2007 SoCal Fires baer treatments Environmental Assessment Prepared for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge




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2007 SoCal Fires BAER Treatments

Environmental Assessment

Prepared for the
San Diego National Wildlife Refuge

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

EA# 81680-08-01

Palm Springs-South Coast Field Office

Bureau of Land Management

EA# CA660-08-13

La Jolla and Rincon Reservations

Bureau of Indian Affairs

November 2007

Prepared by:

U. S. Department of the Interior

Burned Area Emergency Response Team (BAER)
Intentionally blank

TABLE OF CONTENTS


LIST OF FIGURES
Figure 1, Location of EA BAER Treatments and 2007 SoCal Fire Perimeters 6

Figure 2 – EA BAER Treatment Areas, BLM 21

Figure 3 – EA BAER Treatment Areas, FWS 22

Figure 4 – EA BAER Treatment Areas, Rincon and La Jolla Reservations 23



LIST OF TABLES
Table 1 – Proposed Alternative 18

Table 2 – Issued Addressed in the EA 28

Table 3 – MSCP Plants on BLM and Refuge Lands 30

Table 4 – MSCP Wildlife on BLM and Refuge Lands 34

Table 5 – Federally-listed Plants with Known or Potential Occurrences on

Refuge and BLM Lands 35

Table 6 – Federally-listed Wildlife with Known or Potential Occurrences on

Refuge and BLM Lands 36


CHAPTER 1

PURPOSE AND NEED


1.1 Introduction
The 2007 SoCal Fires Environmental Assessment (EA) addresses the potential effects of implementing certain emergency stabilization treatments included in the 2007 SoCal Burned Area Emergency Response Plan (2007 BAER Plan). The 2007 BAER Plan addresses post-fire hazard conditions on Department of Interior (DOI) lands resulting from the Harris, Witch and Poomacha Fires that burned in San Diego County in late October, 2007. The three fires burned lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the portions of the La Jolla and Rincon Reservations administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). The burn perimeters and DOI lands are shown on Figure 1, Location of EA BAER Treatments. The 2007 BAER Plan proposes remedial treatments to abate conditions resulting from these wildfires that could threaten life, safety, or property or cause unacceptable degradation to natural or cultural resources.
All treatments proposed in the 2007 BAER Plan were assessed by technical experts for the potential for implementation of the treatments to result in environmental effect as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The technical experts identified a subset of the treatments that have the potential for environmental effect; these eight proposed BAER treatments are the subject of this EA. Treatments found not to have potential for environmental effect met the requirements for categorical exclusions and are listed in Appendix II of the 2007 BAER Plan.
Of the eight treatments assessed in this EA, four are on lands managed by the USFWS, two are on lands managed by the BLM and two are on Indian Reservations administered by the BIA. These three DOI agencies are co-lead agencies under NEPA for this EA. The planning area for the EA is the DOI lands where the eight treatments would take place (see Figure 1, Location of EA BAER Treatments). As shown in Figure 1, the treatment areas of the BLM and USFWS lands were burned in the Harris Fire and the treatment areas in the La Jolla and Rincon Reservations were in the Poomacha Fire. No BAER treatments proposed for DOI lands burned in the Witch Fire were determined to have potential for environmental effect so no DOI lands from the Witch Fire are addressed in this EA.
The Environmental Assessment is prepared in conformance with the:

  • National Environmental Protection Act [42 U.S.C. 4321 et seq.],

  • Bureau of Land Management NEPA Handbook H-1790-1, 516 DM 11.5,

  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service NEPA Reference Handbook, as authorized by 505 FW1.7, 550 FW 1 and 516 DM 8.5.

  • Bureau of Indian Affairs, 516 DM 10.5.

