Thanks to Rob Chaney for writing a story on this.. there’s been a great deal of silence out there in Medialand on this. Here’s a link..
Western Environmental Law attorney and Lewis and Clark Law School professor Susan Jane Brown has served on a federal advisory board reviewing the new Forest Service rules. She said her biggest concern about the pre-decision objections was the lack of evidence they would improve anything.
“Over the years, we’ve heard a lot about ‘analysis paralysis,’ ” Brown said. “But in the scholarly research on that issue – whether administrative appeals slow down or delay or preclude forest management – there’s no support that links administrative appeals and delays in project implementation. There are many confounding factors in play, so pointing the finger at administrative appeals is hasty.”
I don’t know about scholarly research (if a tree falls in a forest and a scientist is not there to observe it, has it really fallen?), but if there is an appeal period with no appeal, the project goes to implementation. How can someone say that appeals and their resolution does not slow things down? This is not clear. Also, I know field folks that have used HFRA objections successfully and prefer them.
It seems like evidence to me. I wonder what kind of evidence Brown is looking for? If we did interviews of people on forests and published it somewhere, would that count as “evidence”? Ah.. but there is no budget particularly to do that kind of research (the People’s Research Agenda). It seems odd that a person who (if Rob was carefully quoting) dismisses something everyone can plainly see, was selected for a FACA committee on a related subject.
Craig Rawlings of the Forest Products Network said timber mill owners he’d spoken with had a different view.
“It almost forces these litigants to participate in the process,” Rawlings said. “Right now they just wait until everything is done and then file appeals. That does drag it out longer. I think the industry is very optimistic about it.”
The appeals process has been around since 1993. The objection process debuted in 2003 as part of the Healthy Forest Restoration Act, and Congress applied it to all EAs and EISs through the new Forest Rule last year as an anonymous rider on an appropriations bill, according to Brown.
The objection does not apply to what the Forest Service calls categorical exclusions, which are supposed to be small projects that don’t warrant a full NEPA analysis. It also doesn’t apply to permits for grazing, special use, access and mining. Those actions still face post-decision appeals.
I’m not sure that that’s clear about CE’s I think the Administration decided to wait for the court case to work its way through (Grandaughter of Earth Island) instead of making a point of it in the regulation.
Also, I think Rob is referring to 251 appeals (for the permittees) people can have 215, now 218 objections for those projects as well (just not the permittees).
The new rule took effect March 27. However, Forest Service officers have some leeway with existing projects whether to shift them to the pre-decision process or continue with the post-decision appeal procedure. Smith advises district rangers and forest supervisors on the issue, and has been running about 50-50 on staying with the old or adopting the new rule.
Anyone who can further help clarify, please chime in.