Record of DecisionforDAKOTA PRAIRIE GRASSLANDSFINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENTANDLAND AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLANLead Agency:U.S. Department of AgricultureForest ServiceNorthern RegionResponsible Official:Bradley E. PowellRegional ForesterNorthern RegionRecommending Official:David M. PieperGrasslands SupervisorLITTLE MISSOURI, GRAND RIVER,CEDAR RIVER AND SHEYENNENational GrasslandsLocated within the North Dakota counties ofBillings, Golden Valley, Grant, McKenzie, Ransom,Richland, Sioux and Slope, andthe South Dakota counties ofCorson, Perkins and ZiebachJULY 2002
PREFACE. 1A LETTER FROM BRAD POWELL, REGIONAL FORESTER FOR THE NORTHERN REGION OF THE U.S. FOREST SERVICE . 1A history of people on the land. 1DAKOTA PRAIRIE GRASSLANDS AT A GLANCE. 3Features that make the grasslands special. 3Little Missouri National Grassland. 3Sheyenne National Grassland . 4Grand and Cedar River National Grassland. 4MY DECISION . 4WHY “MODIFIED ALTERNATIVE 3 FINAL”?. 6An attempt to strike a balance. 6THE CHANGES TO “ALTERNATIVE 3 FINAL” THAT MAKE UP “MODIFIED ALTERNATIVE 3 FINAL” . 7Bighorn sheep and developing oil & gas . 7Managing prairie dogs . 7“Phased” or “interim” decision. 7OTHER CONSIDERATIONS . 8Planning Regulations . 8Government Performance and Results Act. 8Initiating A National Energy Policy . 8Off-Highway Vehicle Decision . 9Roadless Area Conservation Rule . 9Transportation Rule and Policy . 10KEY THEMES FOR A REVISED GRASSLAND MANAGEMENT PLAN. 10Ensuring the long-term health of the grasslands . 10Helping native plants and animals to recover and thrive . 11Contribute to economic diversity of local economies by using grassland resources in a sustainable way . 11Protecting special areas and unique resources . 12Diversifying recreation opportunities . 13THE PUBLIC'S PLAN. 14How public involvement shaped the final decision . 14PLAN DECISIONS. 15A quick look at the core of the plan. 15THE DECISION IN DETAIL . 15Decision 1: Establishing goals and objectives for the grasslands . 15Decision 2: Establishing grassland-wide and geographic area standards and guidelines . 16Decision 3: Establishing MA direction (prescriptions). 16Decision 4: Designating lands suitable for grazing and browsing . 20Decision 5: Evaluating and considering inventoried roadless areas to be recommended as potential wilderness areas20Decision 6: Develop monitoring and evaluation methods . 21Decision 7: What lands will be available for oil & gas leasing and development . 21ALTERNATIVES CONSIDERED . 22Different approaches to grassland management . 22Alternative 1 (no action) and Existing Condition . 22Alternative 2 . 22Alternative 3 (Draft) . 23Alternative 3 Final . 23Modified Alternative 3 Final . 23Alternative 4 . 24Alternative 5 . 25COMPARING ALTERNATIVES THROUGH REVISION TOPICS . 25A look at the different options . 25HOW THE ALTERNATIVES RESPOND TO THE REVISION TOPICS . 25WIDE-RANGING MANAGEMENT OPTIONS . 38Alternatives considered but eliminated from detailed study. 38Changes made between the draft and final plans . 38i
Record of DecisionDakota Prairie Grasslands – Land and Resource Management Plan – July 2002IMPLEMENTATION . 39Putting the plan into action . 39APPEAL PROCEDURES. 40How to influence changes to the decisions . 40OTHER FACTORS CONSIDERED IN THIS DECISION . 41Findings required by other laws. 41Adhering to legal requirements. 41National Forest Management Act . 41National Environmental Policy Act . 42COOPERATION WILL MAKE A BETTER GRASSLANDS . 42Science offered insights, but now we have to make the plan work . 42TABLES:Table 1. Management Area (MA) surface acres by alternative . 17Table 2. Community and lifestyle relationships compared by alternative. 25Table 3. Livestock grazing compared by alternative . 27Table 4. Oil and gas compared by alternative. 28Table 5. Plant and animal damage control compared by alternative . 30Table 6. Rangeland and forest health compared by alternative . 32Table 7. Recreation and travel management compared by alternative . 34Table 8. Special-area designation compared by alternative. 36Table 9. Management Area allocation of Public Proposed and Forest Service Inventoried Roadless Areas in ModifiedAlternative 3 Final . 37ii
Record of DecisionDakota Prairie Grasslands – Land and Resource Management Plan – July 2002PREFACEA Letter from Brad Powell, Regional Forester for the NorthernRegion of the U.S. Forest ServiceA history of people on the landIn government jargon what you are reading is called aRecord of Decision or a ROD. It describes my decisionto approve the Revised Land and Resource ManagementPlan for the Dakota Prairie Grasslands (DPG) and why Imade this choice. I feel a good way to describe this"ROD" would be a letter to the people I work for - eachand every American across this land.the grasslands for more traditional uses. I believe thisRevised Grasslands Plan provides this balance.This revision process has been arduous, lengthy, and attimes, contentious. I want to sincerely thank all thepeople who participated in the process, especially thosewho became involved in the numerous collaborativeefforts seeking solutions. People on the prairie do notlack passion. I want to make it clear that the ForestService understands its special role in managing thenational grasslands. We recognize these lands are notnational forests but are managed within the NationalForest System. We also recognize the specific laws,customs and culture that created