Wilderness Restoration Programmatic CE 2021

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This programmatic Categorical Exclusion (PCE) supersedes PEPC 52187, provides updates to restoration and resource protection activities, and serves as a programmatic record for activities to restore natural conditions to Yosemite Wilderness. The wilderness' montane, subalpine, and alpine ecosystems are experiencing vegetation loss, soil erosion and compaction, habitat fragmentation, and hydrological changes due to visitor and administrative use. This program will focus on ecologically restoring inappropriately located campsites and reducing and maintaining appropriate campsites; restoring social, abandoned, and parallel trails, including trail re-routes; restoring habitat for wildlife; and removing non-native invasive plants. This work is categorically excluded under: C.3. Routine maintenance and repairs to non-historic structures, facilities, utilities, grounds and trails.

The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) directs agencies to use CEs for actions which do not individually have a significant effect on the human environment and which are therefore exempt from requirements to prepare an environmental impact statement (40 CFR §1500-1508). This CE is in accordance with the NPS Management Policies (2006), Endangered Species Act (1973), The Wilderness Act (1964), Director's Order 77 (Natural Resources Protection), Code of Federal Regulations Title 36, and the Superintendent's Compendium. Any work that is outside the normal routine park operations, including actions occurring within wilderness, may require separate analysis. Work conducted in wilderness requires an appropriate Minimum Requirement Analysis (MRA) to receive proper approval. This includes both Section 4(c) prohibitions, such as any mechanized equipment use, motorized equipment, installations, etc., and, any actions that may have an effect on wilderness character. An MRA has been prepared for the scope of work in wilderness covered under this PCE.

This PCE is intended to cover work to ecologically restore denuded and inappropriate campgrounds, close inappropriate, social, or abandoned trails, re-route trails in sensitive areas, restore wildlife habitat, and remove nonnative exotic plants. This does not include: mechanical treatments of plants, such as spraying plants with herbicide, the use of chainsaws or other motorized or mechanized equipment in any restoration work, creating new trails and campsites, or any activities expressly prohibited in the Wilderness Act (1964) or the Yosemite Wilderness Management Plan (1989). Please refer to the complete list of covered activities below.

Contributing Documents and Consultation

Workgroups wishing to perform work under this programmatic CE will submit a workplan to the Environmental Planning and Compliance Office for review and approval on an annual basis, at least 4 months prior to the start date of the work plan. Stand-alone projects with activities that are covered in this PCE that are outside of the scope of an annual workplan will be submitted for review and approval by the compliance office at least 4 months ahead of the anticipated start date. Annual workplans will be entered into the PEPC system as a new project for review, approval, and record-keeping purposes. The PEPC entry should describe all proposed activities in the workplan or project in sufficient detail (include building locations, names, and numbers), including relevant photographs (uploaded into a single word file that includes captions of each photo), descriptions and locations of soil disturbance (with depth and dimensions of soil disturbance), a description of equipment and methods that would be used to accomplish work goals, maps of proposed work areas, plans (if applicable) for proposed work, and anticipated schedule of work to be accomplished. Ideally, the project manager or work supervisor will present workplans or stand-alone projects at the monthly Project Planning Meeting (PPM) to facilitate comprehensive and expeditious review by park subject matter experts. The Compliance Office will provide guidance and documentation on those activities in the workplan which are fully covered by this PCE, those activities which are covered but which may require further compliance (e.g. consultation with Wildlife or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Tribes, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, State Historic Preservation Office, etc.) and those activities which fall outside of the scope of this PCE and may need to be removed from the PEPC entry for the annual workplan and submitted as a separate project.

Approved work performed under this programmatic CE must follow standard avoidance/minimization/mitigation measures and Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) (attached here, and also refer to the current SOPs for programmatic categorical exclusions found on Sharepoint at Project Management/Environmental Planning & Compliance/Programmatic CEs). In addition to following requirements and mitigations contained in the Programmatic CE SOPs, the Project Manager must implement, in consultation with the park's subject-matter experts, the mitigations specific to routine grounds maintenance activities included in this CE document.

This document will be reviewed periodically to determine if any updates are needed. Any new activities, significant changes in technology or scope of work, or amendments to this PCE will trigger consultation with the Compliance Office, Facilities Management, the Wilderness Office, and Resources Management and Science.

2020 Programmatic Agreement (PA) (attached)
Yosemite's Parkwide PA allows the park's CRM team to review and sign off on activities that have no adverse effects to historic properties if they meet the criteria for streamlined review. Many actions included in this PCE are tiered from the 2020 PA for efficient streamlining of projects through the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) and the National Historic Preservation Act (1966) processes. Projects that are not likely to be included under the PA will be referred to the park's CRM team for review and implementation of the four-step NHPA pathway. For example, in the PA under stipulation 16 g) 'Removal of non-historic trails' is an activity that falls under streamlined review for NHPA consideration and is also an activity that is permissible under this PCE. However, many trails in the Yosemite Wilderness are unevaluated, which can create a grey area. In the instance of an unevaluated trail, the project may have to go to CRM and may also have to undergo the four-step NHPA process as well as undergo full NEPA considerations.

