Choate vegetation management project



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1. INTRODUCTION

On October 1, 2001, a project was initiated on the Watersmeet and Ontonagon/Bergland Ranger Districts to identify and address vegetation, wildlife, transportation, and recreation issues and opportunities within approximately 7782 acres of National Forest land in the vicinity Choate Creek in Ontonagon County, Michigan. This Biological Evaluation addresses the potential effects of the proposed project on 87 species of rare animals, lichens, and plants. The Biological Evaluation (BE) is written to "review all Forest Service planned, funded, and executed, or permitted programs and activities for possible effects on endangered, threatened, proposed, or sensitive species" (FSM 2672.4). "Endangered", "threatened", and "proposed" refer to those species covered by the Federal Endangered Species Act. "Sensitive" species include "those plant and animal species identified by a Regional Forester for which population viability is a concern" (FSM 2670.5).

The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for protecting all federally proposed and listed species and the Regional Forester's Sensitive species. In addition, the Forest Service is directed to "assist states in achieving their goals for conservation of endemic species" (FSM 2670.32). State-listed species are addressed in the project Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (not in the BE) when they (population not potential habitat) are known to occur within a project area or are likely to be impacted by the activities of a project. Protection measures for State-listed species are undertaken where feasible.
Information regarding proposed, threatened, endangered and sensitive plants and animals is obtained through the cooperation of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MI DNR). No designated critical habitat, as defined by the federal Endangered Species Act, is present on the Ottawa National Forest (ONF).
Surveys for plants are conducted using a meandering (controlled intuitive) technique, a standard method for botanical surveys. In this approach, a general assessment of the entire project area is made which can include, but is not limited to, community types, amount of disturbance (natural or human-related), presence of streams, rivers, lakes, etc. The surveyor utilizes existing information and may use topographic maps and aerial photographs to help determine those sites within a project area that may require more intensive searches due to their perceived potential to harbor habitat for rare or listed species. The Ottawa NF botany field survey protocol is filed with the Forest Botanist.

Surveys for animals utilize other techniques, depending on the species. For example, for mammals, tracking surveys are conducted in the winter when snow conditions are appropriate. The surveyor skis or snowshoes along transects across the project area and identifies the tracks that are observed. Tracking surveys thus provide presence/absence data. For goshawk and red-shouldered hawks, a recording of calls of these species is played at selected points within a project area. The surveyor listens for audible responses and watches for birds flying in. These surveys can occur in May to June using the hawks' alarm call and in July using the juvenile begging call. Connecticut warbler surveys are conducted in early morning in May to June, in several plots in each project area. These surveys use a combination of passive listening, broadcasting a recording of the bird's call, and listening for responses. Survey protocols for animals are filed with the Forest's wildlife biologists.



2. LOCATION OF PROJECT

The proposed project area is located within Ontonagon County, Michigan, approximately eight miles southwest of Bruce Crossing. The project area is approximately 8753 acres in size. The Ottawa National Forest manages approximately 7782 acres within the project area, most of which were acquired from the Upper Peninsula Power Company in 1992. The project area also includes approximately 971 acres of private land. Activities are proposed on approximately 2304 acres of National Forest land.


Districts: Bessemer and Watersmeet Ranger Districts.

Legal Description: T46N, R40W, sections 1, 2, 3, 10, and 11 and T47N, R40W, sections 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 23, 26, 28, 33, 34, 35, and 36 all located in Ontonagon County Michigan.

Compartments: Bergland compartments 217and 218, and Watersmeet compartments 7, 21, 22, 23, 24, 35.

Management Areas: 1.1, 9.2, and 8.1.

Land Type Associations (LTA): 2, 19.

3. DESCRIPTION OF THE ALTERNATIVES

A. Purpose and Need

The Environmental Assessment gives four reasons for taking action within the project area: (1) Promote and maintain processes that would enhance natural species diversity while providing a supply of wood products for regional and local needs to help support a stable economic base within the market area. (2) Maintain and enhance habitat conditions that sustain viable populations of a variety of fish and wildlife species and enhance watershed conditions. (3) Maintain a road system that allows for management of National Forest Lands and provides for public access while meeting other resource needs. (4) Provide recreational opportunities to meet the publics’ needs. See Chapter 1 of the EA for further explanation of the purpose and need for the proposed actions.

B. Project description
The Choate Vegetation Management Project includes four different alternatives for addressing the identified purpose and need, and a no-action alternative (Alternative 1). The original proposed action, as presented in the initial scoping letter in November 2001, was not devloped and analyzed in detail by the interdisciplinary team, due to errors in mapping and tabular displays pertaining to roads and wildlife projects. Instead, corrections were made and the “Modified Proposed Action” was developed and analzed as Alternative 2. Alternatives 3 and 4 were designed to address the issues of both vegetative and acess management while meeting the project’s purpose and need. Alternative 3 is currently the preferred alternative, and is discussed specifically in an amendment to this Biological Evaluation. Alternative 5 was developed to address the issue of the Redlight Creek crossing while meeting the project’s purpose and need. See the Environmental Assessment for a complete discussion of all Alternatives.