1.2 Purpose and Need for the Proposed Action
The Harris and Witch Fires were among the largest of the 20+ wildland fires that were ignited over several days of Santa Ana wind conditions in the final weeks of October 2007. The Harris Fire began 10/21/2007 and, ten days later when it was contained, the fire had burned a total of 90,345 acres in southern San Diego County of which 22,354 acres, or roughly 25% of the total area burned, were lands managed by DOI agencies. The Witch Fire burned from 10/21/2007 to

Figure 1, Location of EA BAER Treatments and 2007 SoCal Fire Perimeters




10/31/07 burning 163,111 acres including 10,302 acres on five Luiseña Mission Indian Reservations. The Poomacha Fire began 10/23/07 and consumed 49,563 acres of which 21,297 acres or 43% were on six Luiseña Mission Indian Reservations administered by the BIA. The Poomacha Fire was not contained until 11/8/07.


Portions of the lands burned are Designated Critical Habitat under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for the following federally-listed threatened and endangered species:
Endangered Species with Designated Critical Habitat within the EA Treatment Area:

Quino checkerspot butterfly (Euphydryas editha quino)

Least Bell’s vireo (Vireo bellii pusillus)

Southwestern willow flycatcher (Empidonax traillii extimus)

Mexican flannelbush (Fremontodendron mexicanum)
Threatened Species with Designated Critical Habitat within the EA Treatment Area:

Coastal California gnatcatcher (Polioptila californica californica)

Otay tarplant (Deinandra conjugens)
Threatened Species with Proposed Critical Habitat within the EA Treatment Area

San Diego thornmint (Acanthomintha ilicifolia)


Endangered Species known to occur within the EA Treatment Area:

Arroyo toad (Bufo californicus)



Biologists and land managers of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge (the Refuge) and the BLM-Palm Springs Field Office are concerned that exotic annual weeds are likely to become increasingly prevalent in coastal sage scrub habitat as a result of the Harris Fire. Artificially short, human-induced fire intervals tend to favor opportunistic weeds which have high potential to convert coastal sage scrub needed by listed species to less productive non-native grassland (Zedler et al 1983, Malanson 1984, Westman and O’Leary 1986).
Successful invasive weeds often germinate earlier and grow more rapidly than native species in response to seasonal rains. The weed seeds may be present in the soil seed bank of the burned areas, be blown in by winds or swept in with stormwater runoff. As weeds out-compete native species, they may also modify soil properties and nutrient availability further disadvantaging native plants and leading to type conversion from Diegan coastal sage scrub to non-native grassland. This conversion would seriously degrade important habitat for federally-threatened and endangered species dependent on the coastal sage scrub community. Highly invasive weed species found within the Treatment Areas include Avena sp. (wild oat), Bromus madritensis ssp. rubens (red brome), B. diandrus (rip gut brome), Brassica nigra (black mustard), Centaurea melitensis (maltese star thistle), Erodium cicutarium (stork’s-bill) and tamarisk or salt cedar (Tamarix ramosissima).
The objectives of the EA BAER treatments are to:


  • provide an advantage to native plants and suppress non-native weed species during the critical first year post-fire by suppressing weed species.

  • discourage the conversion of coastal sage scrub community to non-native grasslands.

  • promote the recovery of the Quino checkerspot butterfly and the Coastal California gnatcatcher by reseeding selected areas within the burn with seed mixes tailored to those species.

  • remove riprap impeding streamflow on an unnamed tributary on Paradise Creek in possible Arroyo toad habitat.

  • abate the further spread of discrete, patches of highly invasive perennial weeds that have become established on BIA, BLM and USFWS lands.


