U.S. Forest Service Requests Input on NEPA Procedures

On January 3, the United States Forest Service (USFS) published an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking declaring the agency’s intent to revise its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures to increase the efficiency of environmental analysis.

Signed into law in 1970, NEPA requires that federal agencies analyze the environmental effects of proposed actions before making decisions. The USFS’s NEPA process has been the subject of scrutiny over the years because its process is relatively slower than other agencies. NEPA is often abused by special interest groups to impede USFS projects, and the resulting “analysis paralysis” has significantly increased the time it takes the agency to complete environmental assessments and environmental impact statements. The threat of litigation coupled with inefficient NEPA procedures increases the costs and delays the implementation of forest health and wildlife habitat improvement projects across the country.

The USFS also cites the increasing percentage of its annual budget spent on wildlife suppression (16 percent in 1995 compared to more than 50 percent in 2017), the 39 percent reduction in non-fire staff since 1995, and the more than 80 million acres of USFS land in need of restoration as reasons to support a streamlined NEPA process. Forest management and fire-borrowing reforms have been a major priority for hunting conservation groups, and streamlining the USFS’s environmental analysis process would allow the agency to save resources and complete more projects that reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire, increase forest resiliency, and improve habitat for wildlife.

The USFS specifically requests input on the following:

  • Processes and analysis requirements that can be modified, reduced, or eliminated in order to reduce time and cost while maintaining science-based, high-quality analysis; public involvement; and agency stewardship responsibilities;
  • Approaches to landscape-scale analysis and decision making under NEPA that facilitate restoration of National Forest System lands;
  • Classes of actions that are unlikely, either individually or cumulatively, to have significant impacts and therefore should be categorically excluded from NEPA’s requirements, such as integrated restoration projects; special use authorizations; and activities to maintain and manage USFS sites (including recreation sites), facilities, and associated infrastructure; and
  • Ways USFS might expand and enhance coordination of environmental review and authorization decisions with other Federal agencies, as well as State, Tribal or local environmental reviews.

Email revision@fs.fed.us or visit https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?project=ORMS-1797 to submit comments. Comments will be accepted through February 2, 2018.

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U.S. Forest Service Requests Input on NEPA Procedures

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