Secretarial Memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service

The memo below was the subject of a June 12 Bloomberg article, “Oil, Logging, Mining Ordered as Forest Service Focus.”


Secretarial Memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service

June 12, 2020 –

Purpose:  Establish vision, priorities, and direction on:

  • Increasing the productivity of National Forests and Grasslands
  • Valuing our Nation’s grazing heritage and the National Grasslands
  • Increasing access to our National Forests
  • Expediting environmental reviews to support active management


As Secretary of Agriculture, it is my duty to ensure our National Forests and Grasslands are on a path to health and productivity so they can continue to meet the needs of citizens and communities, both now and into the future.

It is the first priority of the Forest Service to serve the American people and work in ways that exemplify the values of Shared Stewardship.  We need modern systems and approaches and less complicated regulations to serve our customers and improve our delivery of the goods and services that the American people want and need from the Nation’s Forest System.

The 193 million acres of public lands managed by the Forest Service provide important resources and recreational opportunities to the people of this great Nation.  These lands are critical for the prosperity of rural communities, sustaining jobs and livelihoods in grazing, mining, oil and gas development, recreation and forestry — sectors that support our American way of life.  These lands also furnish food and water that all life depends on.

While I am proud of the progress to promote active management, reduce hazardous fuels, work across boundaries and increase the resiliency of our Nation’s forests and grasslands, I believe more can be done.  Today, I am announcing a blueprint for reforms to further provide relief from burdensome regulations, improve customer service, and boost the productivity of our National Forests and Grasslands.


Increasing the productivity of National Forests and Grasslands

The American people rely on our National Forests and Grasslands for a variety of products and services that sustain jobs and livelihoods in rural communities, feed America, and supply the clean water that sustains life.  I am directing the Forest Service to focus resources on activities that support the productive use of these lands to deliver goods and services efficiently and effectively to meet the needs of our citizens.  The Forest Service will:

  • streamline processes and identify new opportunities to increase America’s energy dominance and reduce reliance on foreign countries for critical minerals;
  • modernize management practices and reduce regulatory burdens to promote active management on Forest Service lands to support and protect rural communities, critical watersheds, and species habitat; and
  • expedite broadband development on Forest Service lands to increase internet connectivity in rural America.


Valuing our Nation’s grazing heritage and the National Grasslands

The Forest Service manages 3.8 million acres of National Grasslands across 12 Western States.  These lands are managed for a variety of sustainable multiple-use goods and services for the American people.  The National Grasslands are a conservation success story; abandoned and infertile after the Dust Bowl in the early 20th century, they now support a thriving agricultural industry and provide important wildlife habitat.  They are a symbol of pride for many Americans.

The National Grasslands play a vital role in the fabric of rural communities, supporting thousands of jobs, contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy, and producing food for America and the entire world.  They are managed sustainably with the help of ranching families, who pride themselves as conservationists, ensuring that these lands will remain productive for generations to come.  To this end, the Forest Service will:

  • establish in forest plans that grazing and support for grazing on the National Grasslands is essential for their management within the framework of their governing statutes;
  • streamline renewal of range permits and range improvements on the National Forests and Grasslands; and
  • enhance flexibility for Forest Service employees to work with ranching families and communities.


Increasing access to National Forest System Lands

It is imperative for the Forest Service to manage the National Forests and Grasslands for the benefit of the American people.  These lands provide a multitude of public benefits, including diverse recreational opportunities, access to world-class hunting and fishing, and forest products that support America’s traditions and way of life.  Accordingly, the Forest Service will:

  • increase access to Forest Service lands by streamlining the permit process for recreational activities and embracing new technologies and recreation opportunities;
  • open public access to National Forest System lands with currently limited access where feasible in cooperation with States, counties, and partners; and
  • improve customer service by modernizing and simplifying forest products permitting and the Forest Service land exchange process.


