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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Official documents for the Forest Service’s proposal can be found on the Forest Service website here.
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.