Public Comment Period on Scoping Process to Use Helicopters in AZ Forests and Wilderness Areas

This time the Forest Service wants to implement the use of helicopters to terrorize bighorn sheep. Another native species under attack because of the livestock industry’s greed and need to control our public lands!

2019-01-11

Read the plan here:
Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Authorization of Helicopter Landings in Wilderness – Tonto National Forest, Gila, Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai Counties, Arizona
https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/98402_FSPLT3_2068197.pdf

Scoping Letter sent to CAES:

“Dear Interested Party:

The Tonto National Forest proposes to authorize the use of helicopters by the Arizona Game and Fish Department within the Tonto National Forest, including designated wilderness areas, for the purposes of bighorn sheep management. Helicopters would be used to: capture, release, translocate, monitor populations, and conduct research of bighorn sheep within portions of the Tonto National Forest including the Mazatzal, Hells Gate, Four Peaks, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wilderness Areas (Figure 1 ). These wilderness areas occur on some portion of all six of the ranger districts within Maricopa, Gila, Yavapai, and Pinal Counties, Arizona. Helicopter operations would be limited to specific days in the month of November beginning November 2014 through potently November 2024. This action is necessary for the Arizona Game and Fish Department to meet bighorn sheep management objectives.

Background

The Arizona Game and Fish Department’s Statewide Action Plan outlines strategies and
conservation actions aimed at promoting partnerships and coordinating efforts among all who hold a stake in conserving Arizona’s wildlife. While the plan addresses the full array of wildlife and habitats, it focuses on identifying and managing the wildlife and habitats that are in the greatest need of conservation. The Statewide Action Plan lists the desert bighorn sheep ( Ovis canadensis Mexicana) as a Species of Greatest Conservation Need. The Forest Service utilizes a list of management indicator species that serves as a barometer for species viability at the forest level. The Tonto National Forest management indicator species list includes desert bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep are recognized as an important wildlife resource in Arizona and throughout the rest of their natural range. Establishing and maintaining healthy populations of all subspecies of bighorn sheep is one of the Arizona Game and Fish Department’s statewide bighorn sheep management objectives. To meet those objectives, the Arizona Game and Fish Department depends on gathering information on habitat use and vital rates that determine population dynamics through the placement of very high frequency and global positioning system (GPS) collars on individual sheep, as well as augmenting populations of bighorn sheep and introducing animals into currently unoccupied po1iions of their historic range. These actions may require the use of helicopters in capturing and transport efforts because of steep terrain, extreme seasonal temperatures, and remote locations. On the Tonto National Forest, a substantial po1iion of the bighorn sheep populations occur within designated wilderness areas not accessible by road.

Purpose and Need

The purpose of this project is for the Forest Service to work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to meet the management objectives for bighorn sheep within the Tonto National Forest. There is a need for the Forest Service to work with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to assist with research and monitoring needs for a Forest level management indicator species as stipulated in the 1985 Tonto National Forest Plan.

Proposed Action

The proposed action for this project only relates to activities occurring within the Tonto National Forest, specifically the Mazatzal, Hells Gate, Four Peaks, Salt River Canyon, and Superstition Wilderness Areas. The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits the use of motorized vehicles, motorized equipment, and mechanical transport. Congress acknowledged that there are times when exceptions are allowed to meet the minimum required administration of wilderness areas.

The Tonto National Forest proposes to permit the use of helicopters in designated wilderness areas as identified to further the efforts of bighorn sheep management and research by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Arizona Game and Fish Department personnel and authorized contract helicopter personnel would operate and manage all helicopter use for this project. Beginning in November 2014, 20 to 40 bighorn sheep would be captured within the project area; some of which would be fitted with
radio collars and released on site while others would be translocated to the appropriate sites, potentially within state or federal lands. Each November thereafter for up to ten years, capture operations and translocations may occur depending on management needs and population status. Helicopters would be used to safely and quickly access bighorn sheep mortalities and determine locations for capture and subsequent translocation.

