Issues and Alternatives
2.1 INTRODUCTION Chapter 2 of this document describes and compares the alternatives that wholly or partially meet the purpose and need for this project as identified on p.1-5. Alternative 1 (no action), Alternative 2 (proposed action), and Alternative 3 are described and considered in detail on pp. 2-18 through 2-29 and displayed on Maps, M-3 & M-4. There are also five other action alternatives that were considered, but were dismissed from detailed analysis. These alternatives are described in Chapter 2, pp. 2-43 through 2-45, including the rationale for dismissal.
The purpose and need for action and the desired future condition provide the framework for alternative development along with the significant issues identified internally and from public scoping. The alternatives reflect different responses to the issues identified through both the scoping and analysis processes, and the alternatives have different environmental effects. Chapter 3 discloses the effects of the alternatives in terms of the “significant” issues. Chapters 2 and 3 provide information to enable the decision maker to make a reasoned choice between alternatives. Chapter 2 also discusses the scoping and public involvement process, environmental issues, alternative development, design criteria and mitigation, a comparison of the alternatives, and alternatives considered but not studied in detail.
2.2 PUBLIC INVOLVEMENT AND SCOPING PROCESS
The first step in an environmental analysis is to determine what needs to be analyzed. To do this the NEPA outlines a process termed "scoping" (refer to 40CFR 1501.7). This is an open process designed to determine the potential issues associated with a proposed action and those that are significant to the decision. First, comments are obtained from interested and affected parties, both within and outside the agency, to identify potential issues. Second, the potential issues are reviewed by the interdisciplinary team to determine: (a) the significant issues to be analyzed in depth, and (b) issues which are not key or which have been covered by prior environmental review and therefore should be eliminated from detailed study.
Collaboration with the public, private landowners, recreationists, and other interested parties has been and will continue to be important in the development of the Smith Creek Vegetation Treatment Project. The proposal was developed with input from adjacent private homeowners, as well as state, county, and local officials. Public meetings and field trips have been held with the Forest Service providing information and updates regarding the proposed project on National Forest System lands.
The initial scoping letter for the Smith Creek Vegetation Treatment Project was sent to interested parties on February 22, 2006 (Mailing List, Project File). More than 100 letters were mailed to private individuals, organizations, groups, businesses, media and elected officials. This scoping letter was fairly broad in scale, identifying the potential project area, the purpose and need for the project, and types of treatments that were likely to occur. Individual treatment units were not identified at that time. Seventeen comment letters were received. These comments were considered in determining potential issues and developing actual treatment units associated with the proposed action.
A public meeting regarding the project was held at the Wilsall Community Center on June 29, 2006. The meeting, facilitated by the District Ranger and IDT members, was attended by approximately 25 people, including local landowners, and representatives from the Park County Environmental Council, the Park County Fire Department, the Rocky Mountain Resource and Development Council (R,C&D), and Senator’s Rehberg’s office. A public field trip to the project area led by the District Ranger was scheduled for July 9th to look at potential treatment areas and to look at additional areas that should be considered for treatment. The intention of this field trip was to get as much public input as possible to be able to add, eliminate, or modify treatment areas in order to determine the scope of the project and come up with a proposed action. Approximately twelve local landowners attended the public field trip on July 9th giving additional input and ideas to be used for project development.
A public meeting/workshop sponsored by the Northern Rocky Mountain Resource and Conservation Development Center (RC&D) in conjunction with the Gallatin National Forest was held on July 19th, 2006 at the Wilsall Community Center. This meeting was an informational meeting concerning how landowners can protect their homes from potential threats of wildfire. Jack Cohen, a research scientist with the Fire lab in Missoula, MT. gave an in-depth presentation on how a home ignites when in the path of a wildfire. Building materials, landscaping, maintenance and placement of your home was discussed in regards to structure protection. J.T. Smith, the Economic Development Coordinator for the RC&D, spoke about grant opportunities for WUI communities to do hazard fuel reduction projects on private land. Around 12-14 homeowners from the Smith Creek area attended.
