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Guidance for Making Wetland Minimal Effect Mitigation Decisions for USDA

INTERIM GUIDANCE FOR MAKING WETLAND MINIMAL EFFECT/MITIGATION DECISIONS FOR USDA PROGRAMS IN ALASKA

AUGUST 1997

CONTENTS

INTRODUCTION

General Program Requirements

State Conservationist’s Responsibilities

Additional Program Requirements

Overview of Minimal Effects/Mitigation Decisions

Intent of This Guidance

STEPS FOR MAKING A MINIMAL EFFECTS/MITIGATION DECISION

APPENDIXES

APPENDIX A - List of Alaska Red Flags and Yellow Flags

APPENDIX B - Categorical Minimal Effects Exemptions

APPENDIX C - Functional Assessment Methods

APPENDIX C/1 - HGM Model - Precipitation Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska (Flats) [and extra Tally Sheets]

APPENDIX C/2- Riverine Wetlands and Slope Wetlands in Southeast Alaska

APPENDIX C/3 .........(additional HGM models as they are developed)

APPENDIX D - Minimal Effect/Mitigation Evaluation

APPENDIX E - Alaska Wetland Values And The 2-4-5 Rule

APPENDIX F - Minimal Effect Agreement in Alaska

APPENDIX G - CFR References

APPENDIX H - Example Minimal Effect/Mitigation Decisions in Alaska

APPENDIX I - Alaska Information/Education/Marketing Strategy

APPENDIX J - Implementation Plan for Alaska Minimal Effects/Mitigation Decisions

APPENDIX K -Plan and Schedule to populate FOCS with Minimal Effects/Mitigation procedures

INTRODUCTION

The Food Security Act of 1985 contains a Minimal Effect Exemption provision, whereby agricultural operators can request a determination that a proposed conversion of a wetland would have a minimal effect on the hydrological and biological functions and values of the wetland (NFSAM Part 516). The 1996 Farm Bill (Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act) re-emphasized the use of the minimal effects exemption and provided additional opportunities for agricultural operators to convert low value wetlands through a new Categorical Minimal Effects provision, or to mitigate wetland losses through restoration, enhancement or creation, when the activity or conversion was more than minimal. The purpose of these new provisions, as stated by Congress, is to increase USDA’s ability to meet the objectives of the Wetland Conservation provisions in a more flexible manner.

In response to this mandate, NRCS in Alaska has developed procedures for conducting Minimal Effects and Mitigation determinations for wetland conversions in relation to USDA program eligibility. In accordance with the Interim Final Rule (7CFR Part 12) NRCS decisions concerning these provisions will be based upon the results of a wetland functional assessment using approved Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) Wetland Assessment Models, or, until such time that HGM Models are available, an alternative assessment model approved by the Alaska State Technical Committee. Therefore, included within this Minimal Effects/Mitigation procedure are; 1) the appropriate wetland functional assessment methods for Alaska; 2) a description of the approved Alaska Categorical Minimal Effects conditions; and 3) a description of the conditions where Minimal Effects conversions will be preempted (Red Flags) due to unique high value conditions.

General Program Requirements:

7 CFR Part 12 identifies several specific circumstances where NRCS must determine the effect of a wetland conversion activity on the functions and values of the wetland and the wetlands within the area. The Minimal Effects provision, which includes both the new Categorical Minimal Effects provision, and the Mitigation option, are examples of when this procedure is to be used. The CFR also identifies situations where NRCS must determine the adequacy, for Farm Bill purposes, of mitigation previously approved for Section 404 permits. Again, these decisions are to be based upon the functions and values of wetlands, instead of a previously used acre for acre comparison. And finally, wetland function and value information is to be used to identify situations or conditions where wetland conversions will not be approved. Conditions where Minimal Effect and Mitigation will not be approved are referred to in this procedure as "Red Flags".

Appendix G of this document contains the specific references to the Interim Final Rule (7 CFR Part 12) where NRCS’s responsibility to develop a Minimal Effects/ Mitigation procedure, based upon a Wetland Functional Assessment Method, are highlighted.

State Conservationist’s Responsibilities:

To implement these new mitigation and categorical minimal effects provisions, as well as the previously available minimal effects provision, NRCS State Conservationists, in consultation with the State Technical Committee, have the responsibilities [NFSAM 516.11(b)] to:

- adapt local assessment procedures to encompass functions identified in the national framework,

- identify preemptive ("red flags") or cautionary ("yellow flags") conditions that exist that would automatically not qualify for minimal effects, [to be published in the federal register]

- develop a decision rule (thresholds) for treating functional assessment output data in making minimal effect decisions,

- identify wetland values in the state,

- identify categorical minimal effect exemptions, which are activities or conditions in which recurring requests for minimal effects exemptions are granted in concurrence with NHQ, [to be published in the federal register] and

- develop a public relations strategy to inform clients of minimal effects exemptions.

Additional Program Requirements:

Additional notable requirements of the minimal effects/mitigation procedure, as outlined in the NFSAM, are;

- The determination of minimal effect is determined from a wetland functional assessment (516.10a).

- The functional assessment determines the level at which the wetland functions and values are operating and the impact of the conversion activities on those wetland functions and values present (516.12a).

- The minimal effect evaluation assesses the existing functions and values of the wetland (516.12a).

- Functions of the wetland are assessed using the Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) functional assessment procedure or a state developed procedure (516.12a)[until HGM models are available].

- The values of wetlands in the state are identified by the State Conservationist in consultation with the State Technical Committee and are assessed using a state developed procedure (516.12a).

- The State Conservationist in consultation with the State Technical Committee shall develop guidance and procedures for assessing the value of an affected wetland and it’s functions. Values are based on a local assessment of value considering the importance of the wetland and its functions to the immediate, adjacent, and watershed areas (516.12e and 516.20b). [The reason for this document.]