1.3 Decision to be Made
The co-lead agencies must determine whether the treatments proposed for their management areas have the potential to result in a significant, adverse, environmental effect. If so, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared for the project to be implemented or the project must be redesigned to avoid the significant effects or mitigated to reduce the level of effect to less than significant.
If the co-lead agencies determine that the effects of the treatments in their management areas is less than significant, each agency must prepare a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) documenting the decision, describing the adopted action, mitigation measures and summarizing the findings of the environmental assessment for signature. Each agency has designated management positions with authority to sign the FONSI, thereby committing the agency to carryout its decision.
1.4 Relevant Policies for the EA Treatment Areas
1.4.1 U.S. Department of the Interior Policies on Integrated Pesticide Management
The treatments proposed in the 2007 BAER Plan need to comply with DOI land management directives. The Department’s policy is to manage pests and use IPM [integrated pest management] principles in a manner that reduces risks from both the pests and associated pest management activities.” “Bureaus will accomplish pest management through cost-effective means that pose the least risk to humans, natural and cultural resources, and the environment.” (DOI 2007).
DOI agencies are directed to conduct all IPM projects in full compliance with NEPA, the ESA and other federal environmental regulations and “complete the necessary environmental documentation before conducting pest management activities” (DOI 2007). In developing IPM strategies, agencies should establish objectives and then choose the lowest risk, most effective approach that is feasible for each project. The methods can include, but are not limited to, one or more of the following: no action, cultural, physical, biological, and chemical management. To ensure that treatment specifications are meeting objectives and that no unforeseen impacts have occurred, agencies should monitor project sites before, during, and after any management activity.
The use of pesticides on wildlife refuges requires a series of approvals from the Service. Pesticide use on the refuges is governed by U.S. Department of the Interior Pesticide Use Policy (U.S. Department of the Interior 1982), and a Service manual (Service Manual 7RM 8.1 and 14.1). The Service’s policies state that, “The Service will eliminate unnecessary use of pesticides by implementing integrated pest management techniques.” Department of the Interior policy in the Interior Manual, guiding use of pesticides on NWRs, states:


  • pesticides will be used only after the full range of alternatives is considered, and then the least hazardous material will be chosen;

  • IPM will be adopted wherever practicable, pesticides used must be registered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in full accordance with FIFRA [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act], as amended, and as provided in regulations, orders, or permits issued by EPA;

  • handling and use of restricted-use pesticides be conducted with caution and only by personnel who are either certified or under the direct supervision of a certified applicator;

  • all pesticides and pesticide containers are transported, stored, and disposed of in a manner that will safeguard human health, fish, and wildlife, and prevent soil and water contamination, and that safety to humans, fish and wildlife, and other non-target organisms are fully considered; and

  • pesticides may be used in habitats involving endangered and threatened animal or plant species only after it is determined that such use will not adversely affect the species or its critical habitat.

As part of this approval process, a pesticide use proposal (PUP) must be prepared for each chemical used in pest control programs on Refuge lands (Service Manual 7RM 14.4G). PUPs are used to evaluate the specifics of proposed chemicals, treatment sites, application methods, and sensitive aspects of use. All pesticides recommended in the IPM that have not already been evaluated would have to undergo PUP approval and endangered species consultation before their use on the Refuge.


1.4.2 BLM Policy: H-1742-1 Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Handbook, 2007
Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation (ES&R) funds (includes BAER) can be used to control non-native invasive plants within burned areas when it can be documented that those plants may quickly invade or hamper reestablishment of native vegetation or adversely effect the establishment or maintenance of a seeding. Invasive plant control treatments must comply with existing approved Land Use Plan (LUP) and BLM guidance. Caution should be used when controlling invasive plants in the vicinity of the threatened and endangered plants and animals, especially in Critical Habitat areas.
An integrated pest management approach should include using a combination of chemical, biological, mechanical, and/or hand control methods, as well as, post-fire weed assessment and monitoring. The cost to assess and control invasive species is an appropriate use of ES&R funds. Other funding for weed control must be acquired if treatments are needed after the three-year time limit for rehabilitation funding. All invasive species control methods must confirm to specific BLM policy (BLM Manual MS-9000-1 and Handbook H-9011-1). Herbicide use must be approved and consistent with current policy and associated environmental analyses.
Chemical, biological and mechanical treatments necessary to minimize invasive species in conjunction with site preparation for ES&R seedings is an appropriate use of ES&R funds. The use of herbicides to control post-fire invasive species is appropriate if:

  • The herbicides proposed are approved for use on public lands. All other applicable label and environmental restrictions must be followed.

