USDA’s Forest Service released proposed changes to how the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act.
The proposed changes are intended to better protect people, communities and forests from catastrophic wildfire and ensure a high level of engagement with people and communities when doing related work and associated environmental analyses.
“With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution – especially when data and experience show us we can get this work done with strong environmental protection standards as well as protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
In 2008, the Forest Service codified its procedures for complying with the National Environmental Policy Act in the Code of Federal Regulations. However, these regulations, in large part, still reflect the policies and practices established by the agency’s 1992 NEPA Manual and Handbook. When these regulations were adopted in 2008, they were intended to modernize and improve management processes. The proposed rule would incorporate experience from past 10 years. This experience includes input from comments on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from January of 2018, as well as feedback from roundtables, workshops, and input from agency experts.
“We now have an opportunity to use that information to our advantage, and we want to hear from the people we serve to improve these proposed updates,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen.
The updates would create a new suite of “categorical exclusions,” a classification under the NEPA excluding certain routine activities from more extensive analysis under an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The proposed categorical exclusions would be for restoration projects, roads and trails management, 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. The new categorical exclusions will reduce process delays for routine activities by months or years.
The proposed update is open for public comment for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Public comments are reviewed and considered when developing the final rule. Instructions on how to provide comments are included in the online notice.
More information on the proposed rule change and how to comment is available on the Forest Service website.