Choate vegetation management project



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This project area is located within LTA’s 2, 19. Information about these LTA’s can be found in the Soils and Landform subsection of Chapter 3 of the EA for the Choate Vegetation Management Project.

This section lists the threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal taxa, describes their habitat needs (based on the literature and local experience), and states whether or not potential habitat occurs in the project area. Occurrence of suitable habitat is determined using botany and wildlife field survey notes, landtype association and cover type mapping, inter-disciplinary team field notes, knowledge of plant and animal habitat needs, and professional judgement. If no potential habitat is thought to be present, then there is no discussion of effects of alternatives. For those taxa which have potential habitat, even though the species has not been documented in the plan area, possible effects of the no action and the Modified Proposed Action alternatives are discussed. Alternatives 3, 4, and 5 are not analyzed here; if an alternative other than Alt. 1 or Alt. 2 is selected by the deciding officer, an addendum to the BE would be prepared to show the effects on federally listed, threatened and endangered, and Regional Forester’s Sensitive animal and plant taxa.


The direct and indirect effect analyses for all species were conducted at the Project Area scale because this is where the direct and indirect effects would occur. Generally, cumulative effects were also evaluated at the Project Area scale because the size of the project area is large enough to encompass the home range of the widest ranging species. For wildlife species with smaller home ranges and specific habitat requirements (e.g. dragonflies, mollusks, and fish) cumulative effects were conducted at the Forest habitat level within the Project Area. For species with similar habitat requirements (e.g. dragonflies, mollusks) species were lumped together and analyzed at the community or Forest habitat scale (scale used is explicitly stated for each species.

Canis lupus (Gray Wolf) State Endangered/Federal Endangered

Habitat: Wolves have few specific habitat requirements other than the need for den and rendezvous sites and adequate prey (white-tailed deer, beaver, and occasionally snowshoe hare and miscellaneous small animals in the Great Lakes region). Deer use almost every habitat available on the Ottawa National Forest, including early seral aspen, openings, riparian areas, and conifer thermal cover. Therefore, wolves may spend time hunting in any and all habitats found within the Choate project area. Wolves do best in areas with limited human access (< 1 mile of road per square mile). However, recent evidence shows that wolves may be able to re-colonize areas with greater densities of both roads and humans if people are generally tolerant of wolves (MI DNR 1997). About 250 wolves, plus pups from 2001’s breeding season, are believed to occupy the Upper Peninsula at this time. Recent data indicates a population growth rate of about 15% per year since 2000, which is declining from the maximum biologically attainable rate of increase of 30% of the late 90’s. This is due in fact that wolves are reaching their biological carrying capacity in the U.P., as well as, goals set by MI DNR for recovery purposes. Sightings of wolves are increasing correspondingly (MI DNR, unpublished data). Numerous pack territories are distributed across the Ottawa, with new packs being formed annually. (Jim Hammill, MI DNR, pers. comm.). At this time, the Choate project area encompasses portions of the home range of at least 1 pack, which is being monitored by MI DNR via radio telemetry (MI DNR, unpublished data, (Jim Hammill, pers. comm., February 2002).

Wolf presence within the plan area has been documented on several occasions. Wolf tracks were seen in several locations during mammal tracking surveys and bird surveys conducted in the project area in 2001. One pack is known to frequent portions of the project area. There are no known den or rendezvous sites within the project area. The Forest Plan Standards and Guidelines (IV-41.1) designated an area on the Ottawa as a remote habitat area located along the southern edge of the Forest totaling 256,000 acres, and was designated to assist in the recovery of the gray wolf. None of the Choate VMP project area is within the Remote Habitat Area.

The Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan (MI DNR 1997) states that six topics should be considered when assessing and planning land management activities. These are:

1. Human access 2. Disturbance at den and rendezvous site 3. Habitat corridors

4. Area closures 5. Protection of critical habitat 6. Habitat management for prey species

Each item was assessed to determine if it should be carried further into the analysis of direct and indirect effects for the chosen alternative:
1. Human access--Human access will be carried into the discussion of direct and indirect effects for the “No Action” and “Modified Proposed Action” alternatives contained in the EA, since human-wolf interactions, and the repercussions of these interactions, are often negative for wolves.
2. Disturbances at the den site and rendezvous site--Based on the information available (Hammill, MI DNR, pers. comm., February 2002), this project site does not contain any known denning or rendezvous sites. Therefore, this factor will not be carried forward in the analysis. If a den or rendezvous site is found, however, protection measures, as per the Wolf Recovery and Management Plan (see page 58 of the Plan), will be implemented.
3. Habitat corridors--This site lies within a larger forested landscape. Since wolves will use most forested habitats, the concept of a habitat corridor as a bridge connecting suitable habitat patches does not apply to this situation. Therefore, this factor will not be carried forward into the analysis.
4. Area closures--The Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery Plan states that it is not essential that sanctuaries or large tracts of wilderness areas be set aside for wolf management, but that areas that now exist should be maintained. The project area does not include any such designated area, so this factor will not be carried forward into the analysis of effects of the chosen alternative.

5. Protection of critical habitat--There is no designated or proposed critical habitat for wolves (or any other species) as defined by the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (as amended) on the Ottawa National Forest. Therefore, this factor will not be carried forward in the effects analysis in this biological evaluation.

6. Habitat management for prey species--The project site is a foraging area for wolves, with one pack using it (Hammill, MI DNR, pers. comm., February 2002). The project area contains a variety of habitats including and stands of aspen-birch, mixed aspen spruce-fir, spruce-fir, a few stands of northern white cedar, and northern hardwood forest. The Modified Proposed Action would change the age classes of the aspen and mixed aspen spruce-fir stands. This alternative would not decrease the habitat base for white-tailed deer in the project area. This alternative would provide habitat for white-tailed deer and should maintain deer populations in the project area and is therefore, not expected to reduce wolf foraging opportunities in the project area. Therefore, this factor will not be carried into the discussion of direct and indirect effects below.

Alternative 1 (No Action)

The No Action Alternative would not result in any new construction, re-construction maintenance or decommissioning of roads, or vegetative management actions or connected actions by the Forest Service. Therefore, there would be no direct effects to wolf habitat or wolves from the No Action Alternative. There is an existing network of roads, some useable by pick up trucks, some passable with ATVs and some accessible by foot traffic. The project area is part of a pack territory and with wolf use occurring with the existing density and wolf territory expansion has occurred with the current road network. . The existing road network does provide the mechanism for wolf/human interactions. The paved roads would provide the chance for wolf mortality due to collision with motor vehicles; this would be less likely on gravel roads due to slower vehicle speed. The other form of wolf mortality would be due to shooting. The incidence of either type of mortality in the project area is zero; there have been no known wolf mortality due to collisions with motor vehicles or due to shooting in the project area. It would appear that the existing road system does not have any negative effects on wolves or the use of the project area by wolves.

Without active forest management in the project area the long-term trend would be the ageing of the current aspen stands some of which would decline and die resulting in the loss of some of the aspen component. The consequence of this natural succession process will be a gradual conversion of the early successional forest types to either conifer forests (spruce-fir), or northern hardwood forest types, which generally do not support as much prey base (e.g. deer, beaver,) for wolves. Thus, when compared to the action alternatives, which all include active forest management, the long-term carrying capacity of the project area for wolves is expected to be lowest under the No Action Alternative.
Cumulative Effects

The area considered for cumulative effects analysis was the project area, which is about 8,750 total acres. Of this total, about 7,700 acres are National Forest lands, managed by the Forest Service (data derived via FS Combined Data System (CDS) database). This approximately 13.6-mi.2 project are area is about ¼ of the average pack territory in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The pack territory extends south into Sylvania, and the project area is the northern portion of the pack territory. However, since the project area covers only a portion of the wolf pack territory, the analysis will center around the effects on the project portion of the pack territory.

The cumulative effect area (the project area) has approximately 7,700 acres of Ottawa National Forest land (about 88% of the Project Area). Of these acres, approximately 69% of the acres are aspen; 21% of the acres are conifer; and 11% of the acres are hardwoods. Approximately 45% of the suited aspen acres are between 41-60 years of age and another 31% of the suited aspen acres are over 60 years of age. These acres are the acres that will mature and eventually succeed from aspen to other forest types.

