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United States Department of the Interior IN REPLY REFER TO: FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE 110 South Amity Road, Suite 300 Conway, Arkansas Tel.: 501/ Fax: 501/ December 19, 2013 Liz Agpaoa,
United States Department of the Interior IN REPLY REFER TO: FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE 110 South Amity Road, Suite 300 Conway, Arkansas Tel.: 501/ Fax: 501/ December 19, 2013 Liz Agpaoa, Regional Forester USDA Forest Service Southern Region 1720 Peachtree Road NW Atlanta, Georgia Dear Ms. Agpaoa: This document transmits the United States Fish and Wildlife Service s (Service) biological and conference opinions (BO/CO) based on our review of: 1) the USDA Forest Service Ouachita National Forest (ONF) proposal regarding designation, operation, and maintenance of the Wolf Pen Gap Trail Complex; 2) its effects to the Arkansas fatmucket (Lampsilis powellii), spectaclecase (Cumberlandia monodonta), rabbitsfoot (Quadrula cylindrica cylindrica), freshwater mussels, and northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis); and 3) its effects to proposed critical habitat for rabbitsfoot. This BO has been prepared pursuant to section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (Act), as amended (16 U.S.C 1531 et seq.), and its implementing regulations (50 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 402). Section 7(a)(2) of the Act requires federal agencies to consult with the Service to ensure any action authorized, funded, or carried out is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any federally listed species nor destroy or adversely modify critical habitat. This BO/CO is based on the best available scientific and commercial data including meetings, electronic mail and telephone correspondence with ONF officials, Service files, pertinent scientific literature, discussions with recognized species authorities, and other scientific sources. A complete administrative record is on file at the Arkansas Ecological Services Field Office. Consultation History In a letter dated February 21, 2008, ONF requested comments on the Travel Management Project. In a letter dated March 20, 2008, the Service s Oklahoma Field Office provided general and species specific comments related to the Travel Management Project. The Service s Arkansas Field Office provided comments in April, At a meeting on November 6, 2008, ONF presented a proposal to designate a system of roads and trails for public use of motorized vehicles, including off-highway vehicles. Service staff discussed threatened and endangered species concerns related to the Travel Management Project during the meeting. Service and ONF met again on August 5, 2009, and discussed Travel Management Project revisions. On August 20, 2009, ONF and Service conducted a site visit to Wolf Pen Gap (WPG) Trail Complex. On September 10, 2009, the Service received ONF s Biological Assessment/Biological Evaluation Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife for the Motor Vehicle Use Map (Travel Management Project). In a letter dated October 28, 2009, the Service concurred with ONF s finding for federally listed species, except Arkansas fatmucket, affected by the proposed Travel Management Project (TMP) and associated Motor Vehicle Use Maps (MVUM). On November 30, 2009, the Service received ONF s amendment to the Biological Assessment/Biological Evaluation Terrestrial and Aquatic Wildlife for the Motor Vehicle Use Map. In a letter dated December 4, 2009, the Service concurred with ONF s finding of may affect, not likely to adversely affect the Arkansas fatmucket for the proposed TMP and MVUM. On April 28, 2010, ONF informed Service WPG trail complex will be excluded from larger MVUM consultation and verbally requested to reinitiate consultation on WPG project. On May 19, 2010, the ONF, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), and Service met to discuss issues related to WPG project. On May 20 22, 2010, ONF conducted a site visit to WPG Trail Complex with the Service and public. In a letter dated June 22, 2010, the Service provided comments to the ONF on their development of short-term and longterm plans for WPG. On September 16 and 30 and October 7, 2010, the ONF hosted public meetings in Mena, Arkansas. ONF and Service staff discussed ESA basics, including consultation process, freshwater mussel biology, effects of sediment to aquatic biota, and potential adverse effects to mussels and fishes from an unsustainable WPG Trail Complex at the first meeting. At the second meeting, ONF presented their interim management plan (IMP) and announced short- and long-term proposed actions, including future planning steps, for the WPG project. At the third meeting, the ONF discussed community issues related to WPG project. Service staff was in attendance for all public meetings. In a letter dated October 13, 2010, the Service provided comments to ONF regarding WPG IMP and associated adverse effects to Arkansas fatmucket. On December 10, 2010, ONF and Service staff met to discuss