This Biological Evaluation emphasizes the effects of Alternatives 2, the modified proposed action. The no action alternative (Alternative 1) is also evaluated as a comparison. Alternatives 3 and 4 propose fewer on-the-ground activities than Alternative 2. Alternative 3 proposes approximately 238 fewer acres of modified clearcut, one mile less of road constrcution, and proposes thinning instead of selection harvest for nine upland hardwood stands. Alternative 4 proposes approximately 524 fewer acres of modified clearcut, 118 fewer acres of thinning, includes no new temporary or permanent road construction, and does not propose maintaining the five wildlife openings adjacent to the Ontonagon River. The only other actions proposed by Alternatives 3 and 4 which are not included in Alternative 2 concern how Forest Road 6987 would cross Redlight Creek, the designation of managed or unmanaged old growth for several red pine and white pine stands, including thinning or selection cuts to promote old-growth characteristics. Alternative 5 is identical to Alternative 2 except that the existing Redlight Creek crossing would be removed, 1.1 mile of additional road would be reconstructed, and 0.1 mile of new road would be constructed, including improvements to a different ford across Redlight Creek.

Alternative 1 (No Action)

This alternative was developed in response to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requirements and serves as a baseline against which the Modified Proposed Action and all other alternatives are evaluated. No vegetative management would occur at this time. The vegetation in these stands would continue to develop under the influence of natural processes. The stands would follow successional paths associated with the vegetative species found within the project area. Annual road maintenance would continue to occur, and other uses of the project area would continue to occur.


Actions common to all Action Alternatives

All alternatives have to abide by the measures contained in the Forest Plan and other Forest Service policies and regulations, and MI DNR’s water quality BMPs. Additionally, there are a number of other measures that would be included in all the action alternatives (2, 3, or 4). These include measures to protect water quality and aquatic habitats; retain and enhance vegetative diversity; protect nests and dens of certain Regional Forester’s Sensitive Species (RFSS) wildlife species; manage access within the project area; retain and recruit large snags, live cavity trees and downed wood, and monitor implementation and effectiveness of design criteria associated with this project. A complete listing of all of the Common Actions can be found in Chapter 2, of the Choate Environmental Assessment (EA), and this BE will reference specific Common Actions.


Alternative 2 (Modified Proposed Action)

Alternative 2 includes proposed vegetation management activities in 106 different National Forest stands, totaling approximately 2071 stand acres. These activities are listed and described in Table 1.

Table 1. Summary of proposed vegetation management activities.


Proposed action

Number of stands

Total stand acres

(approx.)



Hand-cut small patches of tag alder adjacent to aspen stands to rejuvenate woodcock habitat.

10

49

Maintain 32 existing upland grass/forb openings, ranging in size from 1.3 to 60 acres, though hand-cutting of encroaching woody vegetation. Thirty are upland openings and two are wetland openings. Twenty of the thirty-two stands are adjacent to a creek, including five which are adjacent to the South or Cisco branches of the Ontonagon River. One of the openings includes the old Choate townsite.

32

317

Plant one opening, as a test, with conifer species suitable to the site.

1

7

Thin one red pine stand to promote old-growth characteristics, and classify the stand as managed old-growth.

1

5

Remove the overstory in one 32-acre stand of aspen, birch, white spruce, and balsam fir. Removing the upper canopy would release the trees and other vegetation in the understory.

1


32

Scarify the ground for seeding or natural regeneration of conifers to increase the hemlock, cedar, and white pine presence in existing stands. This is proposed for two aspen stands, one mixed lowland hardwoods stands, and one white pine stand.

4

49

Harvest stands using a modified clearcut prescription, followed by site preparation. The modified clearcut would use one harvest to remove most of the trees, leaving some trees standing of various diameters and species. Site preparation is the felling and leaving of all or most of the smaller diameter trees which were not harvested or retained. These actions are proposed for 11 aspen stands, 23 aspen, birch, white spruce, and balsam fir stands, and one stand typed as lowland brush.

34

1020

One aspen stand is proposed for modified clearcut and site preparation as described above, and also for ground scarification for conifer regeneration.

1

7

Selection harvest cut in various forest types. This harvest system removes trees individually in a scattered pattern or in small groups, from various size classes, throughout the stand. Regeneration is established under the partial shade of the overstory canopy after each cut resulting in an uneven-aged, multi-structured stand. This is proposed for one hardwood-basswood stand, three hardwood-hemlock stands, five mixed hardwood stands, and one aspen, birch, white spruce, balsam fir stand.

10


276

Thinning of various forest types. This is an intermediate treatment performed in an even-aged stand. A thinning removes the smaller trees that are less able to compete for light, so the larger, more vigorous trees remain. This is proposed for three red pine stands, six white pine stands, one white spruce stand, and two mixed hardwood stands.

12

309

Total:

106

2071

Other activities included with the proposed action are listed in Table 2. The fish habitat enhancement project calls for placing large woody debris at three separate sites in Sucker Creek and one site in Choate Creek to improve habitat for fish and other aquatic species by creating channel diversity. For the riparian enhancement project, riparian shrub species would be planted within point bars in one section of Sucker Creek to concentrate stream energy in the channel and dissipate stream energy on the point bars. The fish habitat enhancement and watershed activity sites in Sucker Creek and Choate Creek are all in sandy areas with little aquatic vegetation. Forest Road 6987 is a native-materials road with a problematic crossing at Redlight Creek, where chronic erosion is occurring. The proposed action is to remove the road crossing and replace it with a ford suitable for ATV crossing.


Table 2. Other proposed activities.

DIST


COMP

STAND

Proposed action

6

22

31

Fish habitat enhancement

6

24

30

Fish habitat enhancement

6

24

9

Fish habitat enhancement

6

22

10

Watershed improvement

6

21

10

Forest Road 6987 Red Light Creek Crossing

The proposed actions also include road maintenance and construction for approximately 27 miles of road. This includes approximately 6 miles of new road construction, 1 mile of temporary road construction, 10 miles of road reconstruction, and 10 miles of road maintenance. These roads intersect approximately 98 additional stands within the project area that are not proposed for any other activity.






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