Trump Administration takes on BLM planning

An internal BLM document (linked below) may be the first step in revising the agency’s planning regulations (Planning 3.0?).  The proposal to remove NEPA requirements for land management plans is getting some attention.

The BLM may propose a land use planning rule that will “remove NEPA requirements from the planning regulations,” referring to the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the document on possible changes to such rules that was shared with states and former BLM officials.

The U.S. Forest Service similarly attempted to exempt national forest plans from NEPA during the George W. Bush administration, but a federal court struck down that effort in Citizens for Better Forestry v. USDA in 2007 because it violated NEPA and other federal laws.

“If the BLM proceed with this proposal, it will certainly be challenged, and I suspect that, like the FS [Forest Service], the BLM will lose,” Mark Squillace, a natural resources law professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said.

But it looks good to try, I guess. Current BLM regulations require an EIS for its plans, and the Forest Service explicitly required an EIS for forest plan revisions in its 2012 Planning Rule after its earlier rules were struck down for trying to avoid NEPA compliance.  This effort by BLM is in addition to the recent proposed changes in the CEQ NEPA regulations discussed here.

Here’s a little background on BLM planning requirements:

Dec. 12, 2016 BLM publishes its Planning 2.0 Rule, which updates land use planning procedures.

Feb. 7, 2017 The House of Representatives passes a resolution to repeal the rule under the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

March 7, 2017 The Senate passes a resolution to repeal the rule under the CRA.

March 28, 2017 President Trump signs the resolution disapproving the rule. Under the CRA, BLM may not promulgate a rule that is “substantially the same.”

(Maybe we’ll get to see lawsuits about what “substantially the same” means.)

16 thoughts on “Trump Administration takes on BLM planning”

  1. Maybe, if the BLM gets to argue its case before a Trump-appointed judge, they will succeed? If that occurs, I would anticipate the FS scrapping the 2012 rule in favor of its former 2005 rule (or some version of it).

  2. As many of you know, I worked on the 2005 Rule for the WO NEPA shop (with much input from other NEPA people of course). Then when I moved to Region 2, our Regional Forester Rick Cables and I had numerous sitdowns with Squillace and his law students about all things Planning and Forest Service.

    To me, it seemed that Mark and his students had an idea that “more analysis is better, so why not?” and “only people who want to destroy the environment want to reduce analysis.” There was a serious communication gap, which I don’t think Rick and I ever overcame.

    If the FS were to “start all over” I wish they would “start all over” from the questions that we’ve discussed numerous times: 1) what useful things do plans accomplish over and above other, more concrete kinds of decisions (travel management, oil and gas leasing, species amendments, fuels projects)?

    2) why do many forests apparently not want to engage in plan revision
    3) what are the stakeholders’ complaints about plans and the revision process?
    4) Is opening up that many decisions at once good for building alliances or destructive?
    5) what does the planning community and science tell us about the best current way to go about planning?
    6) will a newly envisioned role for forest level planning fit into the current statute or does the statute itself need to be updated?

    I’m sure others could come up with questions. The second Committee of Scientists never went back that far to “is this a useful exercise?”. And the folks reviewing the utility of Plans should include people who have actually worked with plans on the FS and stakeholder side. Otherwise they can look like laundry lists of everyone’s favorite analysis (or as I said about the 2001 Rule, a full employment program for vegetation ecologists).
    And given all that, what decisions will be made in a plan and in what way are those decisions subject to NEPA?

    Thinking even more broadly, it would make sense, at least for western stakeholders to harmonize planning for RMP’s and for the FS and also likely require revision of NFMA and FLPMA statutes. Although at one time the San Juan Public Lands center worked though meeting both sets of requirements and had a draft BLM/FS plan, by doing all the requirements of both.

  3. Here is the history of national forest planning in a page:!ut/p/z0/04_Sj9CPykssy0xPLMnMz0vMAfIjo8zijQwgwNHCwN_DI8zPwBcqYKBfkO2oCADIwpjI/?pname=Planning%20Rule%20-%20History%20of%20Forest%20Planning&navtype=BROWSEBYSUBJECT&ss=119987&pnavid=null&navid=101000000000000&ttype=main&cid=null

    As someone who was involved in just about all of that, I think there has been enough starting over and it’s time to try doing planning again so we can learn something new instead of rehashing the lessons of a 40-year old rule (again). While existing plans (that NFMA says must be revised every 15 years) get older and older.

    Early returns make it look like the Forest Service is successfully using the new rule to produce say-nothing plans, so you should be happy (at least until the courts weigh in). (I agree it’s too bad they are taking so long and so many pages to say nothing.)

    • I agree, Jon…we should invest in executing the 2012 rule to see its virtues and blemishes, much like the FS did in the 80s with the 1982 rule (at least planning was conducted/completed during most of that decade before a rule revision was considered).

      As for “say-nothing plans”, people are perhaps finding it difficult to write plans that describe aspirational conditions while also having enforcement “teeth”. Maybe this type of planning is just too complex for the average FS employee to develop and for the average citizen to understand.

    • I’m not a fan of “say-nothing” plans, because I think the FS and stakeholders, and ultimately DOJ and interest group attorneys spend money and time that could more usefully spent elsewhere.

      The law school folks were big on “teeth”.. perhaps it would be good to discuss what that means to each of us? I think “ecological integrity” is a new “tooth” that was brought in by elements of the deciders of the 2012 rule?