The proposed action, more specifically, would involve:

• The use of helicopters in the four wilderness areas to capture bighorn sheep using hand-held net guns. Radio collars would be placed on the sheep or replaced if the collars were non-operational, and the sheep would be released on site. Specifically, these activities would be:

  • Proposed to occur over a 1-3 day period with multiple flights and use of two
    helicopters.
  • Proposed for the month of November during weekdays when public recreation
    use is anticipated to be minimal.
  • Based on expected need of7-1 0 sheep captures, there may be 10-20 landings
    during the 1-3 day period. This may occur annually over the next four years.
  • During landings, the minimal ground disturbance would occur; no or minimal
    disturbance to vegetation, including trees and cactus would occur, as these are
    hazards for safe helicopter operations.

• The use of helicopters in wilderness areas to capture bighorn sheep using hand-held net guns. These sheep will be trans-located to approved areas. Specifically, these activities
would be:

  • Proposed to occur over 1-3 day period with multiple flights and up to two
    helicopters
  • Proposed for the month of November during weekdays when public recreation
    use is anticipated to be minimal.
  • Based on the expected need of 30 sheep captured during the first year, there may be 20-
    30 landings (including long-line operations for extraction) during the 1-3 day
    capture period. This may occur annually over the next four years.
  • During landings, the minimal ground disturbance would occur; no or minimal
    disturbance to vegetation, including trees and cactus would occur, as these are
    hazards for safe helicopter operations

Nature of Decision to Be Made

The Tonto National Forest Supervisor is the responsible official and would decide whether to authorize the use of helicopters by the Arizona Game and Fish Department within the Tonto National Forest, including within designated wilderness areas, for the purposes of bighorn sheep management objectives.

The decision would be based on a consideration of the environmental effects of implementing the proposed action or alternatives developed in response to significant issues. The Forest Supervisor may select the proposed action, an alternative analyzed in detail, or a modified proposed action or alternative within the project’s range of alternatives.

Scoping Process

It is important for reviewers to provide their comments at such times and in such manner that they are useful to the agency’s preparation of the environmental assessment. Therefore, comments should be provided prior to the close of the comment period and should clearly articulate the reviewer’s concerns and contentions.

Comments received in response to this solicitation, including names and addresses of those who comment, will become part of the public record for this proposed action. Comments submitted anonymously will be accepted and considered; however, anonymous comments will not provide the Agency with the ability to provide the respondent with subsequent environmental documents.

Scoping Input Needed

To aid in the identification of issues and the development of alternatives, comments need to be received 30 days after the notice in the paper of record, Arizona Capitol Times. When a party submits comments, please keep them specific to this proposal only. Comments which are not specific to the project and project area would be deemed outside the scope of the analysis and would not be considered. If you are including references, citations, or additional information to be considered for this project, please specify exactly how the material relates to the project. Also, indicate exactly what part of the material you would like us to consider (such as the page or figure number).

Send written comments to:
Neil Bosworth, Forest Supervisor
Attn: Bighorn Sheep Population Management Project
23 24 E. McDowell Road
Phoenix, AZ, 85006.

Comments may also be sent via e-mail to comments-southwestern-tonto(@[s.fed.us or via facsimile to 602-225-5302.

For further information, contact Nate Yorgason, Acting Tonto National Forest Wildlife
Biologist, at 602-225-5213.

Individuals who use telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1- 800- 877- 8339 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday”

READ MORE BELOW:
Preliminary Environmental Assessment for Authorization of Helicopter Landings in Wilderness – Tonto National Forest, Gila, Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai Counties, Arizona

https://www.fs.usda.gov/nfs/11558/www/nepa/98402_FSPLT3_2068197.pdf

A virtual webinar hosted by Arizona Game and Fish Department will take place in January or February 2019 to address questions about this project.  If you would like to be added to the mailing list for this event, please submit an email to comments-southwestern-tonto@fs.fed.us, Subject: Bighorn Sheep Webinar.

One thought on “Public Comment Period on Scoping Process to Use Helicopters in AZ Forests and Wilderness Areas

  1. It sure doesnt mention domestic livestock anywhere in the Forest Service’s “story”. I presume the urgent need to move wild animals is in order to give more of their habitat to domestic ones? As is done to our wild horses & burros & any other wild native animal thats “in the way”!

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