issues related to WPG project. On July 19, 2011, ONF hosted a public meeting to present WPG project updates and overview of Trails Unlimited report. Service staff was in attendance. On August 26, 2011, ONF conducted a site visit to WPG Trail Complex to view best management practice (BMP) work. Service, TNC, congressional delegation representatives, and public were in attendance. On September 23, 2011, ONF presented and discussed preliminary water quality data with the Service. At a meeting on April 5, 2012, ONF briefed the Service on preliminary alternatives. In a letter dated July 30, 2012, ONF invited informal public interaction on eight preliminary 2 alternatives for WPG project. ONF contacted the Service via telephone on July 31, 2012, to summarize ONF time lines for completing NEPA and ESA consultation. In a letter dated November 5, 2012, ONF provided an update on review of 78 public responses to their July 30, 2012, letter and new issues identified for preliminary alternatives. ONF met with the Service and TNC on December 19, 2012, January 22 and March 26, 2013, to discuss sediment monitoring and progress with the WPG project. During a site visit to the WPG Trail Complex on June 12, 2013, ONF, Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), TNC, and Service staff discussed wet weather management and turbidity monitoring. At a meeting on June 24, 2013, the ONF delivered their draft environmental assessment for the WPG project and discussed alternatives with the Service. On July 1, 2013, ONF, USGS, TNC, and Service staff discussed sediment monitoring for the WPG project. At a meeting on July 24, 2013, ONF and Service staff discussed biological data presented in Clingenpeel (2012a). ONF disclosed an internal review of the report and subsequently provided via data from their Basin Area Stream Surveys and sediment models for individual trails in WPG trail complex. On August 9, 2013, the Service received the ONF s biological assessment for the WPG project and accompanying letter initiating formal consultation. In a letter dated August 9, 2013, the Service concurred with the ONF s determination that the proposed WPG project is likely to adversely affect the Arkansas fatmucket, spectaclecase, and rabbitsfoot. The formal consultation began August 9, 2013, the date the Service concurred with ONF s adverse effect determination. In November, 2013, the ONF and Service agreed to include the proposed endangered northern long-eared bat as species potentially affected by the proposed activities in the WPG Trail Complex. On November 20, 2013, the Service provided to the ONF a copy of the draft BO for its review and comment. The Service met with ONF staff on December 5, 2013, to address their comments on the draft BO. The Service issued its final BO on December, 19, 2013, concluding formal consultation. BIOLOGICAL AND CONFERENCE OPINION DESCRIPTION OF PROPOSED ACTION As defined in the Service s section 7 regulations (50 CFR ), action means all activities or programs of any kind authorized, funded, or carried out, in whole or in part, by Federal agencies in the United States or upon the high seas. The action area is defined as all areas to be affected directly or indirectly by the Federal action and not merely the immediate area involved in the action. The direct and indirect effects of the actions and activities must be considered in conjunction with the effects of other past and present Federal, State, or private activities, as well as the cumulative effects of State or 3 private activities within the action reasonably certain to occur in the foreseeable future and which would not trigger a separate section 7 consultation. The 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture final rule for Travel Management; Designated Routes and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use requires designation of roads, trails, and areas open to motor vehicle use (70 Federal Register 68290). The Ouachita National Forest (ONF) proposes changes to the existing system of roads and motorized trails for public use, including off-highway vehicles (OHV), in Wolf Pen Gap (WPG). The proposed changes to WPG Trail Complex also include changes to motorized use designations, route closures and obliteration, route relocations, and new route construction. The proposed action, also known as Alternative I or modified OHV season of use, includes the following actions: 1. User created trails and old route footprints (resulting from proposed closures or relocations) will be obliterated and the forest floor restored to a natural condition. 2. Stabilize shale pit and watershed by reshaping to redirect and disperse channeled surface water flow, install natural erosion barriers and rock on usercreated trails, and prepare beds for planting shortleaf pine, black locust, and native grasses. 3. Install 269 stream crossing improvement structures, including 263 culverts, cement planks or arch culverts, three trail bridges, and three road bridges. 4. Install four administrative and 11 wet weather management gates. 5. Construct foot trail to Hawk s Gap Overlook. 