supervisor for the Chugach National Forest is the 
Responsible Official for amending the 2002 Revised Land and Resource 
Management Plan.

Nature and Scope of Decision To Be Made

    The Responsible Official will decide whether the project warrants a 
project-specific plan amendment and if so, the content of the 
amendment.
    The scope of this amendment is a one-time exemption from Standard 
1, Brown Bear Habitat Management, for the Sterling Highway MP 45-60 
Project.
    The scale of this amendment is limited to the important brown bear 
feeding areas where the Juneau Creek Alternative route impacts land 
mapped as Areas 8, 9, and 11 on Map 3.22-1 of the EIS (Chapter 3.22 
Wildlife, p. 3-513). The highway easement would encompass less than 100 
acres within the mapped feeding area of approximately 1,000 acres. The 
decision includes extensive mitigation, including a wildlife overpass 
and several underpasses, to mitigate the effects to wildlife.
    The Responsible Official must ensure that the amendment is 
consistent with 36 CFR 219 regulations, as described below.

Planning Rule Requirements for Forest Plan Amendments

    On December 15, 2016, the Department of Agriculture Under Secretary 
for Natural Resources and Environment issued a final rule that amended 
the 36 CFR 219 regulations pertaining to National Forest System Land 
Management Planning (Planning Rule) (81 FR 90723, 90737). The amendment 
to 36 CFR 219 clarified the Department's direction for amending Forest 
Plans. The Department also added a requirement for the responsible 
official amending a plan to provide notice ``about which substantive 
requirements of Sec.  219.8 through 219.11 are likely to be directly 
relate to the amendment'' (36 CFR 219.13(b)(2), 81 FR 90738). Whether a 
rule provision is directly related to an amendment is determined by any 
one of the following: The purpose for the amendment, a beneficial 
effect of the amendment, a substantial adverse effect of the amendment, 
or a lessening of plan protections by the amendment.
    The substantive requirements of Sec.  219.8 through 219.11 that are 
likely to be directly related to amending the above standard are:
    Sec.  219.9(a): (a) Ecosystem plan components. (1) Ecosystem 
integrity. As required by Sec.  219.8(a), the plan must include plan 
components, including standards or guidelines, to maintain or restore 
the ecological integrity of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and 
watersheds in the plan area, including plan components to maintain or 
restore their structure, function, composition, and connectivity.
    Sec.  219.10(a)(3): Appropriate placement and sustainable 
management of infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and 
transportation and utility corridors
    Sec.  219.10(a)(5): Habitat conditions, subject to the requirements 
of 219.9, for wildlife, fish, and plants commonly enjoyed and used by 
the public; for hunting, fishing, trapping, gathering, observing, 
subsistence and other activities
    If the proposed amendment is determined to be ``directly related'' 
to a substantive rule requirement, the Responsible Official must apply 
that requirement within the scope and scale of the proposed amendment 
and, if necessary, make adjustments to the proposed amendment to meet 
the rule requirement (36 CFR 219.13(b)(5) and (6)).

[[Page 49062]]

Opportunities for Public Participation

    The FHWA provided opportunities for public comment throughout the 
development of this project, including public comment periods and 
public meetings following issuance of the draft EIS and Final EIS. A 
history of public participation, including all public comments, is 
available at: http://sterlinghighway.net/SHWPI_New.html. Both the draft 
and final EIS disclosed the need for a Forest Plan amendment, depending 
on the alternative selected.
    This notice initiates a 45-day comment period on the proposed 
amendment. This will be the final comment period for this proposed 
amendment prior to issuing the record of decision for administrative 
review. Instructions on how to provide comment, and where to find 
additional information, are described in the beginning of this notice. 
Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names and 
addresses of those who comment, will be part of the public record for 
this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted 
and considered, however.

Administrative Review of Forest Plan Amendment Decisions

    The decision for a plan amendment will be documented in a record of 
decision issued by the Forest Service. The decision will be subject to 
the predecisional administrative review process per 36 CFR 219 subpart 
B. Objections will be accepted only from those who have previously 
submitted substantive formal comments specific to the proposed plan 
amendment. The Reviewing Official for any objection is the Regional 
Forester for the Alaska Region.

    Dated: September 7, 2018.
Gregory C. Smith,
Acting Associate Deputy Chief, National Forest System.
[FR Doc. 2018-21153 Filed 9-27-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 3411-15-P

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