these lands, and thespecial relationships with people that have evolved overthe decades.Specifically, this ROD has two purposes: First, it is alegal document detailing a formal decision from agovernment agency. Secondly, and equally important, itis also a genuine attempt to explain the "why" of thatdecision. This document, as the decision it describes, isa balance. A ROD must satisfy legal requirements.Additionally, I want this document to explain “why” Iselected a certain course and how it addressesAmericans’ needs and desires for these nationalgrasslands. It is also my sincere desire that I speakclearly through this document. In those places wherelegality makes for hard reading, I apologize.For thousands of years Indian nations hunted andthrived on the grasslands. A spiritual tie to the landbased on Indian beliefs developed and is still honoredtoday. However, as America pushed west, thegrasslands became home to new settlers in the form ofhomesteads. It was U.S. government homesteadingpolicy that encouraged these people to settle the prairie.Also, let me say that although this decision is mine, ithas not been made alone. More than 74,000 letters andpostcards were received on the draft and the finalenvironmental impact statements (EISs), and draft andthe final plans for the Northern Great Plains planningarea. These comments helped guide DPG staffmembers as they developed the Revised GrasslandsPlan. This ROD and the supporting Revised GrasslandsPlan are forward looking documents that will shape themanagement of the DPG for the next 10 to 15 years.These new homesteaders tilled the land and raised cropsto “prove up” the land for ownership. But when droughtcame in the 1930s, crops shriveled and the fragile,exposed soil blew. The "Dust Bowl Era" drove peopleaway from the land and devastated local economies.The homestead policy wasn’t always compatible withavailable land. Drought, temperature extremes, insectsand fire played a significant role on the prairie. Thegrasslands could not sustain large-scale farming, but theland would grow grass in most years. With governmenthelp, farmers became ranchers and some of the naturalprocesses that sustained the prairie throughout timebegan to take hold once again.A person unfamiliar with the grasslands might wonderwhy discussion about such a sparsely populated prairieregion would trigger 74,000 comments. The answer isfound in history. So many people expressed theirconcern about the grasslands because grassland historyis not just a story about a prairie, but about peoplelooking to that prairie as a source for food, economicopportunity, recreational pursuits, and spiritual renewal.The national grasslands represent a large portion of thepublic lands in both North Dakota and South Dakota.As access to private lands becomes more difficult, theimportance of public lands to people looking foroutdoor experiences increases. These societal changesrequire that I look to the future in shaping managementwhile remembering the past and those who depend onIn an effort to add economic stability to failing localeconomies, the U.S. government began buying privatelands, under programs called Land Utilization Projects.What began as a program to purchase and developsubmarginal land, gradually evolved and expanded intoa program designed to transfer land to its most suitableuse. In 1937, the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Actgave the Secretary of Agriculture management authority1
Record of DecisionDakota Prairie Grasslands – Land and Resource Management Plan – July 2002ago, when the primary focus was on what the land couldproduce. These desires are changing, and they willcontinue to change. Today’s focus is centered more onthe condition of the land, as a basis for providingmultiple goods and services.over these public lands through the Soil ConservationService. Title III of that act authorized the secretary“ to develop a program of land conservation and landutilization, including the retirement of lands which aresubmarginal or not primarily suitable for cultivation inorder thereby to correct maladjustments in land use,and thus assist in controlling soil erosion, reforestation,preserving natural resources, mitigating floods,preventing impairment of dams and reservoirs,conserving surface and subsurface moisture, protectingwatersheds of navigable streams, and protecting publiclands, health and safety and welfare ”Much history remains to be written about the nationalgrasslands. These lands can help people maintain aquality of life, both for the people who live and work onthese lands, and for the people interested in spendingtime visiting these American treasures. People come tothe grasslands not only to seek solitude, but also toteach their children how to canoe, to camp, or to hunt –to appreciate nature. The potential for outdoorrecreation to help sustain local economies is great, as isthe potential to continue the tradition of providing ourchildren and future generations with special places todevelop an appreciation for the natural resources of thecountry.In 1954, administration of these lands was transferredfrom the Soil Conservation Service to the ForestService. In 1960, the Secretary of Agriculturedesignated these lands as national grasslands.For decades, ranchers raised livestock on the nationalgrasslands. Their children grew, took over familyoperations, and raised families of their own.Recognizing that conditions on the grasslands do notremain static, that