Ya gotta love the Washington Post..or not. Here’s their story.
In a last minute change before leaving office, the Trump administration finalized a rule Wednesday that will allow the U.S. Forest Service to log and otherwise manage 2,800 acres of forest in the West without an environmental review.
I sometimes wonder if the people quoted in these stories even actually read the regulations.. of course, Sam Evans and Bill Imbergamo did, but ..
“Categorical exclusions are a “permission slip” for loggers to cut trees and developers to build roads without informing local communities of the work, Flint said. Forests are a source of drinking water for more than 150 million people..”
But… scoping requires informing local communities.. and there’s a requirement for collaboration, which I think would be difficult without informing people.. oh well.
We were working on comments on the proposal in August of 2019, so I also don’t think it was really “last minute.” I don’t know what held them up. Of course the new CE doesn’t just apply to the West, and there is environmental review in a CE.. it has to be documented that it fits the CE which, of course, requires some environmental review. I’ve seen 30 pages in Farm Bill CE documentation.
As a person who spent time discussing and preparing a joint comment letter, I was hoping not to have to read it again and figure out which changes fell in line with our comments. Fortunately, the Forest Service came out with this handy table that shows the old reg, the proposed reg and the final reg. What’s great about the table is that you can clearly see what has changed. Changes to scoping, for example, which had raised much concern, was left alone. Here’s a link to all the NEPA regs information.
But let’s focus on the changes from the current regulations:
Clarifies required elements from proposed rule. Clarifies that DNAs require inclusion on the SOPA, are subject to scoping, administrative review processes (including public notice and comment
periods) that were applicable to the prior decision, and include issuance of a new decision document.
RESTORATION CE Allows 2,800 acres of activities (which may include commercial/noncommercial timber harvest). Primary purpose of all activities must be achievement of restoration objectives.
Salvage harvest is not allowed under this category. Requires project development via a collaborative process.
ROADS CE Split into 2 CEs: Road management activities on up to 8 miles of NFS roads. Construction and realignment of up to 2 miles of NFS roads.
SPECIAL USE AUTHORIZATIONS CE: Retains the combined CE from proposed rule with minor modification. Expanded 5-acre CE to 20 acres and updates the list of examples.
RECREATION SITES AND ADMINISTRATIVE SITES: N/A Allowed construction, reconstruction, decommissioning, relocation, or disposal of buildings, infrastructure, or other improvements at recreation sites. Parallel CE for administrative sites
If you want more detail and don’t quite want to read the reg itself, here’s an analysis on JDSupra that talks in more detail about the CE’s, so you can see the ones you might be interested in and read that part of the reg.
It seems like the FS has stepped way back from the original proposal, based on public comment.
What I was thinking about the restoration CE is that we already have the Farm Bill CE with up to 3K acres, with restrictions like insect and disease and WUI or condition class. It would be interesting to see a side-by-side of the Farm Bill CE and this new one. The challenge would seem to be to be able to prove in court that “activities litigators don’t like” are really “restoration.”
Note that there’s an informational webinar listed on the home page.
Please post other analyses below.