6. Equip two vistas with picnic tables. 7. Build pavilion with two picnic tables at North Trailhead. 8. Obliterate and relocate warm-up trail located at West Trailhead parking lot. 9. Retain old footprint of Forest Service Road 243 for administrative use (maintenance level one). 10. Install and maintain site-specific best management practices (BMP) developed for WPG (Poff 2012). ONF will monitor BMP effectiveness and appropriateness a minimum of three times per year. Time frame for monitoring will be determined by the District Ranger, but typically will occur within a month after the peak season of use (late May or June); after the main summer season concludes (September); and after the system in closed for much of the winter (January or February). Additional BMP compliance 4 monitoring will be documented for individual trail and road segments during the course of routine patrols and maintenance trips throughout the year. a. If less than 80 percent of cross-drain structures are functioning, they will be fixed within 30 days. If prompt corrections (within 30 days) cannot be made, an action plan will be submitted to the Forest Supervisor for approval within this timeframe. b. With every maintenance entry, berms and ruts caused by use of the trail will be treated to reduce or prevent accelerated erosion and potential sedimentation. 11. Place barriers at crossings where monitoring indicates a need to prevent OHV access into the stream channel. 12. Large woody debris (LWD) will be removed from crossing structures in conjunction with maintenance activities when the LWD is detrimentally affecting proper function of the structure. If possible, LWD will be placed downstream of the crossing or outside the 100-year floodplain. 13. Gravel/sediment will be removed only from stream or river channels with fisheries biologist or hydrologist approval and appropriate State and Federal permits, and will not be used for road and trail maintenance (will not be placed on roads or trails). This criterion will be applied only when the stream crossing structure is improperly functioning or the crossing structure is threatened or compromised based on a field review by a fisheries biologist and/or hydrologist. 14. Stream surveys comparing WPG Trail Complex streams to reference streams (Caney and Brushy creeks) will continue using the historical sample protocol (Clingenpeel J. A., 2012; Clingenpeel and Cochran 1992). The current frequency of sample is every five years; the next sample year is Maintain soil health and stability within the watershed. 16. Implement measures to mitigate user created trails and remedy damage caused by new user created trails. 17. Curtail trail use during and after rainfall events to avoid excessive soil erosion and trail degradation (see Appendix B - Wet Weather Management Plan). 18. Reconstruct trail segments with insufficient drainage structures and other necessary components to minimize erosion and trail degradation. 5 19. Re-route trail segments located in areas of potential or existing soil instability, severe erosion, or connectivity with stream channels to more suitable sites. 20. Trails and drainage structures will be located and designed to include the following considerations: minimize hydrologic connectivity; avoid sensitive areas such as riparian areas, hydric soils, wetlands, bogs, and unstable landforms; avoid capture, diversion, and/or concentration of runoff from slopes adjacent to OHV trails; remove storm runoff from trail surface before it concentrates enough to initiate rilling; dissipate intercepted water by rolling grades; where trails cannot be effectively drained by rolling grades or using reverse grades, provide trail drainage using OHV rolling dips; incorporate sediment basins at OHV rolling dip outlets instead of lead off ditches; provide energy dissipaters at OHV rolling dip outlets where sediment basins cannot be installed; incorporate design elements discouraging off-route use (e.g., taking shortcuts, cutting new lines); and extend drainage outlets beyond the toe of fill or side-cast. 21. Where trails are re-constructed or constructed, soil moisture content in the trail surface will be sufficient to enhance compaction for optimum soil strength. 22. Seed and cover with hay or mulch areas with bare erodible soils to stabilize soils, prevent erosion, and discourage OHV use off the trail. 23. Armor exposed approaches to watercourse crossings with rock or some other sediment mitigation measure to minimize erosion from up-slope water and splashing water from OHV tires. 24. Minimize OHV operation in or near natural drainages, springs, seeps, areas subject to frequent flooding, or near open bodies of water. 25. Conduct motor vehicle use counts to determine use levels. 26. Conduct trail condition surveys according to Trail Condition Assessment Survey Matrix. 27. Monitor sediment basin effectiveness (see Appendix C TNC Monitoring Protocol). 