  • The application of herbicides is necessary to keep non-native invasive plants from invading and dominating the post-fire environment.

  • The application of herbicides is necessary for site preparation before seeding or planting (Do not include forbs, shrub or grass species in the seed mixture that are susceptible to harm by herbicides if it is likely that weed control may be needed after the burned area seeding has germinated or is established).

  • The revegetation of grasses, forbs and shrubs to prevent the establishment or reestablishment of non-native invasive species is recommended after herbicide treatment.

A signed Pesticide Use Proposal (PUP) must be in place with the correct approval signature from the State Office before any herbicides may be applied. Appropriate NEPA documentation must be completed prior to the use of any herbicide on public lands. All labels must be followed and pesticides must be applied under the direction of or by a certified applicator or under the direct supervision of a certified applicator.


1.5 Relevant Plans Affecting the EA Treatment Areas
1.5.1 BIA, Southern California Agency Fire Management Plan, 2000
The purpose of the Southern California Agency Fire Management Plan (SCAFMP) is to aid the agency and associated tribes in addressing “tribal goals and objectives, the ecological role of wildland fire, values to be protected, preparedness, prevention, interagency mobilization, strategies for appropriate management responses to wildland fire, hazardous fuels management and prescribed fire use, and emergency rehabilitation of burned areas.”(FIREWISE, 2000, p.2). The SCAFMP complies with Federal Wildland Fire Policy which requires that all federally-managed lands with burnable vegetation have a fire management plan meeting current federal standards (DOA 2001; NIFC 2001).

The 2007 BAER Plan is in conformance with the SCA FMP and helps the Southern California Agency meet the following specific goals of the SCA FMP:



  • Protect life and property, cultural and ceremonial sites, and natural resources from the threat of wildland fire.

  • Provide gainful employment opportunities for tribal members.

  • Develop and implement a fire prevention program/plan to protect life, property, cultural resources, and natural resources (FIREWISE, 2000, p. 3).

The 2007 BAER Plan fulfills the requirement for federal land managers to immediately rehabilitate burned areas to prevent loss of life and/or property and reduce potential negative impacts to critical resources as a result of fire effects or fire suppression activities (NIFC 2001). The SCAFMP directs the Agency Superintendent to initiate approved BAER activities to prevent unacceptable resource degradation and minimize threats to life and property resulting from wildland fire (FIREWISE, 2000, p. 26). The SCAFMP directs that ordering the National BAER Team is an option for larger, more complex fires which exceed the capability of the local team (FIREWISE, 2000, p. 27).


Tribal lands affected by the 2007 SoCal fires are grouped within two of five fire planning zones in the SCA FMP. The Inland Mountain Zone includes La Jolla, Mesa Grande, Pala, Pauma, Yuima, Inaja, Rincon and San Ysabel reservations. The San Diego County Coastal Mountain Zone includes Barona, Jamul and Capitan Grande reservation. A discussion of values to be protected in these two zones directs the SCA to:

  • place a high value on water quality and quantity impacts,

  • ensure that visual impacts from ground disturbing suppression actions are kept to an acceptable level,

  • plan projects to avoid or mitigate any adverse impacts to documented and found archaeological features,

  • consult with cultural resource surveys to identify the location of any known sites within or immediately adjacent to project boundaries for all projects involving ground disturbance,

  • flag or otherwise identify any known archaeological site boundaries prior to beginning projects (FIREWISE, 2000, pages 65 - 66 and 76 – 78).


1.5.2 USFWS, San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Wildland Fire Management Plan, 2004
The San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex Wildland Fire Management Plan (Refuge FMP) provides programmatic and operational guidance to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for managing the wildland fire and fuels management programs, consistent with federal Wildland Fire Management Policy, National Wildlife Refuge System goals and specific goals of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The USFWS lands addressed in the 2007 BAER Plan are in the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge, one of four refuges in the Refuge Complex addressed in the Refuge FMP. The 2007 BAER Plan conforms to many of the goals set for the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge Complex in the Refuge FMP:

  • To protect, restore and enhance native habitats to aid in the recovery of federally listed endangered and threatened species and to prevent the listing of additional species.