2021 Wilderness Restoration Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA) (attached)
A programmatic MRA has been completed for routine restoration work occurring in wilderness. Project managers should check with the Wilderness Office for a complete listing of approved programmatic MRAs. For non-routine related work occurring in wilderness, project managers should work with the Environmental Planning and Compliance Office, who will review project proposals to determine the necessary Wilderness Act requirements.
-More information on MRA once written

Federally Endangered and Threatened Species
Four federally listed Endangered Species Act (ESA) species are found within the wilderness boundary. The Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis sierrae) is listed as endangered, the fisher (Pekania pennanti), specifically the West Coast Distinct Population Segment (DPS) is listed as endangered, the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae) is listed as endangered, and the Yosemite toad (Anaxyrus canorus) is listed as threatened under the ESA. Critical habitat has been listed for the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad. The Sierra Nevada red fox is a candidate species for listing under the ESA. The park compliance biologist will determine if work will occur within areas potentially occupied by listed or special status species or impact wildlife habitat. For work in habitat of listed species, the project must follow all applicable conservation measures contained in the Biological Opinions issued to the park by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Specific protection measures are in place if the species are encountered during restoration activities. For instance, there is a biological opinion from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wilderness Pack Stock Use discussing the potential effects to the Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frog (Rana sierrae), and the Yosemite toad (Anaxyrus canorus) as Yosemite Wilderness has designated critical habitat for both species. Restoration activities included under this PCE are not likely to impact the ESA listed species or their habitat.

Restoration Activities

The following methods for habitat restoration, removing invasive species, removing inappropriate campsites, and removing and rerouting trails are covered under this PCE. Projects not specifically listed but of the same nature, impact, and scale may be approved after consultation with the Compliance office.

Work will be performed by NPS employees, outside contractors, conservation crews, volunteers, or others designated by the NPS. Vegetation may include native trees, shrubs, forbs and grasses for the purpose of habitat restoration; soil conservation and erosion control; replacement of current, aged or diseased vegetation; shade; aesthetics; natural barriers; and other utilitarian functions in disturbed areas. Stock support will occur in conjunction with certain projects. The majority of the work is done with hand tools including shovels, rakes, buckets, large bags, webbing, crosscut saws, grass whips and sickles. A solar water pump for watering salvaged plants and grip hoists for moving large obstructions may also be used on meadow restoration projects in an effort to reduce impacts.

Inappropriate campsites have proliferated throughout the wilderness, particularly in proximity to rivers, lakes, and streams. Ecological restoration actions seek to rehabilitate damaged soils, thereby facilitating the return of native plant and animal communities.

Activities to remove inappropriate campsite include:
A) dispersing the fire rings and charcoal from inappropriately located sites in a way that protects the surroundings
B) obstructing the site with logs and large rocks to camouflage the area as well as discourage camping
C) de-compacting the soil, and
D) naturalizing the site with locally gathered seeds and mulch to add organic matter to the site which helps prevent erosion and provides a seed bank. Materials will be gathered in a way that minimizes impacts on the local surroundings.

Throughout the wilderness, inappropriately located trails occur when users: avoid wet, muddy areas in a trail; take (or make) a short cut; or create a new trail to access water or another campsite. These trails cause habitat fragmentation, hydrological change, and erosion. Work is done in small sections, to minimize the amount of time the salvaged plants are out of the ground. Materials will be gathered in a way that minimizes impacts on the local surroundings. Activities to remove or reroute inappropriate trails, such as parallel trails, abandoned trails, climbing access trails, social trails accessing river, stream, and lake banks, and other informal trails, include:
A) Ecological restoration of shallow trails can be as simple as placing an obstruction and de-compacting the trail, preventing further damage.
Deeper ruts require:
B) salvaging of any existing plants from along the trail
C) removing linear nature of trail edge
D) de-compacting and /or bringing rut up to grade
E) discouraging use by placing obstructions and disguising old trail, a grip hoist may be used
F) replanting salvaged plants
G) scattering locally gathered seeds and duff, and
H) plants will be watered with a solar powered water pump thereby eliminating new social trail development.
A) Minor realignment of trails.
B) Construction of water bars in keeping with the historic design and configuration or following the recommendations of an approved treatment plan.
C) Removal of non-historic trails
D) Establishment of new trails that avoid adverse effects to historic properties.
E) Removal, pruning, topping, trimming, and limbing of trees and vegetation to provide for tree health or to address critical health/safety conditions along trails, and campsite areas. The park shall use directional falling and limbing to avoid damage to archeological sites.
F) Decompaction of soil and/or contouring impacts to immediate landscape.

Invasive species enter the wilderness through seed dispersal from non-wilderness locations via stock, wind, hikers, and human caused disturbance including firefighting. Invasive plant removal methods vary depending on the species. Invasive species removal is one aspect of habitat restoration; restoring habitat for numerous special status species, such as the threatened Yosemite Toad and endangered Sierra Nevada Yellow Legged Frogs are other aspects of habitat restoration.
Invasive, non-native plant removal, wildlife habitat restoration, and fire-related restoration activities include:
A) hand pulled with minimal soil disturbance
B) severing the stem at the base of the plants just beneath the soil surface, minimizing soil disturbance OR
C) by digging up the plant.
A) Removing non-historic exotic and invasive plant and animal species (e.g., Himalayan blackberry, velvet grass, non-native bullfrogs).
B) Salvage and replanting of locally obtained plants.
C) Seeding, mulching, and planting of restoration areas with locally gathered materials.
D) Obstructing restoration areas with logs, rocks, fencing, and natural camouflage to discourage use.