public desires change, and that newinformation is constantly being developed, the RevisedGrasslands Plan embraces an adaptive managementapproach. This means that as conditions change, so willthe management plan. Through both scientific researchand talking to the people who use the grasslands, Iintend to keep the Revised Grasslands Plan a documentthat respects the needs of people as well as nature'sprocesses. In my mind, these are not divergentpositions.As time passed, oil and gas resources were discoveredon the national grasslands. More leisure time becameavailable to Americans. Our society became moreurbanized and more people began to look forrecreational opportunities on their public lands. Thatcreated a trend of increasing recreational demand that isexpected to continue into the future. Today, oil and gasdevelopment and the tourism industry, within andaround the national grasslands, provide some neededeconomic diversity that helps provide stability to thecyclical nature of agriculture-based economies of thenorthern prairies.The national grasslands are managed under a multipleuse concept. It is the job of the Forest Service to find aplace on the national grasslands for uses such aslivestock grazing, outdoor recreation and mineraldevelopment, as well as habitat for wildlife and landsfor healthy, diverse vegetation. That is not to say thateach use can or should occur on every acre. The goalmust be to blend the different uses in a way that issustainable and best meets the needs of the Americanpeople.Through their representatives in Congress, Americanshave told the U.S. Forest Service that the grasslands areto be managed with a multiple-use philosophy. Today,management of the grasslands continues to be theresponsibility of the Forest Service. We manage over190 million acres of federal land, roughly 4 million ofwhich are national grasslands.“Sustainable” means satisfying present needs withoutcompromising the needs of future generations. Tomaintain the goal of sustainability, the RevisedGrasslands Plan establishes standards and guidelinesthat will provide for more diverse conditions thancurrently exist on the grasslands. In some areas,processes such as fire and rest, that are important inmaintaining the overall health of the grasslands, will bereintroduced. In other areas, intensive resourcedevelopment will occur to provide for public use andthe area’s economic health. The buffalo were key tomaintaining some of the natural processes in the past;properly managed livestock grazing can replicate thisIn recent years, the states that are home to thegrasslands have been undergoing a transformation.Economic conditions have required farms and ranchesto become larger and more efficient. As this hasoccurred, more and more people are leaving ruralcommunities and becoming urban dwellers. Yet, muchof the local social fabric is rooted in the family farm andranch operations. Many of these urban dwellers nowlook to the grasslands as places where they canreconnect with the natural environment.The previous management plan for the grasslandsreflected the desires that the public had nearly 15 years2
Record of DecisionDakota Prairie Grasslands – Land and Resource Management Plan – July 2002effect. Oil and gas development on the nationalgrasslands will continue to fuel local and stateeconomies and be done in a way that maintains adiversity of recreational settings, scenic integrity andecological processes.As a final nod toward legality I need to add thatthroughout the development of the Final EIS and theRevised Grasslands Plan, I have asked for a plan that isscientifically credible, resource-sustainable, and legallysufficient. I believe this plan meets those criteria. Asnoted below I have provided more assurances in theform of a “phased” or “interim” decision on grazing anda review of 64 sample allotment management plans. Iprovided these assurances to provide a greater degree ofcertainty to ranchers and to demonstrate ourcommitment to sound range management, sustainability,and multiple-use of these lands.The Revised Grasslands Plan ensures that youngranchers will be able to grow up and pass on ranchingskills to a new generation. Oil and gas development willcontinue to provide secure jobs for people, which in turnwill help to create stable communities. In addition, thisplan reflects the public's desire for a more balancedconsideration when allocating land for specific uses. Inother words, this plan continues all of the traditionaluses while opening the door for a new set of traditions.Dakota Prairie Grasslands At A GlanceFeatures that make the grasslands specialsuch activities. There are roughly 280,000 acresinventoried as roadless (about 21 percent of thegrasslands). The 280,000 acres consists of 265,180inventoried roadless acres identified by the ForestService and about 14,000 acres identified by thepublic and determined to meet roadless criteria.About 11,000 acres of the publicly proposed roadlessareas were determined not to meet the roadlesscriteria as part of the Roadless Rule process. SeeFEIS 3-361 and 3-362 and Appendix C. There arecurrently no grassland wildernesses or wildernessacres on the DPG.The Dakota Prairie Grasslands (DPG) is comprised ofthe Little Missouri, Sheyenne, Cedar River andGrand River National Grasslands located in NorthDakota and northwestern South Dakota. In theseunits more than 1.2 million acres of Forest Serviceadministered land is intermingled with other federalownership along with land