28. Restrict OHV noise to 96 decibels. Any changes to designations of existing routes not proposed for closure or relocation will be implemented immediately upon publication of an updated Motor Vehicle Use Map. The ONF expects route closure and obliteration, route relocation, and new route construction to occur in phases during a five year period (refer to Appendix A for map of WPG Trail Complex). 6 Except for Trail 1 and Forest Service Road 95, which will remain open to all motorized vehicle use year round, the following apply (refer to Table 1 for WPG designated road and trail use): 1. WPG Trail Complex will be closed to OHV use for the following situations: a. One hour after sunset until one hour before sunrise. b. Seasonal periods to manage adverse effects from OHV use to the environment. 2. Parts or all of the WPG road and trail complex will be closed to all public motorized vehicle use during the following situations: a. During scheduled maintenance. b. During and after precipitation events ( 0.4 inch) that may cause damage to the trail system when combined with use (Refer to Appendix B Wet Weather Management Plan). Table 1. WPG Designated Road and Trail Use Designated Road Use 7 Proposed Action Estimated Miles Change from Current Condition (Miles) Highway and OHV year round Highway only year round 3.2 None Highway year round WPG Seasonal OHV Road Total Designated Trail Use Proposed Action Estimated Miles Change from Current Condition (Miles) OHV year round None WPG Seasonal OHV Trail Total Total WPG Routes Highway and OHV year round: Roads open to all vehicles, January 1 December 31. Highway only year round: Roads open to highway legal vehicles only, January 1 December 31. Highway year round WPG Seasonal OHV: Roads open to highway legal vehicles, January 1 December 31, and OHVs, seasonally (2 nd Friday of March October 31; 3 days before Thanksgiving 2 days after Thanksgiving; December 25 January 2). WPG Seasonal OHV: Trails open to OHVs seasonally as defined above. ONF also plans to implement specific monitoring in WPG to include, but not necessarily limited to: 1. Document location of trail erosion. 2. Document BMP effectiveness (i.e., are appropriate BMPs in place on the trail system and are they functioning properly);. 3. Measure concentration of suspended sediment in Gap and Board Camp Creeks (total of three U.S. Geological Survey continuous monitoring stations). 4. Model (WEPP or other comparable model) delivery of sediment from trails and roads. 5. Evaluate and track changes in stream stability (i.e., monitor rate of stream bank erosion at TNC established monitoring stations) and sediment deposition (i.e., is sediment deposition in pools and riffles decreasing) in Gap and Board Camp Creeks. The goal of this monitoring is to establish long-term trends in sediment delivery and loading and its effects on aquatic biota, hydrology, and stream geomorphology. The U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station is conducting research to assess whether and how detrimental effects to streams may be occurring in the WPG Trail Complex from a geomorphic perspective, focusing on geomorphological effects on streams and sediment production resulting from OHV trails and use. ONF monitoring will enable managers to identify sediment sources and take corrective actions to minimize and mitigate detrimental effects. ACTION AREA The Service has described the action area to include the WPG Trail Complex, Board Camp Creek downstream of the ONF boundary, and Ouachita River from the Board Camp Creek confluence to Lake Ouachita. WPG is located approximately seven miles southeast of Mena, Arkansas in the western portion of Polk County. The WPG Trail Complex comprises 16,618 acres (Appendix A; 13,477 ONF acres and 3,141 private acres). The area is noted for its rugged topography in the Ouachita Mountain ecoregion and motorized recreational opportunities. The Ouachita River begins in western Arkansas and flows freely through the Ouachita Mountains of Polk and Montgomery counties into Lake Ouachita near Mt. Ida. Although there is a large presence of ONF property in the watershed, most of the ONF property occurs in the upland portions of the watershed, leaving the majority of the main stem Ouachita River riparian area and its largest tributaries privately owned. The Ouachita River headwaters, upstream of Lake Ouachita, comprise approximately 329,975 acres. ONF ownership in this area comprises 172,668 acres (52 percent). The Board Camp Creek subwatershed is approximately 21,399 acres comprised of 10,280 acres of ONF ownership (48 percent). ONF ownership is concentrated in the headwaters 8 where the majority of OHV use occurs. Two perennial streams, Gap and Board Camp Creeks, occupy the ONF portion of the Board Camp Creek subwatershed. During the formation of these creeks, the east-west mountain ridge was eroded through or captured forming gaps in three places creating a unique trellis drainage pattern, which in conjunction with steep slopes can generate flashy runoff (USFS 2013a). The soils in the WPG Trail Complex are very diverse. Soil characteristics range from depths less than 10 to greater than 60 inches, somewhat excessively drained to somewhat poorly draine
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