Comments needed by August 12
The USFS is proposing sweeping changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules. NEPA law requires the agency to take a hard look at the environmental impacts of projects such as fuels reduction treatments, restoration, and development. The proposed rule is designed to increase the pace and scale of “work accomplished on the ground” which we acknowledge is a meaningful objective necessary to restore fire to the Sierra Nevada and remove hazardous fuels.
Unfortunately, the proposed rule contains too many exemptions for commercial timber harvest and the ability for the Forest Service to conduct a vast amount of forest management projects and other activities without environmental analysis or public input. These are known as Categorical Exclusions, and while sometimes correctly used, the agency’s proposed changes pose a significant risk to the forests of the Eastern Sierra. The bedrock principles of government transparency, accountability, public involvement, and science-based decision-making are on the chopping block.
When the agency conducted public workshops to understand how they could improve their NEPA rule we provided comments on increasing agency efficiencies by focusing on funding, staffing, training and employee retention. Make no mistake: this is a radical proposal not reflective of the vast majority of early public comment. Although the Forest Service wants to save time and money and carry out their work more efficiently, this rule will only result in more litigation and poorer management of our forests. Furthermore, the only time the public could have a role in decision-making would be in the courts.
The proposed rule would adopt seven new Categorical Exclusions and expand two more, limiting or eliminating entirely environmental review and public comment. The USFS estimates that up to three quarters of forest decisions could move forward with one of these CEs. CEs would allow fuels and timber projects on up to 7,300 acres, including commercial logging of up to 4,200 acres without environmental review. With this CE, National Forests could authorize up to 6.6 square miles of logging with no public input or environmental analysis.
Also of particular concern is the potential conversion of illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) routes to official Forest Service System roads or trails. This would fly in the face of years of hard-won work and compromise designed to make the USFS route system more ecologically and fiscally sustainable and minimize impacts to resources and conflicts with other recreational uses. Despite long-standing agency policy to only construct temporary roads that must be decommissioned, the new proposed rule allows for construction of up to five miles or reconstruction of up to ten miles of Forest Service System roads–all with no environmental analysis or public review. Additionally, the USFS wants to remove Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) and potential wilderness areas from the classes of actions that normally require the preparation of an EIS. The proposed rule relies on the protections of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule but the Trump Administration and Congress are actively trying to reverse the Roadless Rule, leaving these wild places completely unprotected in the future.
The USFS proposed rule change is open for a 90-day public comment period that closes Aug 12, 2019.
How to Comment on the Proposed Rule
There are three ways to submit comments:
Public Participation Portal (preferred)
NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker
USDA Forest Service
125 South State Street, Suite 1705
Salt Lake City, UT 84138
- Informational Webinar
Date: July 12, 2019
Time: 12:30-2:00pm (PST)
Audio: 1-877-369-5243 or 1-617-668-3633
Access Code: 0849770##
Adobe Connect URL: https://usfs.adobeconnect.com/neparule-1000/
- Information on Tribal information webinars
- Information about the proposed rule are available on a Forest Service webpage.