- A minimal effect evaluation worksheet will utilize information from the value assessment procedure and the functional assessment procedure to determine; whether the effect of the conversion on the wetland functions and values is considered minimal; and whether cumulative or secondary impacts of the conversion on wetlands in the area are considered minimal (516.12f). [In this guidance document for Alaska, the functional assessment procedures are the available HGM models. The value assessment procedures of each MLRA are found in Appendix E. The value assessment procedure contains thresholds for value decisions. Values and value thresholds can be adjusted within each MLRA to account for cumulative or secondary impacts. The minimal effect evaluation worksheet is located in Appendix D.]

-NRCS will conduct all functional assessments for minimal effect purposes on-site (516.21a).

- All Minimal Effect and Mitigation decisions will be made in consideration of wetland functions and values; based upon an assessment of hydrology and biogeochemical functions (526.64 with reference to 516.11a).

- Approval of mitigation plans may also include a monitoring plan (517.19g and 527.2).

- Resulting minimal effects decision or mitigation decisions relate only to Food Security Act.

- Although progress is being made to coordinate minimal effect/mitigation decisions with section 404 nationwide or regional general permits, USDA approved wetland conversions may still require a Section 404 permit or state agency approval.

- A minimal effects determination will be implemented by generating a new NRCS-CPA-026E to the client and FSA; if required, a plan must be applied within one year (516.23a).

- NRCS will monitor all mitigation wetlands (517.19g & 527.2).

- Mitigation requirements that involve off site restoration, wetland enhancement or wetland creation will require the landowner to provide the US government with an easement (517.0b, 517.19 and 526.69).

-Minimal effect worksheets should evaluate the functions and values of the wetland under consideration as well as other wetlands in the area; be understandable by clients, including the general public; be defensible to landuser clients; and allow as quick and easy field use as possible, but yet retain valid evaluation (527.6.1).

Overview of Minimal Effect/Mitigation Decisions:

The minimal effect and mitigation approval process requires the NRCS district conservationist to determine the answers to two basic questions concerning wetland(s) affected by the planned project: #1) What functions do these wetlands perform, or would they be performing if unaltered (functional assessment) and; #2) what is the relative importance of those functions (value assessment)? Obtaining the answer to the first question requires the use of a technical procedure to collect, summarize and evaluate site-specific data. The Hydrogeomorphic wetland assessment methodology is required when available. The answer to the second question is obtained by utilizing the additional guidance provided in this document (as approved by the Alaska State Technical Committee) to apply local values to the decision making process. This two step process helps assure that wetland conversion decisions are made only after having an understanding of the role of the particular wetland(s) in question, in relation to the watershed, and other related natural resources, such as soils, water quality, wildlife habitat, etc.

When answering the first question (What functions do these wetlands perform, or would they be performing if unaltered?) district conservationists will conduct a wetland functional assessment. The tools that will soon be available to accomplish this in Alaska will be approved HGM models. All anticipated requests for minimal effect or mitigation decisions can be addressed by these, soon to be available, models. An HGM-Based Interim method (sometimes referred to as HGM Lite) will not be developed in Alaska.

HGM Models: District conservationists will utilize HGM models for wetland functional assessments where local models have been developed. When using the models the investigator will measure physical variables, on-site, and calculate the level (rate) at which each identified function is operating. Two functional assessments are performed for each wetland; to represent existing conditions (score) and planned conditions (score). The results will be recorded on HGM Functional Assessment Tally Sheets located in each HGM Model. (Extra Tally Sheets for the model "Precipitation Driven Wetlands In Interior Alaska" are in Appendix C/1. Tally Sheets for other models will be added as additional models are developed. Note: There are five different Tally Sheets for the model: Precipitation-Driven Wetlands In Interior Alaska. This model is based upon a cyclic condition; therefore the user should use the tally sheet appropriate for the cycle stage being assessed. Function Scores are to be calculated on the Tally Sheets, using variable scores from the "Variable Score Field Form" contained in the model.)

To answer the second question (What is the relative importance of those functions?) requires the use of outputs from the functional assessment (the HGM Method) to complete the value assessment. The result of the value assessment becomes the Minimal Effects/Mitigation Decision.

Wetland functions defined by the national hydrogeomorphic models are grouped into four classes: hydrology, biogeochemistry, plant community maintenance, and faunal community/habitat maintenance. Specific functions are defined within each function class for each hydrogeomorphic wetland subclass and class. Determinations of function for project wetlands are to be made by comparison with standards developed for reference wetlands of the same subclass. For a minimal effect determination, the processes of hydrology and biogeochemistry functions are critical to the presence and maintenance of wetland plant communities and faunal communities and habitat. If most of the hydrology and biogeochemistry functions are not present or intact, or will become altered by a wetland conversion activity, then, plant community maintenance, and faunal community and habitat maintenance functions will most likely be significantly altered or eliminated. Therefore, a minimal effect determination for a proposed or pre-conversion wetland activity focuses on the presence and level of hydrology and biogeochemical functions and the impact of reducing those functions on plant community and faunal community/habitat maintenance. All the functions are defined by the hydrogeomorphic subclass reference wetlands and associated reference standards.

The value assessment is to be completed by the district conservationist by recording information on three forms located in Appendix D: FORM #1 - the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Evaluation Form, where general information about the wetland is recorded; FORM #2A or FORM #2x, etc. - the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Evaluation Worksheet (for the specific HGM model used) to record function scores, identify those that support locally important values, and calculate percent changes in function scores; and FORM #3 - the Minimal Effects/Mitigation Evaluation Checksheet to document the steps taken to complete the process.

The Minimal Effect/Mitigation Worksheet provides the district conservationist with the format to compare function scores of the initial wetland conditions with conditions following conversion. Also, recognizing that not all wetland functions have values that are locally important, the Worksheet provides a place to identify functions that are not locally important and therefore not to be included in the results. The State Conservationist using input for the Local Work Groups and the State Technical Committee will identify locally important values (See Appendix E). The results of the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Worksheet will be calculated using the 2-4-5 Rule as described in the NFSAM Section 526.63a and Appendix E. Thresholds for the 2-4-5 Rule will also be established by the State Conservationist using input for the Local Work Groups and the State Technical Committee. Threshold levels will be identified in Appendix E, and on the Worksheets (FORM #2x).