The approximately 1,050 acres (12%) of non-FS land in the Project is owned by private individuals. There has been some limited timber harvesting on the private ownerships in the last 15 years, and maintenance around the leased camp residences. This pattern of activity is presumed to continue in the future.
In the last 15-20 years about 7% of the suited aspen acres in the project area have been regenerated. These acres where clear-cut. However, the clearcuts and shelterwood cuts likely produced more prey species for wolves, yet there was enough hiding cover and secure denning cover in the area for wolves to stay out of human sight. For the first 5-10 years post harvest, the clearcut and shelterwood sites provided open foraging habitat for wolves. There are currently no other acres under contract to be harvested in the cumulative effects analysis area.
The Project Area is aspen-dominated. In the Choate project area aspen accounts for approximately 69% of the acreage. This percentage is currently above the Forest Plan DFC range. This percentage would to drop under the No Action Alternative due to natural succession. Most wolf prey is dependent upon aspen and other early successional types (deer, beaver) and thus would be less abundant through time under the No Action Alternative.

Active management on other FS, and non-FS, timber sales has been on going, and is expected to continue, even if the No Action is selected in this project. Forest management almost always results in opening the canopy, and the resulting flush of new browse increases densities of deer and other wolf prey. This alternative, if selected, would allow natural succession to occur, and is expected to generally provide less prey biomass for wolves over time as the aspen stands mature and succeed to other forest types (i.e. northern hardwoods or conifers). This decrease would affect the long-term carrying capacity for prey in the project area and reduce long-term foraging opportunities for the wolf pack currently using this project area.

Alternative 2 (Modified Proposed Action)

Under the Modified Proposed Action, the total road density (meaning all roads that we know of, regardless of status or ownership) in the 13.6 mi2 project area would be 2.6. mi2 (see the EA). Under the Modified Proposed Action, all roads that are currently closed via berms or gates would be re-closed after completion of forest management activities. Further, all new roads that are built to access stands would be closed to passenger vehicles via gates or berms after completion of forest management. These closures should reduce the likelihood of wolves being disturbed in the project area after the timber sales are completed. However, ATVs would be allowed to use these closed roads, which could lead to continued human/wolf interactions.

Wildlife openings totaling 362 acres would be maintained under the Modified Proposed Action (see the EA). These openings are designed to benefit edge-dependent and early seral-dependent species, which also constitute wolf prey (deer). Therefore, the net effect of opening maintenance upon wolf prey is expected to be positive. The scarification for natural conifer regeneration would initiate replacement of existing and maturing conifer stands. These conifer stands would continue to provide habitat for wolf prey species primarily deer. The tag alder regeneration is not expected to have either positive or negative effects on wolf prey base in the project area, and therefore, should not have any effect on wolves or their habitat in the project area. Other actions proposed in the Modified Proposed Action are not expected to have much effect on wolves or wolf prey. . Wolf pups have been sighted in the area several times over the years but no den or rendezvous sites have been located within the Project Area (Hammill MI DNR pers. Comm. Feb. 2002.) If a den or rendezvous site is found within the project area, protection measures will be implemented as per the Michigan Gray Wolf Recovery and Management Plan (MI DNR 1997). Therefore, no direct effects to reproduction are expected under the Modified Proposed Action.

This alternative (fully described in Ch. 2 of the EA) includes 256 acres of selection harvesting in northern hardwood stands, 1,027 acres of modified clearcut with reserve trees in aspen and mixed aspen stands, and 309 acres of thinnings. This alternative includes 6 miles of road construction, 10 miles of road re-construction, 1 mile of temporary road construction, and 10 miles of road maintenance and 16 miles of road decommissioning. This alternative would have a road density of 2.6 miles per square mile in the MA 1.1 area of the project area.
The effects of this action upon wolves and wolf habitat are expected to be both positive and negative. Timber harvesting generally is expected to be positive, by regenerating stands of aspen, maintenance of existing upland openings, and regenerating some conifer stands, and therefore maintaining the carrying capacity of wolf prey (deer, beaver).