Expediting environmental reviews to support active management

Management activities on National Forest System lands require compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act and other applicable laws and regulations. Under this administration, the Forest Service has worked to streamline the corresponding processes while conserving public lands and ensuring the sustainable use of natural resources.  I am directing the agency to further emphasize this effort through greater accountability for efficient decision making, succinct and understandable documentation of compliance, and focused and effective public engagement.  The Forest Service will:

  • set time and page limits on the completion of environmental documents, including categorical exclusions, environmental assessments, and environmental impact statements;
  • streamline policy to ensure environmental reviews focus on analysis that is required by law and regulation;
  • work across the government to initiate the development of policies for alternative procedures to streamline consultation processes and environmental reviews; and expedite compliance with State Historic Preservation Offices for vegetation management and facility and infrastructure improvements.

16 thoughts on “Secretarial Memorandum to the Chief of the Forest Service”

  1. From the article cited above:

    Perdue’s memo codifies his own rhetoric about the uses of national forests, which he believes should be focused on production over conservation, said Jim Furnish, a former Forest Service deputy chief in former President Bill Clinton’s administration.

    The memo takes “the Forest Service back to where they were 50 years ago when they were just used as a commodity-producing agency,” Furnish said.

    This Missoulian photo of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue making yet another announcement about yet another Trump administration scheme to roll back America’s bedrock environmental laws for more logging, mining, drilling and grazing on public lands in front of the all white “good ol’ boys” is worth 1000 words.

  2. But it’s not “another” environmental scheme, despite what Magill says in this article. It’s a combo of things they are already doing, and things they don’t have time to do before the end of the administration. Now I’m not following everything the FS does, but the only thing I thought of as “new” is the broadband part (and I don’t get what exactly this is), and sticking stuff about grazing into forest plans. At the current rate of forest plan production.. well..

    This is probably code for something, but I don’t know what..”enhance flexibility for Forest Service employees to work with ranching families and communities.” Doesn’t sound earth-shatteringly bad, however.

    Those of us who attended the EADM meetings know all about streamlining rec permitting and NEPA. A proposed o&g reg (before public comment, remember this is June now and we all know what’s in November) is waiting somewhere in OIRA, I heard last week.

    Matthew, if we’re going to examine the whiteness (or maleness) of ranchers in Montana, well maybe we should look at whiteness of all the other groups we talk about as well. I don’t particularly want to go there, but if you want to, we can..

    I’m more with the take by the reporter Beitsch on this Hill story who notes:
    “The memo, however, lacks the formal letterhead or signature typical with such documents, and mainly sets broad goals for the Forest Service rather than laying out any specific policy directives.”

    And I agree with Spivak that this is all about electioneering.

    “This is definitely a prelude to the stuff that’s going to come out shortly,” Spivak said, noting that the timing of the memo has political ramifications.

    “Why are they doing this now? They’re waving the flag so to speak….I think it is electioneering.””

    Not much new to observe here…

  3. The ole James Watt tricks haven’t worked in many decades, now. The Trump Administration just wants to push the agenda and “see what happens”. I agree that he doesn’t have much time left, and Congress won’t act for the good of the country.

  4. I concur with the Jim Furnish quote – I had the same conclusion as I contemplated my 35-year career just before I retired a year ago. What was being discussed in the Forest Service in 1984 had come full circle during my career – the emphasis is all about timber (though, we have other emphasis items today with the Secretary’s memo).

    What struck me most about the press release is the proportion of wording devoted to production, services, and generally making National Forest System lands more accessible to citizens (whether for personal or commercial purposes). The stark minimalization of wording devoted to land well-being is demoralizing, yet is consistent with this Administration’s perspective on why these public lands exist. This message has been loud and clear for several years now.

  5. I think public access to public lands is a bipartisan good, like acquiring and defending rights of way and all that. And it’s hard to be against broadband..

    If this is a political trip, then your “proportion of wording” concern is all about “appealing to people who might vote for the Prez in Montana” so the rhetoric is not surprising.

    I don’t feel that it’s at all like when I started in 1979 in Region 6 in timber management- definitely not “full circle” at the time the folks at OSU were encouraging us to have more, larger clearcuts (and not even “messy” ones!). Since then, we’ve had court decisions, the 2012 planning rule (as I’ve said, that bristles with legal hooks), and so on. I respectfully disagree with you and Jim..

    • Fair enough…I just offer that the focus of the Agency conversation on what matters for the day-to-day work came full circle within my career. I acknowledge (and participated in) the many changes you refer to…those changes just did not change the base conversation that I was hearing.