 Intent Of This Guidance:

It is NRCS’s intent to describe a process that results in continued protection of wetland functions and values in the immediate, adjacent and watershed areas that are desirable or important. NRCS recognizes that wetland values are tied to societal benefits and are based on local resources and concerns. (NFSAM page 527-255).

The National Food Security Act Manuals guidance describes a process, with examples, to identify thresholds of wetland functional ratings to determine minimal effect or mitigation. The concept is that if wetland functions are already impaired additional impacts or impairments may be only minimal. This logic applies to two basic scenarios; 1) where the functions are currently operating well, and the planned activity would have only a slight or minimal effect on those functions; or, 2) where the functions have already been degraded to such a low level that additional degradation would have only a minimal effect on wetland values.

The Rule also allows the procedure to address a third scenario, one that is common in Alaska because of the vastness of our wetlands and the sparse human populations. In this scenario an assessment may indicate that all functions are operating at a high level, however associated values resulting from those functions have a relatively low level of importance to society or to other resources that society values, as identified by the State Conservationist in consultation with the State Technical Committee (see "Values" in NFSAM page 527-255). This may be due to the large number of wetland within the watershed; because of an extremely low level of other disturbances within the area; or because the operating functions provide no direct or significant indirect benefits to society. In other words the impact of the wetland manipulation on what society values is minimal.

The decision relative to the importance of wetland values has been incorporated in the Minimal Effects/Mitigation Decision process in Appendix E, as established by the State Conservationist. The cumulative effect of such wetland losses is also addressed through the value assessment step in Appendix E, where values become locally important when more than 10% of the lands within a watershed have been cleared for development. Thresholds for the index of function (Appendix E) can also be adjusted to address cumulative affects within an MLRA.

Agricultural developers in Alaska have encountered wetland regulations since the early 1980s. Many have viewed these rules as unnecessary infringements on their property right, and have been frustrated by what is perceived to be complex regulatory process. Many have avoided the rules by not requesting wetland determinations and not seeking Clean Water Act compliance acknowledgment. In some situations the existing rules have indeed resulted in unnecessary encumbrances that did little to protect wetland values. However, in other situations the rules have prevented developers from making costly mistakes, and even from repeating mistakes made by others who failed in their earlier attempts to convert the same areas to agriculture. There are many situations with different variables that district conservationists will be requested to address with this minimal effects determination process. It is NRCS’s intent to provide and implement a process that is fair, and flexible, and where decisions are based upon site specific conditions and local values. It is NRCS’s intent that the application of this process will result in minimal effect determinations when the following conditions exist; 1) the wetland is a small inclusion within a field and the manipulation of the wetland is feasible and would not result in the loss of important wetland values; or 2) when the wetland is more than just a small inclusion, the site has suitable soils for agriculture development, the manipulation is feasible and the functions that will be affected are associated with values that are of relative low importance to society (the level of importance can be adjusted as cumulative effects of additional wetland conversions are considered).

To assure that this procedure is applied properly, some initial questions need to be considered: 1) Does the site have soils suitable for agriculture? 2) Is wetness the only limitation? 3) Is it physically and economically feasible to convert this site to agricultural use? It is only after these questions are addressed that this FSA Minimal Effects/Mitigation procedure will be used to identify wetland functions; values of functions; and the relative importance of having those values present on the landscape. This procedure is not intended to apply to all wetlands in Alaska. Landowners should ask themselves those initial questions. Most wetlands in Alaska will result in negative responses. Only for those few sites where developers can answer yes to the initial questions, should this procedure be used by the district conservationist to arrive at the answers relative to function, values and relative importance.

The procedures outlined in NFSAM section 527.6.1 have been used to develop this GUIDE SHEET FOR MAKING USDA MINIMAL EFFECT/MITIGATION DECISIONS IN ALASKA.

STEPS FOR MAKING A MINIMAL EFFECT/MITIGATION DECISION

Note to district conservationists: record the completion of each step on the Minimal Effects/Mitigation Checksheet (Appendix D Form #3) for each Minimal Effects or Mitigation decision completed.

Step 1: Review project to verify that the planned activity is considered a manipulation which "triggers" the wetland provisions. Does the operator have a Certified Wetland Determination? Has the operator determined that; the site has soils suitable for agriculture; additional limitations (if any) can be managed; and it is physically and economically feasible to convert this site to agricultural use? If yes to the above; characterize the wetland to be impacted by completing the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Evaluation Form in Appendix D. Review the proposed conversion action with the client to verify application information and confirm site location.

Step 2: Review project proposal for red and yellow flags (Appendix A). A Red Flag situation means that the decisions concerning functions, values and relative importance have already been made. The result is that no minimal effect or mitigation options will apply here. Document the results on the Checksheet and inform the landowner. A Yellow Flag situation requires that the assistance of the state biologist and FWS be required to complete the Minimal Effects/Mitigation evaluation. Yellow Flag situations can not result in minimal effect decisions, however, conversions or manipulations may be approved with mitigation.

Step 3: Determine if categorical minimal effect exemption applies (Appendix B). A categorical Minimal Effect exemption means that the decisions concerning function, value and relative importance have already been made. The effect of the conversion of these wetlands to the immediate, adjacent and watershed areas would be minimal. If these conditions exist, document the decision on the Checksheet and inform the landowner of the conditions under which he/she can proceed under this exemption.

Step 4: If categorical minimal effect does not apply, conduct a functional assessment using the locally developed HGM Model for the correct subclass, and record the results on the model’s Tally Sheet. The user should review the instructions in the HGM Guidebook (on how to conduct an HGM assessment) prior to applying the HGM model. This will help assure that the model is applied correctly and the correct seral stage is used.

Step 5: Apply the output information from the functional assessment. A minimal effect exemption determination is "a determination that the conversion or proposed conversion of a wetland will have a minimal effect on the hydrological and biological functions of the wetland". The approach to making this determination will utilize the forms found in Appendix D. Complete the general information form (Form #1); and the appropriate Worksheet (Form #2) for the HGM model used in Step 4. The completion of the Worksheet requires the user to refer to Appendix E to determine when a function is not locally important and when the thresholds are exceeded. This is the value assessment. Cumulative effects of the conversion are considered when the correct Appendix E is used. Appendix E’s are specific to each MLRA.

The Worksheet Results will be a decision that the proposed action will have a minimal effect on the physical/hydrological and biogeochemical function; or, that the proposed action will not have a minimal effect (the effect will be more than minimal).

Step 6: If the proposed action will result in more than just a minimal effect, the client must be informed of mitigation options. Wetland function losses that exceed the threshold must be replaced through wetland restoration, creation, or enhancement at an acceptable mitigation site (see NFSAM, Section 517). At this stage of the process the Checksheet in Appendix D should be completed to document that all steps have been properly followed. Also refer to the decision flow chart below.

Upon completion of a Minimal Effects/mitigation determination, the landowner/operator will be given one of the following determinations:

Minimal Effect is approved with no special conditions; decision is a result of an on-site functional assessment; notification letter to the operator is required.

Minimal Effect with conditions is approved; implementation requires a Minimal Effect Agreement that stipulates the terms and conditions, such as permit restrictions, location, maintenance and operation, etc. (with-condition should include the conditions considered when conducting the functional assessment; such as, if planted to permanent vegetative cover (hayland), or converted with a ditch rather than a fill, or any other assumptions used when applying the HGM model.)

Not Minimal Effect; Conversion of the wetland requires Mitigation (may be a yellow flag situation) implementation requires a mitigation plan and signed agreement. Mitigation through off site restoration, enhancement or wetland creation requires an easement.

Not Minimal Effect and can not be Mitigated (red flag situation); requires an explanation of the logic used to arrive at the decision and an explanation of the operators appeal rights.

Categorical Minimal Effect; on-site functional assessment is not required; written notification to the operator is required.

Step 7: Complete the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Determination. Notify landowner of decision via letter and provide mitigation option and appeal rights when appropriate. Prepare the Minimal Effect Agreement (Appendix F) and new NRCS-CPA-026E, if needed. Populate the FOCS resource inventory database with MW determination information.

APPENDIX A

List of Red Flags and Yellow Flags for Minimal Effects/Mitigation decisions relevant to USDA program wetland provisions in Alaska [NFSAM 516.11(b)]

Red Flags

The following red flags include both preemptive conditions and identified wetland classes: for Minimal Effects/Mitigation decisions relevant to USDA program wetland provisions in Alaska [NFSAM 516.11(b)]

- These are conditions that would preempt use of Minimal Effects/Mitigation provisions. When the following conditions exist the operator will automatically not qualify for Minimal Effect or Mitigation options.

Area/habitat known to be used by state or federally listed threatened, endangered, proposed or candidate species.

Areas where the activity will violate any restrictive covenant or deed restriction (related to wetlands, wildlife species, open space, natural area, etc.) or impact wetlands which have been restored under any government program.

Activities that will impact any area on state or federal listed historical or archeological site or sites potentially eligible for such lists.

Activity that will impact any areas with known ecological or geological features or communities considered by federal or state agencies to be unusual or rare in the region.

Areas that are immediately adjacent (within on quarter mile) to and hydrologically connected with surface waters, to waters known to contain aquatic species of local/state concern; such as water bodies identified on the Alaska "Catalog Of Waters Important For Spawning, Rearing Or Migration Of Anadromous Fishes".

Areas where the activity will impact areas in immediate proximity of existing or proposed public water supply intake and/or reservoir system.

Areas that could impact an areas within a local/State Protection Area.

Areas protected under American Indian religious Freedom Act

Areas with hazardous wastes sites identified CERCLA or RCRA.

Areas protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Special aquatic sites (as defined by CWA Sec. 404 (b)(1) Guidelines).

The following additional red flag items have been proposed. These items will be determined as possible red flags following field testing of the procedures during the summer of 1997.

Wetlands identified for protection within designated watershed projects areas.

Wetlands greater that 10 acres that do not have soils with high agricultural potential, (as defined in the Alaska Exempt Wetland Criteria, SCS, 1989).

Wetlands in HGM subclass "Slope" (these are groundwater discharge wetlands, such as Fens).

Yellow Flags

Conditions that would indicate caution before utilizing the Mitigation provisions. Minimal Effect Exemption does not apply. When the following conditions exist the Minimal Effect/Mitigation options can be implemented only with the assistance of the NRCS state biologist and the concurrence of the local FWS and COE representative.

Estuarian Fringe Wetlands

Lacustrine Fringe Wetlands

Riverine Wetlands

Wetlands on slopes greater than 10% (any HGM subclass)

Wetlands that have value for flood control in relation to human habitation or other development, i.e., roads, bridges, airports, cropland, etc.

APPENDIX B

Categorical Minimal Effects Exemptions for Alaska [516.11(b)]

The following activities categorically meet the Minimal Effects exemption for Swampbuster in Alaska. These activities are categorically approved. Such action will not result in Converted Wetland (CW), however, a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit may be required from the Army Corps of Engineers.

NONE

Note: The following Categorical Minimal Effect activity has been proposed. This activity will be determined as a possible categorical minimal effect activity following field testing of the interim procedures during the 2-3 years.

"Removal of second growth woody vegetation on previously cleared agricultural parcels; when the activity is accomplished according F.O.T.G. Standards and Specifications as part of a SWCD approved conservation plan; and the site does not meet Red Flag or Yellow Flag conditions".

Because Alaska has not had routine requests for minimal effects determinations, and therefore has not routinely granted such minimal effects, a categorical designation can not currently be justified. An information program to inform USDA program participants of the minimal effects provision is what’s needed at this time.

APPENDIX C

Wetland Functional Assessment Methods For USDA Food Security Act Programs In Alaska

The following is a description of the current (2/97) status of wetland functional assessment methods in Alaska, to be utilized for Minimal Effect/Mitigation determinations:

HGM Subclass

Functional Assessment Model

Precipitation-Driven Wetlands In Interior Alaska (Flats) Draft HGM Model (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
Riverine/Slope Wetlands in Southeast Alaska Draft HGM Model (Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation)
Groundwater (slope) wetlands (these include wetlands on slopes greater than 20%, Fens and isolated abandoned channels).

Red Flag or Yellow Flag

 
Depressional Wetlands of Interior and SouthCentral Alaska  
Riverine Wetlands of Interior and SouthCentral Alaska

Red Flag or Yellow Flag

 
Precipitation-Driven (Flats) of SouthCentral Alaska  
Lacustrine Fringe

Yellow Flag

 
Estuarine Fringe

Yellow Flag

 

APPENDIX C/1

Precipitation-Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska (Flats) (to be inserted here when the model is approved for use)

Note: This appendix will also contain extra copies of the Tally Sheets for this model. There are five different Tally Sheets for this model. Because this model is based upon a cyclic condition, the user should use the tally sheet appropriate for the cycle stage being assessed. Function Scores will be calculated on the Tally Sheets, using variable scores from the "Variable Score Field Form" contained in the model.

Tally Sheets for Precipitation Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska

Forested Community Types:

Burned 0-5 years ago:

Function

Index

Initial Score

Score After

Rationale/

Comments

Initial (VOM + VLM + VHERB + VCWD)/4

(_____ + _____ + _____ + ______)/4

   

After

(VOM + VLM + VHERB + VCWD)/4

(_____ + _____ + _____ + ______)/4

   
Initial (VOM + VHERB + VLM)/3

(_____ + _____ + _____ )/3

     

After

(VOM + VHERB + VLM)/3

(_____ + _____ + _____ )/3

     
Initial (VTOPO + (VOM + VLM)/2)/2

(______ + (_____ + _____)/2)/2

     

After

(VTOPO + (VOM + VLM)/2)/2

(___ + (___ + ___)/2)/2

     

Initial

((VOM + VHERB + VCWD)/3 + VLM)/2

((_____ + ______ + ______)/3 + _____)/2

     

After

((VOM + VHERB + VCWD)/3 + VLM)/2

((_____ + ______ + _____)/3 + ______)/2

     
F5 Organic Carbon Export*

Initial

(VSURFCON X (VOM + VHERB + VLM)/3)1/2

(_________ X (_____ + ______ + ______)/3)1/2

     
 

After

(VSURFCON X (VOM + VHERB + VLM)/3)1/2

(_________ X (_____ + ______ + ______)/3)1/2

     

Initial

((VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/3 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO)/3)/2

(( ____ + ____ + ___)/3 + (____ + ___ + ___)/3)/2

     

After

((VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/3 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO)/3)/2

(( ____ + ___ + ___)/3 + (____ + ___ + ____)/3)/2

     

Initial

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VOM + VSTRATA + VCWD)/4)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + ____ + _____ + _____)/4/1/2

     

After

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VOM + VSTRATA + VCWD)/4)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + ____ + _____ + _____)/4/1/2

     

Initial

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(_________ + ________ + ________)/3

     

After

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(_________ + ________ + ________)/3

     

If toeslope or Valley bottom position with a stream AND permafrost in the organic mat, then Organic Carbon Export is a function.

Tally Sheets for Precipitation Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska

Forested Community Types:

Burned 6 to 30 years ago:

Function

Index

Initial Score

Score After

Rationale/

Comments

Initial (VOM + VLM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB) /2) /3

(_____ + _____ + (_______ + ________)/2 )/3

   

After

(VOM + VLM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB) /2) /3

(_____ + _____ + (_______ + ________)/2 )/3

   
Initial (VOM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/2 + VLM)/3

(____ + (________ + _______ )/2 + ______)/3

     

After

(VOM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/2 + VLM)/3

(____ + (________ + _______ )/2 + ______)/3

     
Initial (VTOPO + (VOM + VLM)/2)/2

(______ + (_____ + _____)/2)/2

     

After

(VTOPO + (VOM + VLM)/2)/2

(______ + (_____ + _____)/2)/2

     

Initial

((VOM + VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/3 + VLM)/2

((_____ + ______ + ______)/3 + _____)/2

     

After

((VOM + VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/3 + VLM)/2

((_____ + ______ + ______)/3 + _____)/2

     
F5 Organic Carbon Export*

Initial

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(___ X (____ + (___ + ___)/2 + ____)/3)1/2

     
 

After

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VSMTREE + VSHRUB)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(___ X (____ + (___ + ___)/2 + ____)/3)1/2

     

Initial

((VSMTREE + VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/5 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO)/3)/2

(( ____ + ____ + ____ + ____ + ____)/5 + (_____ + _____ + _____)/3)/2

     

After

((VSMTREE + VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/5 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO)/3)/2

(( ____ + ____ + ____ + ____ + ____)/5 + (_____ + _____ + _____)/3)/2

     

Initial

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VOM + VSTRATA)/3)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + ____ + _____ )/3)1/2

     

After

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VOM + VSTRATA)/3)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + ____ + _____ )/3)1/2

     

Initial

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(_________ + ________ + ________)/3

     

After

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(_________ + ________ + ________)/3

     

If toeslope or Valley bottom position with a stream AND permafrost in the organic mat, then Organic Carbon Export is a function.

           

Tally Sheets for Precipitation Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska

Forested Community Types:

Burned > 30 years ago or no evidence of burn:

Function

Index

Initial Score

Score After

Rationale/

Comments

 
Initial (VOM + VLM + VAQUIC + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2)/4

(____ + _____ + ______ + ( _____ + _____)/2)/4

   

After

(VOM + VLM + VAQUIC + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2)/4

(____ + _____ + ______ + ( _____ + _____)/2)/4

   
Initial (VOM + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2 + VLM)/3

(_____ + (______ + _____ )/2 + (_______)/3

     

After

(VOM + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2 + VLM)/3

(_____ + (______ + _____ )/2 + (_______)/3

     
Initial ((VTOPO + VSURWAT )/2 + (VOM + VLM)/2) + VAQUIC)/3

((____ + ____)/2 + _____ + _____)/2) + _____)/3

     

After

((VTOPO + VSURWAT )/2 + (VOM + VLM)/2) + VAQUIC)/3

((____ + ____)/2 + _____ + _____)/2) + _____)/3

     

Initial

((VOM + VTREE + VSMTREE)/3 + VLM + VAQUIC )/3

((_____ + ______ + ______)/3 + ______ + _______)/3

     

After

((VOM + VTREE + VSMTREE)/3 + VLM + VAQUIC )/3

((_____ + ______ + ______)/3 + ______ + _______)/3

     
F5 Organic Carbon Export*

Initial

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(_______ X (______ + (_____ + _____)/2 + ____)/3)1/2

     
 

After

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VTREE + VSMTREE)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(_______ X (______ + (_____ + _____)/2 + ____)/3)1/2

     

Initial

((VTREE + VSMTREE + VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/6 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO + VAQUIC)/4)/2

(( _____ + _____ + _____ +_____ + _____ + ______)/6 + (______ + _____ + _____ + ______)/4) /2

     

After

((VTREE + VSMTREE + VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/6 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO + VAQUIC)/4)/2

(( _____ + _____ + _____ +_____ + _____ + ______)/6 + (______ + _____ + _____ + ______)/4) /2

     

Initial

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VSURWAT + VOM + VSTRATA)/4)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + _____ + _____ + _____)/4/1/2

     

After

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VSURWAT + VOM + VSTRATA)/4)1/2

((_____ X (_____ + _____ + _____ + _____)/4/1/2

     

Initial

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(______ + ______ + _______)/3

     

After

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + VCONTIG)/3

(______ + ______ + _______)/3

     

If toeslope or Valley bottom position with a stream AND permafrost in the organic mat, then Organic Carbon Export is a function.

Tally Sheets for Precipitation Driven Wetlands in Interior Alaska

Forested Community Types:

Scrub-Shrub Community:

Function

Index

Initial Score

Score After

Rationale/

Comments

Initial (VOM + VLM + VAQUIC + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2)/4

(_____ + _____ + ______ + (________ + _________ )/2/4

   

After

(VOM + VLM + VAQUIC + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2)/4

(_____ + _____ + ______ + (________ + _________ )/2/4

   
Initial (VOM + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2 + VLM)/3

(_____ + (_______ + _______ )/2 + _______)/3

     

After

(VOM + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2 + VLM)/3

(_____ + (_______ + _______ )/2 + _______)/3

     
Initial ((VTOPO + VSURWAT)/2 + (VOM + VLM)/2 + VAQUIC)/3

((_______ + ________)/2 + (_____ + _____)/2 + _____)/3

     

After

((VTOPO + VSURWAT)/2 + (VOM + VLM)/2 + VAQUIC)/3

((_______ + ________)/2 + (_____ + _____)/2 + _____)/3

     

Initial

((VOM + VSHRUB + VHERB)/3 + VLM + VAQUIC)/3

((_____ + ________ + _______)/3 + _____ + _______)/3

     

After

((VOM + VSHRUB + VHERB)/3 + VLM + VAQUIC)/3

((_____ + ________ + _______)/3 + _____ + _______)/3

     
F5 Organic Carbon Export*

Initial

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(________ X (______ + (_______ + ______)/2 + ______)/3)1/2

     
 

After

(VSURFCON X (VOM + (VSHRUB + VHERB)/2 + VLM)/3)1/2

(________ X (______ + (_______ + ______)/2 + ______)/3)1/2

     

Initial

((VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/4 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO + VAQUIC)/4)/2

( ( _______ + _______ + _______ + _______)/4 +

(_______ + _______ + _______ +________)/4 )/2

     

After

((VSHRUB + VHERB + VCRYPTO + VVRATIO)/4 + (VOM + VLM + VTOPO + VAQUIC)/4)/2

( ( _______ + _______ + _______ + _______)/4 +

(_______ + _______ + _______ +________)/4 )/2

     

Initial

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VSURWAT + VOM + VSTRATA)/4)1/2

( (_____ X (______ + ______ + ______ + _______)/4/1/2

     

After

(VSIGN X (VTOPO + VSURWAT + VOM + VSTRATA)/4)1/2

( (_____ X (______ + ______ + ______ + _______)/4/1/2

     

Initial

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + CONTIG)/3

(_________ + ___________ + ________)/3

     

After

(VAREAUSE + VSURUSE + CONTIG)/3

(_________ + ___________ + ________)/3

     

If toeslope or Valley bottom position with a stream AND permafrost in the organic mat, then Organic Carbon Export is a function.

Extra Tally Sheets (set of 5) for the model "Precipitation Driven Wetlands In Interior Alaska (Flats)"

APPENDIX C/2

Riverine Wetlands and Slope Wetlands in Southeast Alaska

APPENDIX D

Minimal Effect/Mitigation Evaluation

FORM #1

Name of Minimal Effect Applicant ____________________________________________________

Tract No. _____ Field No. ____ Township___ Range___ Section(s)__________Site No. _________

Wetland Area (acres) ___________________

Wetland Determination Completed: Yes _____ No _____

Hydrogeomorphic Class _____ Hydrogeomorphic Subclass _________

Wetland Description (current and past use, existing veg. cover, etc.): ____________ ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Type and Size of Proposed Wetland Conversion Activity: _________________________________________________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Is the impact area a portion of a larger contiguous wetland area (irrespective of tract boundaries)? _______
If yes, size of larger wetland area __________

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

MINIMAL EFFECT/MITIGATION EVALUATION

FORM #2A

WORKSHEET

FOR

PRECIPITATION DRIVEN WETLANDS IN INTERIOR ALASKA

  Physical/Hydrological Biogeochemical Plant & Animal
  F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 F6 F7 F8
Initial Condition                
Condition after Conversion                
Supports Locally Important Values yes/no

See Appendix E

               
Percent Change From Initial Condition (Locally Important values)                
Threshold Exceeded yes/no            

Results: Minimal Effect, Yes ____ No ______

(See "Decision Rule" in Appendix E)

MINIMAL EFFECT/MITIGATION EVALUATION

FORM #3

CHECK-SHEET

_____ 1. Minimal Effects/Mitigation Evaluation (Form #1) completed.

_____ 2. Red Flags and Yellow Flags list consulted:

Red Flag site: Yes _____ No _____

Yellow Flag site: Yes _____ No _____

_____ 3. Categorical Minimal Effects condition met: Yes ____ No _____

_____ 4. Conduct Functional Assessment -

Use HGM model -

Record results on the appropriate tally sheets.

_____ 5. Completed appropriate Minimal Effects/Mitigation Worksheet (Form 2).

_____ 6. Results (check one of the following):

___ Minimal Effect no special condition

___ Minimal Effect with special condition (requires agreement)

___ Not a Minimal Effect (requires mitigation, mitigation plan, possible

easements

___ Not a Minimal Effect and Can Not be Mitigated

___ Categorical Minimal Effect

_____ 7. Notify landowner/operator and provide appeal rights.

 APPENDIX E

Alaska Wetland Values And The 2-4-5 Rule

This table identifies values associated with functions of wetlands commonly encountered in Interior and SouthCentral Alaska and therefore potentially associated with agricultural development in Alaska. Local importance of values is determined with the assistance of local coordinating committees, for each MLRA.

MLRA 174

FUNCTION VALUE LOCALLY IMPORTANT WHEN**
Maintenance of Characteristic Hydrologic Regime Infiltration,

Established outlet to maintain water storage, soil moisture and groundwater infiltration

Physical/hydrological functions are locally important when: the subject wetland is < 1/4 mile from receiving water body; or the wetland is larger that 3 acres or makes up more than 2% of the wetlands within the watershed***; or when > 10% of the lands within the watershed have been cleared for development (ag, urban, mining, etc.,)
Maintenance of Soil Profile Integrity Impede water runoff, element and compound export and sediment transport to adjacent areas Same
Maintenance of Characteristic Thermal Regime Produces low decomposition rates resulting in nutrient poor conditions, modifies off-site hydrology by directing surface water and/or groundwater flow systems Same
Dynamic Surface Water Storage Flood control, water quality improvement Same
Long-Term Surface Water Storage Water (surface and near surface) Maintains and improves surface water quality, maintains water table elevations, provides wildlife habitat Same
Energy Dissipation Reduces downstream sediment loading Same
Subsurface Storage of Water Recharge, maintains base flow and seasonal flow in streams Same
Moderation of Groundwater Flow or Discharge Maintains streamflow, water table elevation Same
Nutrient Cycling (cycling of elements and compounds) Holds nutrients on-site making them less available down gradient. Improves surface water quality; allows nutrients to be taken up by plants Biogeochemical functions are locally important when; impaired water bodies are down gradient; or the wetland is < 1/4 mile from receiving water body; or the wetland is < 1/2 mile from domestic water supply.
Removal of Dissolved Elements and Compounds Reduces potential for downstream export to other wetlands and aquatic systems Same
Retention Of Particulates Reduces downstream sediment loading, improves surface water quality Same
Organic Carbon Export Enhances decomposition of organic matter, supports aquatic food webs down gradient Same
Maintains Interspersion and Connectivity Overall landscape diversity of habitats Plant and animal functions are locally important for FSA purposes when the wetland supports T&E species or State species of concern.
Maintain Characteristic Plant Community Photosynthesis drives food web. Provides plant and animal habitat, recreation, aesthetics, educational opportunities Same

** When these conditions exist, the wetland value has been determined to be important for the local MLRA. Cumulative effects decisions will be addressed through this element. This element will include a description of conditions that exist when a value changes from locally important to not locally important, due to cumulative effects. Cumulative affects are also addressed through adjustments to the functional index thresholds established through the 2-4-5 Rule. State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee can adjust these threshold values as needed. Significant adjustments are anticipated following the field testing of the interim procedure during the summer of 1997.

*** Watersheds, for the purpose of this procedure are geographic areas that are expressed as either; twelve to fourteen digit hydrologic units as depicted by USGS; or areas that contribute surface flows to second and third order streams; or sub basins depicted on 1:63,360 topographic maps of approximately 250,000 acres or less.

The 2-4-5 RULE Using the Minimal Effect/Mitigation Worksheet:

Calculate reduction in significant functions (F1, F2 ...). Determine for each of the Hydrological and Biogeochemcial functions (not the Plant & Animal Functions) in the model if the conversion results in exceeding the "minimal" threshold level using the following table.

When function Score of Initial Condition is: Threshold is exceeded if the manipulation would cause the index of function to be decreased by:

.8 - 1.0

more that 20% of existing score

.5 - .79

more than 40% of existing score

<.5

more that 50% of existing score

The Decision Rule:

If 50 percent or more of the functions present in either the Hydrology or Biogeochemistry functional group are reduced beyond the threshold level, the effect is not minimal.

If fewer than 50 percent of the Hydrology functions and fewer than 50 percent of the Biogeochemical functions are reduced beyond the threshold level, and no important habitat functions identified by FWS or the State Technical Committee are lost, the effect is minimal.

This approach to processing functional assessment output for use in making minimal effects determinations is provided as a national framework for direct application or to be modified by NRCS and FWS, in consultation with the State Technical Committee, to better reflect local conditions. Threshold levels may be adjusted through modification of baseline index of performance categories or shifting the acceptable level of decrease within each category. The process may also be modified by altering the decision rule if appropriate.

APPENDIX F

Minimal Effects Agreement In Alaska

This agreement is to stipulate the conditions which must be created and maintained by the person in order to receive a determination of minimal effect which will enable the provision of USDA program benefits to the person despite the conversion of wetland.

I hereby agree to the terms set forth below and understand that any willful action on my part that is not consistent with the stipulated terms that will diminish the value of the wetland(s) will result in a loss of the minimal effect determination and the area will be considered a converted wetland. I agree that the following terms must be installed and maintained in a condition that is to the satisfaction of NRCS and agree to provide the right of access to wetlands involved in the minimal effect determination to USDA personnel to monitor if terms of the agreement are being carried out.

Provide a written explanation of terms and future conditions of the minimal effect agreement.
________________________________________________________

Producer Date

________________________________________________________

Natural Resources Conservation Service Date

________________________________________________________

Fish and Wildlife Service Date

NOTE: Terms and conditions are based on the results of the functional assessment procedure and minimal effect evaluation found in NFSAM or "Guide for Making Wetland Minimal Effect/Mitigation for USDA Programs In Alaska".

APPENDIX G 

Highlighted CFR References That Identify The Need For Minimal Effects Determination Procedures

The following excerpt from the Interim Final Rule (7 CFR Part 12) are provided to identify NRCS’s responsibility to develop a Minimal Effects/ Mitigation procedure, based upon a Wetland Functional Assessment Method in Alaska.

7CFR Part 12, Highly Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation

Section 12.5(b)(1) Exemptions for wetlands and converted wetlands; A person shall not be determined to be ineligible for program benefits under Section 12.4 as a result of the production of an agricultural commodity on converted wetland or the conversion of wetland if: (v) NRCS has determined that the actions of the person with respect to the conversion of the wetland or the combined effect of the production of an agricultural commodity on a wetland converted by the person or by someone else, individually and in connection with all other similar actions authorized by NRCS in the area, would have only a minimal effect on the wetland functions and values of wetlands in the area; (vi) (A) After December 23, 1985, the Army Corps of Engineers issued an individual permit pursuant to section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, authorizing such action and the permit required mitigation that adequately replaced the functions and values of the wetlands converted, as determined by NRCS, or (B) After December 23, 1985, the action is encompassed under section 404 of the Clean Water Act, 33 U.S.C. 1344, by an Army Corps of Engineers nationwide or regional general permit and the wetland functions and values were adequately mitigated, as determined by NRCS.

Section 12.5(b)(4)Mitigation (I) No person shall be determined to be ineligible under Section 12.4 for any action associated with the conversion of a wetland if the wetland functions and values are adequately mitigated, as determined by NRCS, through the restoration of a converted wetland, the enhancement of an existing wetland, or the creation of a new wetland, if the mitigation .........................(F) Provides the equivalent functions and values that will be lost as a result of the wetland conversion.

Section 12.5(b)(4)(iii) The State Conservationist, in consultation with the State Technical Committee, may name certain types or classes of wetland not eligible for exemption under paragraph (b)(4)(I) of this section where the State conservationist determines that mitigation will not achieve equivalent replacement of wetland functions and values within a reasonable time frame or for other reasons identified by the State Conservationist [Red Flags].

Section 12.31(e) Categorical Minimal Effect Exemptions. (1) The state conservationist, in consultation with the state technical committee established under 16 U.S.C. 3861, shall identify any categories of conversion activities and conditions which are routinely determined by NRCS to have minimal effect on wetland functions and values, as described in paragraph (d) of this section, and recommend to the Chief, NRCS, or a designee, inclusion on a list of categorical minimal effect exemptions.

APPENDIX H

Example Minimal Effect/Mitigation Decisions in Alaska

These examples will be developed following field testing of HGM model and minimal effect/mitigation procedures during the summer of 1997.

APPENDIX I

Alaska Information/Education/Marketing Strategy

Initially, NRCS Alaska will use a direct mailing to all clients. News articles will be placed in appropriate local newspapers.

New clients will be informed and given information sheets (e.g. Fact Sheets, Reference Sheets, etc.) when they request assistance or make contact with NRCS offices.

Various presentation tools will be developed for each of the six (6) Field Offices to present information to customers/clients on the minimal effect/mitigation procedures.

The presentation tools will include basic overhead sheets, slides, flipsheets, and/or fact sheets. Individual presentations will be tailored to the needs of each presenter.

APPENDIX J

Implementation Plan For Alaska Minimal Effects/Mitigation Decisions

-The procedures will be approved as interim procedures by the State Conservationist by April 30, 1997.

-The interim procedures will be field tested by the Alaska Interagency HGM Team during the 1997 field season. A minimum of twelve sites will be tested. The results will be used to make recommendations to the State Technical Committee for modifications to the procedure.

-Requests for Minimal Effect determinations received in 1997 will be serviced by the State Biologist with assistance from the Alaska Interagency HGM Team. The results of these minimal effect decisions will also be utilized to calibrate the interim procedures.

-The Interim Procedures will be finaled and approved by the State Conservationist by December 31, 1997.

-Minimal effect/Mitigation training for district conservationists will be coordinated with HGM Model User Training, during the winter of 1997-98. The Minimal Effects/Mitigation procedures will be fully operational for use by NRCS field offices by the Spring of 1998.

APPENDIX K

Plan and Schedule to populate FOCS with Minimal Effects/Mitigation procedures

The FOCS database will be populated when the new FOCS upgrades are available and guidance is provided..