      • I think the Forest Service has been bitten enough that it is very afraid of teeth. Forest supervisors who have spent their careers using existing forest plans are trying to remove the accountability that forest plan standards have provided in the past. That may work for everything but ecological integrity, which has the distinction of being a substantive requirement that can’t be met by a plan that says nothing.

        • But I thought that forest plan standards could be amended with site-specific plan amendments under the 82? Was that really more “accountable”? I’m just following this through here..

          My impression (from many public meetings, which no doubt you’ve also attended) is the thing most people care about in plans is not DC’s, not objectives (depends on budget anyway), not standards and guidelines, but land allocation. The problem with standards being important is that in a once every 20 year plan they can’t possibly keep up with current scientific info.

          Can you be more specific about a plan and what you would like to see that’s not there? That would help me understand.

          • FYI, Greenwire today:

            “BLM staff ‘charade’ fills empty offices in new HQ”


            A handful of Bureau of Land Management employees in Colorado have been temporarily reassigned to BLM’s new headquarters in Grand Junction, Colo., to give the appearance that the office is occupied and busy, bureau sources have told E&E News.

            A dozen or so employees last month began temporarily working in the new building, first from the nearby Grand Junction Field Office, which includes staffers in the Southwest District Office, according to multiple BLM sources with knowledge of the situation.

            BLM recently reassigned two other employees to the new headquarters from its Colorado River Valley Field Office in Silt, Colo., some 60 miles northeast of Grand Junction, a BLM source said.

            None of the reassigned employees is part of the ongoing effort by BLM to move its Washington-based headquarters to Grand Junction. The employees were told they would be in the new headquarters for only a few months and would move back to their original “duty station” when the new headquarters is fully operational this spring.

            • Perhaps the musical chair ‘charade’ orchestrated by Trump’s BLM and the self-described ‘Sage Brush Rebal’ William Perry Pendley could also grab a few warm bodies to fill those empty BLM seats from the Chevron corporate office, a state oil and gas association and an independent natural gas exploration company that shares the same office complex with the new BLM headquarters.

              Shame on anyone who has provided endless excuses and cover for what’s happening to America’s public lands legacy.

              • And good for High Country News for taking on this disgusting BLM tweet full of colonizer’s ideology. If you’re on Twitter, you should check it out.

                Fact is, many of our white ancestors killed indigenous people, destroyed communities, abused the land, slaughtered native wildlife and exploited immigrants from China and elsewhere to build the railroads.

                • Asian, Hispanic and black folks were among those who settled the west. In fact, Hispanic folks settled the SW and colonized the Native Americans before “white” folks (or maybe they counted as “white” then?).

                  Indeed, many folks struggled (and Asian, Hispanic and Black folks had it rougher) but we can’t discount their contributions to the West as we know it today.

                  We can never undo the past, but we could return all federal lands to Native Americans. My giving up my recreation access (potentially) would be a small effort in the interests of justice.

          • Congress thought that amendments should go through a public process when a Forest wants to change its mind about what it told the public in a revised plan. I call that accountability.

            From a wildlife perspective, the management area designation is often less important than the standards and guidelines (and suitability) applicable to an area or forest-wide. Standards are simply a minimum; additional mitigation can always be adopted when needed for a project. Amendments are only needed if a change in science says less mitigation is needed, and only when this becomes a big enough barrier to some other objective to make an amendment worthwhile. Guidelines are a way to allow for changes in the science about ways to meet the purpose of the guideline (and they rightly create a burden to justify any deviation based on the science).

            I think most broad-scale wildlife conservation strategies (lynx, aquatic conservation strategies, sage grouse) include standards and guidelines that have worked pretty well, both for the species and for simplifying the project planning process so the agency is not starting anew (and arguing anew) with every project. (For listed species, they also ensure consistent compliance with ESA.) The Flathead revision reduced protection for grizzly bears and bull trout.

  4. Here’s what I think is not a bad idea from an AFRC link…although there are some other plans out by now.

    “The Forest Service has announced that it will begin implementing the new Planning Rule on four National Forests: Nez-Perce, Chugach, Sierra Sequoia and Cibola. Congress should require the agency to complete those plan revisions prior to beginning any other work under the new Rule and to report to it on costs and efficiencies of use of the new Planning Rule. In that way, needed changes in the Rule would be identified and problems remedied before system-wide application.”

    • That suggestion has been posed to the WO numerous times (my voice being one of the loudest). As usual, the decision to move forward is not bold as was suggested, but an attempt to mitigate the numerous concerns that arise with a bold move. IMO, the solution lies not with amending/revising the rule, but dismantling and reconstructing the agency’s approach to implementing the rule. The FS has for too long limped along the way it has always done planning and not committed to rethinking its methods with the 2012 rule that is distinctly different from the 1982 rule. The hypothetical question to address is, “if the FS started its planning efforts with the 2012 rule, how would it have organized itself to successfully implement it?”

      • Tony, can you describe the elements of what successful implementation would look like to you? (Note: I’d be interested in your writing a new post on that if you are willing).

        • I would be willing to write a guest post, but first and foremost, dialogue (internal and external) must the foundation of planning implementation, particularly the discussion and exchange of ideas, perspectives, and values. This may seem idealistic, but I bet you could find the root of any planning discontent in less-than-stellar dialogue. But, I am realistic enough to know that dialogue is difficult to sustain against the headwinds of self-interest.


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