In alternative 2 six miles of new road construction has been proposed. The new construction will increase access by ATVs and this may increase the chance of wolf/human interactions in the project area. To conduct commercial forest management in the project area, the Forest Service would have to re-open old roads, and build new roads into these areas, which would enable recreational and other users of the Forest to access these areas much more easily. It is not axiomatic that the changes in the transportation system result in an increase of total human use of the project area over the current levels use or increased likely-hood of wolf mortality. . Over the years, wolves have shown an adaptability (tolerance?) to roads and humans. In Minnesota wolves have demonstrated an ability to move into and survive in areas of that state, which were once thought not acceptable habitat. One of the major limiting factors for wolf colonization in the Upper Great Lakes region has been accidental and intentional trapping and shooting of wolves (MI DNR 1997). Thus, a consequence of implementing Alternative B might be a higher incidence of human/wolf interactions.

Project Design Criteria: To avoid impacts to wolf habitat components, the following Project Design Criteria should be applied:

  1. A standard timber sale contract clause to provide for protection of threatened and endangered species and their habitats is included in all timber sale and road construction contracts. This contract clause would allow modification or cancellation of the contract to provide additional protection for threatened and endangered species as needed, if protection measures identified with each sale area prove inadequate. Contract clause CT6.25, or Service Contract Specification of the same language, is the standard clause at this time.

  1. Protect wolf den and rendezvous sites by utilizing the following Michigan Timber Wolf Recovery Plan direction (1997): (A) Protect wolf den sites (verified by wildlife biologists) and key rendezvous sites as determined by surveys, that have been used within the last two years; (B) Utilize a year-round restriction on land use activities (including tree harvest and road construction) within 330 feet of a wolf den or rendezvous site (human uses of the area will be passively discouraged, and existing trails and logging roads will be closed or rerouted); and (C) within 330 to 2640 feet of a wolf den or rendezvous site, land use activities such as tree harvest, road construction and maintenance, and mineral exploration will be prohibited between March 1 and July 31. New road and trail construction will not be permitted within this zone. Forest roads and trails will be closed on a case-by-case basis (exceptions are made for some trails and major public travel ways, e.g., U.S. highways, and town, county, and state roads and highways).

  1. Close all temporary roads with barricades or berms when timber harvest operations are complete.

Cumulative Effects

Forest management has been intensifying in the region due to maturing second growth forests and increasing economic values for wood products (USDA 1997). Consequently, forest transportation systems have been expanding in the region, and the amount of forest management activities is increasing. Based on the literature, and what we know about wolves, it might be expected that these land use practices would have negative effects on wolves. However, wolf populations and range have been expanding rapidly (~35% annual population growth) throughout western Upper Peninsula since the mid 90’s. This alternative, and any of the other action alternatives, are expected to perpetuate the history of active forest management in this region, and is expected to provide more prey biomass for wolves than implementing the No Action Alternative. Alternative 2 would add a, positive cumulative effect to what has been occurring in the Project Area and region. Similarly, implementing any of the action alternatives would add a small cumulative increment to the trend of increasing road densities in the Project Area and region.

Lynx canadensis (Canada lynx) State Endangered/Federal Threatened

Lynx occur primarily in the boreal forest, sub-boreal and western montane forests of North America, and mixed coniferous/deciduous forests of southern Canada, the Lake States and New England. Lynx habitat or territory can be characterized as having areas of mature forests with downed logs and windfalls to provide cover for denning sites, escape, and protection from severe weather. Early successional forest stages provide habitat for the lynx's primary prey, the snowshoe hare. The home range of the lynx can vary from five to 94 square miles. The lynx is capable of moving very long distances in search of food. Snowshoe hares are the primary prey of the lynx, comprising 35-97% diet throughout the range of the lynx. Other prey species taken by lynx include red squirrels, grouse, mice, voles, porcupines, beaver, and ungulates as carrion or occasionally as prey. Most research has focused on the winter diet. Indications are that the summer diet includes a greater diversity of prey species. During the cycle when hares become scarce, the proportion of other prey species, especially red squirrels, increases in the diet. This change in diet causes sudden drops in the productivity of the adult female lynx and reduces the survival of the young. Research has indicated that a diet of red squirrels alone may not be adequate to ensure lynx reproduction and survival of the kittens. During periods of low snowshoe hare numbers, starvation can account for up to two-thirds of all natural lynx deaths. Periodically, influxes of dispersing lynx have occurred in the northern United States during lows in the snowshoe hare population cycle. Connectivity between northern and southern lynx populations is necessary for the persistence of southern lynx populations. However, there is no evidence that immigrating lynx are able to successfully colonize southern areas. In the southern portions of snowshoe hare range, non-lynx predators may limit hare populations to lower densities than in the northern boreal forests. Information on lynx ecology was derived from the Canada Lynx Conservation Assessment and Strategy (LCAS; 2000).