owned by the states andprivate citizens. The DPG is rather unique in that itcan be characterized as generally remote andrelatively undeveloped while also providing a highlevel of multiple use values for people.The DPG provides forage for about 63,000 cattleannually. Oil and gas development contributes tomeet the needs of people across the nation. Inaddition to these uses, the grasslands also providesexcellent opportunities for outdoor recreationactivities.Little Missouri National Grassland The DPG provides habitat for diverse wildlifepopulations, including common species such as muledeer and pronghorn. Other wildlife and plant speciesnot as commonly found in North Dakota, such asbighorn sheep, greater sage-grouse, greater prairiechicken, and the western prairie fringed orchid,mainly depend on the national grasslands for habitat.In fact, the grasslands are often the only availablehabitat for many of the animals and plants foundthere. There are roughly 4,380 acres of prairie dogtowns on the Little Missouri and the Grand RiverNational Grasslands. The DPG offers a variety of remote and backcountryexperiences unique to the Northern Great Plains. InNorth Dakota, the DPG provides the backdrop for3The Little Missouri is the largest nationalgrassland in the nation, encompassing morethan one million federal surface acres.Two ranger districts, McKenzie in WatfordCity, and Medora in Dickinson, manage thisgrassland.Public land is intermingled with otherownerships, including Theodore RooseveltNational Park, Bureau of LandManagement, state, and private land.Leasable mineral activity and grazing are theprimary commodity uses on the grassland.There are more than 500 producing oil wellson federal land.Four grazing associations with more than400 permittees are allocated forage forlivestock on this land.
Record of DecisionDakota Prairie Grasslands – Land and Resource Management Plan – July 2002Sheyenne National Grassland The Sheyenne National Grassland has morethan 70,000 federal surface acres of tallgrass prairie and river woodlands insoutheastern North Dakota. The SheyenneDistrict Office is located in Lisbon, NorthDakota.The Sheyenne is the largest remnant of tallgrass prairie remaining in public ownership.The tall grass ecosystem is one of the mostendangered in North America.The Sheyenne National Grassland is locatedwithin 50 miles of Fargo, ND. Such alocation provides more than 100,000 peoplean opportunity to venture into landformssuch as the Sheyenne River terrace, choppyand hummocky sandhills, and the deltaicplains. The proximity of the Sheyenne tosuch a large population reinforces theimportance of maintaining naturalenvironments. However, it is this veryproximity to a large population that makesmanagement of such areas so difficult.Large numbers of people increase thepressure, and management requirements, for such an ecologically sensitive area as theSheyenne National Grassland.This area has one federally listed threatenedspecies – the western prairie fringed orchidand more than 40 sensitive species.Grand and Cedar River NationalGrassland Managed by the Grand River DistrictRanger in Lemmon, South Dakota, theGrand River National Grasslandencompasses about 154,000 acres innorthwestern South Dakota while the CedarRiver National Grassland is comprised ofroughly 6,800 acres located in southwesternNorth Dakota.The two areas include mixed-grass prairie ofrolling hills, river breaks, and some badlandstype topography.Most of the Cedar River unit and asignificant portion of the Grand River liewithin the boundaries of the Standing RockIndian Reservation.MY DECISIONI have selected “Modified Alternative 3 Final.” Thisalternative is a modification of Alternative 3 Final asdescribed in the Final Environmental Impact Statement(FEIS). The modifications to Alternative 3 Final includethe following: A new Management Area (MA), MA 3.51Bwas created, encompassing four areasoriginally contained within MA 3.51A. MA3.51B allows leasing with Controlled SurfaceUse (CSU) and timing stipulations rather thanmaking the areas not currently available forleasing (See Attachment A). Allows prairie dog poisoning on a case-by-casebasis where unwanted prairie dogs areencroaching on private lands when consistentwith a statewide prairie dog conservationstrategy. These efforts will only beimplemented if the Forest Service’s nationwidemoratorium on black-tailed prairie dogpoisoning is lifted. A “phased” or “interim” decision on livestockgrazing will be implemented pendingdevelopment and review of 64 sample revisedallotment management plans (AMPs) andverification of the effects of the RevisedGrasslands Plan on grazing.In selecting Modified Alternative 3 Final, I am adoptingthe Revised Grasslands Plan for management of theselands that describes in detail the goals and objectives,standards and guidelines, MA direction, monitoringrequirements, and recommendations for special areas.Overall, these three changes put a slightly greateremphasis on commodity production. The alternative,however, still places nearly the same emphasis on nativeplants and animals a
DAKOTA PRAIRIE GRASSLANDS FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT AND LAND AND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN Lead Agency: U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service Northern Region Responsible Official: Bradley E. Powell Regional Forester Northern Region Recommending Official: David M. Pieper Grasslands Supervisor LITTLE MISSOURI, GRAND RIVER,