Following the original February scoping, the Forest Service met with private landowners in the Smith Creek area, Park County, and other interested parties to come up with actual proposed treatment units. Forest Service specialists attended IDT meetings and conducted field reconnaissance to ground truth the proposed units in order to further refine the proposed action. A second scoping letter was sent to interested individuals on September 29, 2006 as a follow-up to the original scoping letter that sought public comments on the preliminary proposed action. This refined scoping letter was mailed to approximately seventy five local landowners and other interested parties with ten comment letters being received concerning the proposal.
Another public meeting was held at the Clyde Park Community Center on November 6th. This meeting was scheduled for the public to discuss, relay concerns, and clarify questions related to the proposed action as identified in the September scoping letter. Approximately 20 local landowners and small business people attended this meeting, and gave their input regarding the proposal.
A public field trip was held in July 2007 to review the road maintenance work that will be completed in the project area the summer/fall of 2007 with special funding as well as to review the potential thinning units and road maintenance treatments associated with this project. This field trip was held to provide the public with an on the ground opportunity to comment on various aspects of the proposed project before the EA was released.
The environmental issues addressed in this document were identified through the processes described. Significant issues were used to develop alternatives to the proposed action and to focus the scope of the analysis on the issues that are significant to the decision to be made. Documentation of the review of scoping, comments, and potential issues can be found in Project File.
Once the scoping process was completed, the interdisciplinary team (ID Team) developed alternatives to the proposed action with specific features designed to address the significant issues. For the Smith Creek project area, the No Action Alternative, the Proposed Action Alternative, and one additional action alternative were developed for detailed consideration.
The Smith Creek Project was identified on the Gallatin National Forest NEPA Quarterly Project Listings for winter, spring, summer, and fall 2006 and winter, spring, summer 2007.
The purpose of this Environmental Assessment (EA) is to disclose the foreseeable effects and consequences of the alternatives being considered in detail and to solicit further public input regarding this project. This EA is being issued after consideration and analysis of comments received regarding the February and September scoping letters and from the public meetings and field trips. This document will provide information to determine whether to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) or a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI). The Livingston District Ranger is the responsible official.
2.3 IDENTIFICATION OF ISSUES Through the scoping process, the public and other agencies raised several concerns in response to the proposed action. Issues were identified following review of written and verbal comments from the public, input from Forest Service resource specialists, and comments from state and other federal agencies.
Comments identified during scoping were evaluated against the following criteria to determine whether or not the concern would be a major consideration in the analysis process:
Has the concern been addressed in a previous site-specific analysis such as in a previous project analysis or though legislative action?
Is the concern relevant to and within the scope of the decision being made and does it pertain directly to the proposed action?
Can the concern be resolved through project design or mitigation (avoiding, minimizing, rectifying, reducing, eliminating, or compensating for the proposed impact) in all alternatives?
For this proposal, six issues were found to be "significant" to the decision and achievement of the purpose and need. These are discussed in the issues section of this chapter and also in Chapter 3, pp. 3-18 through 3-91. These are the issues that the interdisciplinary team and decision-maker concluded were the primary factors to be considered while developing the alternatives and helping to guide the decision.
2.4 SIGNIFICANT ISSUES
The purpose of scoping is not only to identify a list of issues and concerns over a proposal, but to determine the significant issues to be analyzed in depth and to eliminate from detailed study those which are not key (40 CFR 1501.7). Significant issues become the focus of interdisciplinary interaction, public involvement, and alternative development. Significant issues are not readily mitigated, they pertain to the decision to be made and their resolution is within the scope of the project. The magnitude of a significant issue pertains to a resource, as the resource will be affected by a proposed action.
A number of issues identified during scoping were determined not to be “significant” or were outside the scope of this proposal. There are eleven other issues identified that would either not be affected by this project or their impacts could be mitigated or resolved through project design. These other issues are discussed below with a further analysis included in Appendix A. A complete list of pertinent comments received during scoping and how they were addressed addressed by the interdisciplinary team is contained in the Project File at the Livingston District Office. Design Criteria and mitigation for all resources are described in Chapter 2, pp. 2-30 through 2-39.
Based on the assessment of effects, public involvement and comments, the agency has determined that the following issues are significant to the decision to be made: