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ACTION ALERT: Stop the Forest Service from gutting NEPA

COMMENTS DUE BY AUG. 26th.  NEPA is the National Environmental Policy Act.  We have posted excerpts from 3 articles below (with additional links to articles from The Hill and NPR).  Note that the deadline has been extended to Aug. 26th

Americans, including members of Congress, need to step up and stop this NEPA proposal dead in its tracks. We can comment until Aug. 26 at https://www.regulations.gov/ or nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us

Although  you can submit comments directly through the Forest Service’s website here, you can also use the web portal set up by the Southern Environmental Law Center at OurForestsOurVoice.org.

You can also read these articles from The Hill and NPR

Official documents for the Forest Service’s proposal can be found on the Forest Service website here.

Source:  Counterpunch

Put an End to the Endless War Inflicted Upon Our National Forest

 

Old growth western cedar and Sitka spruce, Siuslaw National Forest. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

To facilitate the fabrication of stumps, roads, and erosion in America’s National Forests, now the Trump administration has proposed to alter the USDA Forest Service’s [USFS] implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act [NEPA]. The 1969 NEPA was specifically designed to achieve three main things: 1) require agencies like the Forest Service to use science to take a full and fair hard look at the potential environmental impacts of projects such as timber sales, 2) clearly disclose to the public this scientific information and the reasoning underlying their decisions, and 3) provide a clear legal mechanism for you, me, and all Americans to be meaningfully involved in the decision-making process on our National Forests and other public lands.

This power-grab by the Trump administration would trash all three of the NEPA’s fundamental goals. One of the ways they intend to circumvent NEPA and increase logging is by drastically expanding the use of the “Categorical Exclusion [CE]”CEs were originally concocted for small projects such as building a privy at a campground where it makes sense not to obtain public comment or spend time and money analyzing. Over the years, the USFS has gradually expanded the number and kinds of projects that fit into categories for which analysis is pre-emptively excluded. The USFS says that this new proposal would cover fully ¾ of their decisions.

If a proposed project fits into one of the agency’s predefined categories, here’s how CEs work: “There aren’t any significant impacts because we say so.” All impacts – direct, indirect, and cumulative – categorically dismissed and not fully and fairly analysed and disclosed. The proposal also eliminates the process called “scoping” for CE projects, meaning that the agency does not even have to notify the public of its plans.

This proposed new CE could be used to authorize individual projects affecting up to 7,300 acres, of which up to 4,200 acres may be commercial logging. That’s right, this CE could be used to authorize 6.6 square miles of clearcuts in a single project. In other words, an entire year’s worth of logging on a National Forest could occur without in-depth analysis or public involvement.

This proposal would also make it easier to force commercial logging by greenwashing it as “restoration” or “wildlife habitat improvement” or “fuels reduction”. It weakens “Extraordinary Circumstances”, things like the presence of rare species, that would in the past have prevented the agency from using a CE. It allows destructive projects in Inventoried Roadless Areas without an EIS. New and expanded CEs would allow the agency to smash 5 miles of new roads at a time through a National Forest without analysis. Projects that somehow do not qualify for use of a CE can be segmented into multiple actions and then a CE used for each of them. This is just a partial list of the provisions; it gets worse, read it for yourself here.

Read this entire article HERE.

From the Kentucky Heartwood website:

The proposed rule would amend the agency’s procedures for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act, commonly known as “NEPA.” The proposed changes fundamentally undermine NEPA’s bedrock principles of government transparency, accountability, public participation, and science-based decision-making.

In more technical terms, the Forest Service’s proposal would allow most land management activities to take place under a “Categorical Exclusion” or “CE,” whereby the Forest Service can approve projects without first conducting an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Traditionally, CEs have been used for minor, non-controversial activities like removing hazard trees from campgrounds and roadsides. The proposal also does away with requirements that the Forest Service notify the public and allow for public comment on projects before a decision is made, whether carried out under a CE or with a full Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement.

​The types of projects that the Forest Service wants to apply Categorical Exclusions to include:

  • Logging (including clearcutting) on up to 4,200 acres at a time (over 6 square miles) for nearly any purpose
  • Building up to 5 miles of new system roads through the forest (and reconstructing old roads up to 10 miles), even though the agency can’t maintain its current road system
  • Bulldozing up to 4 miles of pipeline and utility right-of-ways through the forest
  • Closing roads and trails used for recreational access
  • Adding illegally created roads and trails (especially those created by off-roading) to the official Forest Service road and trail system

In effect, every single logging project, and nearly all utility and road building projects on the Daniel Boone National Forest and at Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area could be proposed in secret, with no environmental review and no public input. Adding to the audacity and absurdity of the Forest Service’s proposal, the 4,200 acre logging exemption was created by averaging project sizes from across the country, with the 170,000 acre Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area treated the same as the 17,000,000 acre Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

And these aren’t the only destructive provisions in the proposal.

​Why are they doing this?

According to the Forest service, this radical proposal is about “increase(ing) the pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground.” But the bottom line is that it’s about cutting more timber, building more roads, and allowing more pipelines and utility development without the hassle of public participation, oversight, or environmental analysis.

But NEPA isn’t the problem. The main reason that the Forest Service has trouble getting work done – whether it’s maintaining campsites and trails or selling timber – is that they are severely underfunded by Congress and woefully under-staffed which shockingly high turnover. Over the last 10 years, the Daniel Boone National Forest has had four Forest Supervisors and eleven District Rangers in charge of the four Ranger Districts. Forestry and wildlife personnel – the people that actually plan most land management projects – are often temporary fixtures, coming and going from other national forests and agencies from all over the country. It’s become rare to have consistent Forest Service personnel throughout the development of even a single project on the Daniel Boone National Forest.

What can you do?

Send in your comments!

Spread the word!
We need help getting the word out. Our social media feeds and inboxes are all packed these days, and we’re not seeing much about this from many of the big national organizations that have a big reach. By helping to amplify this message you can make a real difference.

Call your members of Congress!
While this proposal is coming from the Trump administration and U.S. Forest Service, make sure your members of Congress know that you strongly oppose the Forest Service taking away public participation and oversight of national forest management. Public opposition has stopped similar proposals in the U.S. House and Senate in recent years.

From the Tennessee Heartwood website:

The Forest Service has released a draft set of changes to its rules for management decisions on National Forests.  Our 188 million acre forest system has traditionally given the public strong rights to participate in long-term forest planning and on local forest projects that range from recreation to timber sales.  This has included a clear path for average citizens to seek redress to the agency and ultimately the courts if necessary.
Unfortunately, the new changes are designed to shut the public out from important decisions on the future of its forests.  In particular, the agency has greatly expanded its use of the “Categorical Exclusion” (CE), a provision that allows it to bypass public comment altogether.  Until recently, the public was allowed to weigh in on most of the agency’s proposals, during both the early stages of a project’s development and following the completion of its environmental analyses.  From there, the public could object to a decision and ultimately address the matter in courts as a last resort.  Under the new rule, timber projects of up to 7300 acres could go through with no public comment.  The public would also be shut out of addressing mining permits of up to a square mile in size.  Important protections for sensitive species would be greatly reduced, and in a serious threat to transparency and public accountability, the agency would not even have to inform the public that a CE’d project was even taking place- essentially eliminating a public record of many of its actions.
Citizens who care about government transparency and accountability should make their voice heard.

 

6 replies »

  1. The most recent attack on the Endangered Species Act is part of their strategy…
    The Head of the Hydra is based in D.C…but would like to headquarters to Colorado

    From HIGH COUNTRY NEWS

    The revision would allow the agency to approve more projects without environmental review.
    Nick Bowlin

    Western lawmakers of both parties have shown an interest in streamlining NEPA, but there is disagreement over the recent proposal. In a statement, Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., called the new rule a necessary correction to “costly, burdensome and uncertain” environmental reviews.

    In a Senate committee hearing on June 13, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, D, took the opposite view. Wyden, who supports streamlining forest thinning projects, accused the Trump administration of trying to further “ideological pipe dreams of rolling back environmental laws,” rather than working to approve existing projects to reduce hazardous fuel loads. Rural Oregon is a “tinderbox,” he said – a massive forest fire hazard.
    The changes will almost certainly end up in court.
    Wyden called the revisions a “full employment plan for lawyers” because they invite litigation, further slowing permitting for projects that might help lower wildfire risk.
    Environmental groups, including the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western Environmental Law Center, are already hinting at legal challenges. These cases could involve the Forest Service’s justifications for weakening NEPA, as well as possible violations of other environmental laws, like the Endangered Species Act.

    In determining whether a project that impacts protected species warrants environmental analysis, the proposed rule gives agency officials authority to judge whether “there is a likelihood of substantial adverse effects to the listed resource conditions.” But the Endangered Species Act contains no wiggle room. If an agency knows a project could impact a protected species, it is supposed to consult the Fish and Wildlife Service. The leeway in this clause could be used in future lawsuits, Squillace said.

    https://www.hcn.org/issues/51.12/u-s-forest-service-might-limit-public-comments

    Like

  2. Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics (FSEEE)
    Trump Administration Seeks to Cut Environmental Reviews
    June 14, 2019

    “This proposed rule is an affront to our national forests and their owners-the American people,”

    A news release listed the types of projects that would be granted categorical exclusions as “restoration projects, roads and trails management, and recreation and facility management, as well as special use authorizations that issue permits for outfitters and guides, community organizations, civic groups and others who seek to recreate on our national forests and grasslands.”
    Conservationists blasted the plan and vowed to fight it in court.

    “This proposed rule is an affront to our national forests and their owners-the American people,” said Alison Flint, director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “It would gut important procedural safeguards for our most sensitive forest lands and resources, including roadless and other wildlands that provide our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and unmatched recreation opportunities.”

    https://www.fseee.org/2019/06/14/trump-administration-seeks-to-cut-environmental-reviews/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Secretary of Agriculture

    Farmers Reel After Sonny Perdue Mocks Them As ‘Whiners’ Amid Trade War Bankruptcies

    America’s farmers have apparently been demoted by the Trump administration from “great patriots” to “whiners,” according to a tone-deaf joke by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. Farmers, struggling with plunging income and bankruptcies amid President Donald Trump’s trade war, were stunned.
    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sonny-perdue-whining-farmers-angry-reaction_n_5d51e64ce4b0c63bcbec0c10

    Like

    • This is part of the overall trend to drive smaller operations out of business, further concentrating our food supply into fewer and larger corporate controlled farms, and enriching the already rich while driving people off the land and making them dependent. In my opinion, whoever controls your food controls you, and this pattern is being repeated all over the world. We all need to support our local food producers, who generally can’t afford costly chemical inputs etc. and produce healthier food, but which costs a bit more to cover the inefficiencies of scale and higher labor involved in using fewer artificial inputs.

      Like

  4. CENTER FOR BIOLOGICAL DIVERSITY

    Sonny Perdue: In the Pocket of Big Ag

    Trump’s ag secretary nominee could spell disaster for Americans and the planet
    Dr. Jennifer Molidor

    “Public Lands Nightmare”

    As governor, Perdue supported the expansion of factory farms and opposed efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce the Clean Air Act. He consistently voted in support of fewer environmental regulations for factory farms — and he voted to eliminate laws that would help the government fight agricultural pollution.
    In the Pocket of Industry

    Perdue’s position as a longtime friend of industry – as well as his ties to big players in Washington – is also financially worrisome for taxpayers. Perdue took over $330,000 in campaign contributions from Monsanto and other agricultural mega-polluters. GMO lobbyists even named him 2009 Governor of the Year.

    Public Lands Nightmare
    If confirmed as Secretary of Agriculture, Sonny Perdue would not only oversee the agricultural sector but also the U.S. Forest Service and our national forests – from the rainforests of Alaska to the Appalachians in the South, and the wildlife that call these places home. But Georgia’s forests are largely industrial tree plantations – which is a model that would be a disaster for our national forests.

    View at Medium.com

    Liked by 1 person

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