Saturday, April 27, 2013

April 2013 - Village At Wolf Creek EIS Update...

I had the opportunity to see Mike Blakeman while attending the Bark Beetle Workshop in Durango, he explained to me where the EIS process for the Wolf Creek Village was at and about the next steps in this process.  

It's fairly complicated and I asked if he might be able to send me an email outlining what he'd told me.  
Mr. Blakeman went me one better and had a Forest Service wildlife biologist do a detailed write-up.

Below I include Mike's cover letter along with the write-up.


Hi Peter, Below is a detailed write-up about the BA/BO process written by our wildlife biologist. People would never get to read such a thorough explanation in mainstream media, so feel free to post it on your blog if you feel it would be beneficial.  
To summarize the targeted timeline (something could always impact this): Biological Assessment completed on May 1. Fish and Wildlife Service reviews the Biological Assessment (BA) (90 days) and then completes a Biological Opinion (BO) (45 days), which puts us at about mid-September. The land exchange Final (Wolf Creek Village) Environmental Impact Statement and record of decision would most likely come out sometime in the autumn or early winter. 
Once again, I want to stress that no decision on the land exchange has been made. Even though the BO may develop terms and conditions to minimize negative impacts to the lynx, that does not mean the Forest Service has made a decision. Hope this is helpful.
Mike Blakeman
Public Affairs Specialist
Rio Grande National Forest


I have not altered the wording - 
I have added more paragraph breaks for clarity, 
and spelled out acronyms,
and added a few links that provide background to specific items.

BA = Biological Assessment
BO = Biological Opinion
EIS - Environmental Impact Statement
TEP = threatened, endangered or proposed (TEP) species
NEPA = National Environmental Policy Act
WCV = Wolf Creek Village

The Forest Service is required by law (the Endangered Species Act) and our own policy (FS Manual 2670) to evaluate the potential effects of a federal action (a National Environmental Policy Act decision) on federally threatened, endangered or proposed (TEP) species.  

This evaluation is completed for all TEP species in a biological evaluation/assessment per Forest Service Manual 2670 to determine if effects might be associated with any of the alternatives associated with a project.  Forest Service sensitive species are also usually included in this BE/BA which analyzes all alternatives included under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  If it is determined that there is no effect on any TEP species this is documented in the BE/BA  and that is the end of the process.  

If measurable effects for any TEP species are determined to be associated with the proposed action for the project, a biological assessment (BA) is completed that provides a focused analysis on the effects in relationship to the proposed action.  As with NEPA, these effects may be direct, indirect, or cumulative in nature.
 ~ ~ ~ 

We are preparing a biological assessment for Wolf Creek Village because the project is expected to have measurable effects on a listed species.  

Although all federally threatened, endangered or proposed (TEP) species on the Rio Grande National Forest are evaluated in the biological assessment, none are expected to have any measurable effects from the proposed action except one – the Canada lynx.  This is because the project occurs in occupied habitat and is associated with a key Lynx Linkage Area (LLA) that is known to facilitate movement from the southern part of the San Juan Mountains to the north.  

We know from previous analysis that these effects are likely to raise to the level of being “adverse”, meaning that they are expected to have a measurable negative outcome on an individual or population.  

Section 9 of the ESA prohibits any federal agency or individual from having such effects on any TEP species unless allowances are made through an “incidental take” statement.  Incidental take refers to effects that are unintentional and incidental to an otherwise lawful action, such as the Wolf Creek Village proposal.  In the case on the WCV proposal, most of the effect is expected to be associated with the proposed village build-out, which is indirectly connected to the land exchange decision.  

However, some adverse effects are also expected to be directly associated with the land exchange itself because of trade-offs in habitat values.  

The Biological Assessment contains the analysis for all of these effects, the expected response of the species to them, and agreed-upon conservation measures intended to minimize them to the extent possible.  

Once finalized, the Biological Assessment is submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) through the Section 7 process (also see here), which is a section of the Act reserved for federal agencies to consult on federal actions and receive an “incidental take statement” for the expected effects.  The FWS has 90 days to complete this review.  
 ~ ~ ~

If the information in the Biological Assessment is sufficient and contains adequate conservation measures to minimize the incidental take to the extent practicable, the FWS will then prepare a biological opinion (B.O.) which transmits the incidental take statement to the action agency.  ”   

The FWS has 45 days to prepare the BO, although sometimes a draft is first completed for controversial or complex projects.  The B.O. is a legally-binding document that contains “minimizing measures” for the take allowances.  These are implemented through “terms and conditions”  that translate the specific conservation measures (i.e. mitigations) that the federal agency must abide by to receive the incidental take.   

For the Wolf Creek Village project, the conservation measures in the Biological Assessment have already been agreed to by the Applicant (project proponent) and the FWS, and are expected to be very similar to the terms and conditions in the B.O.  

This type of up-front agreement between the action and regulatory agencies, and/or applicant in this case, is commonly pursued during the Biological Assessment phase so that disagreement are avoided further into the consultation process.  

In the case of WCV, the focus of the terms and conditions will be to minimize the negative effects identified with the village build-out particular traffic-related effects on lynx movement.  The Biological Opinion also translates the cost and timeframe for implementing the terms and conditions, so that effects can be minimized as expected.  Reporting and coordination requirements are also part of the B.O.

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