Taking this story about the Pisgah National Forest at face value, it raises the question of what kind of management is appropriate while a national forest is revising its forest plan. We just looked at another example of how the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest appeared to be anticipating changes that would result from its revised plan, possibly requiring a plan amendment to do so if the proposed project is not consistent with the current plan.
Here, let’s assume that the project to log an area that the locals want to be wilderness is consistent with the current plan, but it would be inconsistent with alternatives being considered for plan revision (normally there would be a forest plan alternative with all potential wilderness areas recommended for wilderness). NEPA addresses this situation: “Agencies shall not commit resources prejudicing selection of alternatives before making a final decision” (40 §CFR 1502.2(f)). However, for a “program environmental impact statement” that is in progress, it implies an exception for where activities are “covered by an existing program statement” (40 CFR §1506.1(c)); it actually restricts actions where they are NOT covered by a plan EIS and is silent on where they are.
I have sometimes wondered if the project planning teams and the forest planning team are talking to each other. It certainly doesn’t look good when they seem to be working at cross-purposes, and it could be illegal.