Lynx require a mosaic of habitats for survival, including late successional denning and early successional prey habitat. The lynx is a specialized predator (feeding primarily on snowshoe hare), which puts it at a competitive disadvantage to coyotes and bobcat, which are habitat generalists able to feed on a wide variety of prey (Ruggerio, et al., 2000; pg. 91). Lynx densities are observed to fluctuate numerically with hare densities on a 10-year cycle. The lynx would occasionally take prey such as mice, squirrels, and grouse, voles, and shrews, but this prey must be present in sufficient quantities or biomass to be meaningful to lynx nutrition.

Factors implicated in the decline of lynx include: loss of habitat through logging and clearing for agriculture; simplification of habitat through forest management; isolation of habitat, including fragmentation, via logging, clearing for agriculture, development, transportation corridors (roads, railways); and, overexploitation by humans via trapping, shooting, collections, etc (US Fish and Wildlife Service; proposed rule to list Canada lynx under the Endangered Species Act of 1973; 63 FR 130; 36993-37013). Ruggerio, et al. (2000) recounts numerous examples of lynx being out-competed by other predators for snowshoe hares (e.g. coyote, bobcat, goshawk; pgs 86-95).

Lynx are typically associated with extensive tracts of dense boreal forest interspersed with rocky outcrops, bogs, and thickets. Deep snow and extremely low temperatures may be characteristic of these areas. Lynx give birth in a hollow log, stump or clump of timber. On the Ottawa National Forest suitable habitat includes stands that support snowshoe hares or red squirrels and mature forest of many types, including most stands with a coniferous component, and aspen or paper birch stands, that may be usable for denning.

In the upper Great Lakes region, lynx habitat includes coniferous forests, aspen, mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, shrub swamps (largely alder and willow), and conifer bogs. Within this group, snowshoe hares are typically associated with sapling and mature aspen and conifer stands, shrub swamps, and conifer bogs. Red squirrels are found in coniferous stands of cone-bearing age. Lynx also may forage in small permanent openings adjacent to suitable habitat. Large stands of northern hardwoods are not suitable lynx habitat (LCAS 2000; 63 FR 130: 36993-37013).
On the ONF, competition for snowshoe hares and other prey species would come from wolves, bobcats, coyotes, goshawks, great-horned owls, fishers, and humans. Information is provided in Ruggiero et al. (2000) that indicate that the last verified lynx presence in the Upper Peninsula was in 1983 in Mackinac County (p. 218). There are no verified records for the Ottawa National Forest indicating lynx presence since the early 1960's (p. 218 - 219).
The Canada lynx is not known to occur on the ONF, therefore, based on a May 19, 2000 letter from the FWS (copy in project files), Endangered Species Act Section 7(a)(2) determinations are not necessary, and will not be made for the Canada lynx for the Choate Project. This BE will, however, document effects of the alternatives upon suitability of the project area for lynx.
As part of the listing process, an Agreement has been initiated to promote the conservation of the Canada lynx and its habitat on federal lands (USDA Forest Service 2000). The agreement between FWS and other federal agencies identifies actions the signatories agree to take to reduce or eliminate adverse effects or risks to the species and its habitat, and to maintain the ecosystems on which this species depends.

The ONF has identified and mapped potential lynx habitat and Lynx Analysis Units (LAU’s) within its administrative boundaries. The LAU is a project analysis unit upon which direct, indirect, and cumulative effects analyses are performed. LAU boundaries remain constant to facilitate planning and allow effective monitoring of habitat changes over time. The Choate VMP is not within a Lynx Analysis Unit (LAU). Available evidence indicates that lynx are not present on the Ottawa National Forest or in the proposed project area, this biological assessment will not included an analysis of direct, indirect or cumulative
Project Design Criteria: Project Design Criteria providing protection, and consultation with USFWS would be implemented if evidence of a resident lynx (i.e. den site, observation of kits, etc.) were discovered.

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