  6. Reporter Magill and I actually had a meatier conversation, yet I stand by my quote. Think about what a “progressive” Ag Secy might have said about the fundamental values of NFs to our society today. I leave that to your imagination, but to say NOTHING about climate change and forest carbon pretty much lays bare where “Rip Van Winkle” Perdue is coming from.

    Pathetically, this will not move the ball at all in the next few months, which leaves me wondering “Why this… Why now…?” No “formal letterhead” seems to answer that question. Just fluffy qauzy empty rhetoric. But it does speak to where Perdue and this administration thinks the golden fleece lies — all of a piece with MAGA, meaning the America of ages past.

    • If he had said something about climate change and forest carbon, he would have been pilloried for saying things that don’t fit with his policies. Basically he can’t win no matter what he says, so why would he try? As you may recall, this time of the election cycle is called the “silly season” and is all about the election.

      As we’ve discussed, Perdue is the same guy who said this about climate and agriculture.
      “Carbon Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas: Enhance carbon sequestration through soil
      health and forestry, leverage the agricultural sector’s renewable energy benefits for
      the economy, and capitalize on innovative technologies and practices to achieve a net
      reduction of the agricultural sector’s current carbon footprint by 2050 without
      regulatory overreach.
      • Multiple pathways exist to achieve this goal, including promoting innovation
      and new technologies and practices to improve fertilizer and manure
      management, capturing biogas, improving livestock production efficiency,
      conserving sensitive and marginal lands to enhance carbon sinks, reforestation
      and responsible forest management to prevent wildfire, maximizing the benefits
      of renewable energy through improved efficiency and carbon capture, and
      encouraging soil health practices such as no-till to sequester carbon.”

      Notice forests are in there.

      So he could have spoken about this..but took the opportunity to reiterate what the FS has been working on. IMHO both political parties have lots of fluffy gauzy empty rhetoric. It’s kind of what they do.

  7. Ideology aside, there is a urgent need to make the F.S. a more efficient outfit. I’ve seen too many “appear-proof” EAes and EISes while the timber harvest has shrunk from 40% to 8% of the annual growth and mortality has jumped from 31% to 67% during the same 28 year period. Forests are trees and their signature resource is timber. Unmanaged forests are dying forests. Let’s husband our national forests, not let them die of neglect.

  8. The thinking is from 50 years ago, but the laws have changed. Recent years have seen some backpedaling (with HFRA and the like), and attempts by this Administration (being opposed in court) to deregulate, but they’re not going to be able to do what they once could.

  9. There is a reply from Chief Christiansen in the Missoulian today, but I can’t find it on-line anywhere (including the Forest Service website, which does have the Secretary’s memorandum). My impression was it basically says that the Forest Service is already doing these things (like they often say when told to do something). E.g. “… the Forest Service is working to effectively steward America’s forests and grasslands while assisting in the nation’s economic recovery.” Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to say?

    • It’s kind of reminiscent of the Bene Gesserit of “Dune”, saying, “We do what we can”.

      Of course, the Administration doesn’t see the Agency is performing well enough, considering the bottlenecks……. err…….. ‘protections’ already in place. I’m quite sure that the President has asked if he could use an Executive Order, to change all those ‘bad laws’. Budgets also limit how much a Forest can do.

  10. Here’s what RVCC said about it..

    “It is unclear what impact, if any, either the EO or memo will have on project planning. The Administration has already signaled a desire for agencies to speed the planning process and the Forest Service and the Council on Environmental Quality both have concurrent rulemakings underway regarding NEPA. The Forest Service is also already engaging in the “forest products modernization” effort to update timber sale administration. Furthermore, emergency provisions already exist under the relevant statutes and the EO does not override these statutes. Some environmental groups have also already stated a willingness to legally challenge the EO.”

  11. Yep…my read of Sec. Perdue’s statement, and Chief Christiansen’s excerpted response is that there is not much room for the agency to change given ongoing modernization efforts and existing statutes.

    So, if this all turns out to be “smoke and mirrors”, what is this distracting us from? What else is going on that we should know about?

    • Or it could be just a reiteration of things they are doing to support the interest of the people they visited in Montana. You do remember living through many presidential elections cycles in the Forest Service, right? Silly season, and all that?


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