  • To protect, manage, and restore the rare coastal sage scrub, chaparral, riparian woodland, vernal pools, coastal dune and wetland habitats representative of the biological diversity of the southwestern San Diego region.

  • To provide safe high quality opportunities for compatible wildlife dependent educational and recreational activities that foster public appreciation of the unique natural heritage of the San Diego region for the conservation of native coastal scrub, chaparral, grassland, vernal pool, and riparian communities, recovery of several endangered and threatened species, and the protection of biological diversity (USFWS 2004, p. 6).

The 2007 BAER Plan also meets several of the fire management objectives of the Refuge FMP:



  • Implement pre-suppression, suppression, and post-suppression activities that maintain or enhance the current biological communities, and prevent adverse impacts on resources consistent with completing the fire protection mission.

  • Enhance or restore native plant communities and benefit other resources of the biological community that have been reduced or degraded by human-caused factors, including increased fire frequency.

  • Identify fire return intervals and identify effects upon various plant communities to assist in the development of future management actions, which may include prescribed burning. The goal is to restore optimal fire regimes for habitat and watershed management.

  • Protect life, property, and resources from wildland fire.

  • Develop and implement a process to ensure collection, analysis and application of high quality fire management information needed for sound management decisions (USFWS 2004, p. 6 - 7).

The Refuge FMP uses the term “Burned Area Emergency Stabilization and Rehabilitation Plan (ESR)” in place of the currently used term “BAER” to when referring to post-fire emergency stabilization efforts. As used in the Refuge FMP, the terms ESR and BAER are essentially interchangeable. The goal of a BAER effort is “to protect public safety and stabilize and prevent further degradation of natural and cultural resources, and to rehabilitate the stability, productivity, diversity, and ecological integrity of refuge lands after a wildland fire as described in approved refuge management plans (USFWS 2004, p. 59). According to the Refuge FMP, a BAER Plan would tier from the FMP and Comprehensive Conservation Plan for the Complex (CCP). In this instance, however, the 2007 BAER Plan is addressed by an EA while the FMP met the requirements for a Categorical Exclusion from further NEPA analysis. As an EA has a broader scope of analysis than a CE, tiering would not be appropriate.


1.5.3 Proposed Otay-Sweetwater Unit of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge EA and Land Protection Plan, 1997
Adopted in 1997, the Refuge EA evaluated planning alternatives and assessed the effects of establishing a Refuge through acquisition of the lands comprising the Otay-Sweetwater Unit of the San Diego National Wildlife Refuge. The alternatives were variations of the Refuge boundary. The issues surrounding wildland fire hazard were not identified as significant, relevant issues for assessment in the EA. Wildland fires and the increase in frequency in wildland fires were noted in the EA as a great concern to surrounding landowners of the Unit. The EA states that the establishment of the Refuge would not increase the likelihood of fire and the issue was dismissed from further analysis in the EA. Wildland fire was also discussed in relation to illegal immigration, another issue that was not selected for detailed analysis, as the establishment of the Refuge would not significantly alter existing patterns of illegal immigration. The EA stated that fire management would be specifically addressed in a subsequent fire management plan developed by the Refuge Fire Management Officer.
The Refuge EA serves as the land use planning document for the Refuge until the USFWS completes the San Diego Wildlife Refuge Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) which is currently in the early stages of the planning and NEPA process. A Comprehensive Conservation Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is being developed; a draft list of EIS alternatives is currently being circulated for internal agency review prior to presentation to the public (V. Touchstone, pers. comm.).
The herbicide and seeding treatments in this EA are considered to be in conformance with the Land Protection Plan.
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