Folks, here’s an article that’s right up our Smokey Wire alley…. An article from Montana Business Quarterly, “Implementing the National Environmental Policy Act on National Forests,” by by Todd Morgan, Mike Niccolucci, and Erik Berg.
This article presents information about the number and types of NEPA analyses conducted by the agency, how long they take to prepare, and the frequency of litigation by NFS region and project purpose, as well as information on the NFS annual budget and land management accomplishments.
This study suggests that more NFS land management is being accomplished per NEPA analysis (Morgan et al. 2021). Likewise, flat NFS budgets along with increasing accomplishments and declining numbers of NEPA analyses suggest the USFS is improving its acres treated per dollar appropriated to some mission areas, and may be reducing dollars spent per NEPA analysis. However, there is not strong evidence of increased speed in conducting NEPA, with just a four-day-per-year decrease in time-to-completion.
********************* Added by Sharon… here’s the part on litigation.
The use of NEPA analyses in litigation against NFS management activities is well documented (Keele et al. 2006; Miner et al. 2010, 2014; Morgan and Baldridge 2015; Mortimer et al. 2011), and thus differences in litigation rates are worthy of some attention.
By analysis type, about 15% of the EISs, 2% of EAs, and 0.4% of the CEs completed between 2005 and 2019 were litigated (Table 1; Morgan et al. 2021). Projects with certain land management purposes appear to be litigated more often, regardless of analysis type. The most frequently litigated project purposes are forest products in 95 of 292 litigated analyses (32.5%), fuels management in 92 (31.5%) of litigated analyses, and vegetation management – nonforest products in 83 (28.4%) of litigated analyses. By analysis type, litigation frequency and rates vary, but forest products, fuels and vegetation management are consistently among the most frequently litigated project purposes or among those with the highest litigation rates. Grazing management and road management also have relatively greater litigation rates (Morgan et al. 2021).
There are striking differences in litigation by USFS region (Table 1; Morgan et al. 2021). The Northern Region (R-1) has the highest number of total litigated analyses, accounting for 25.7% of all litigated analyses nationally. Likewise R-1 has the highest overall litigation rate, with 2.3% of all R-1 NEPA analyses litigated, which is more than 2.5 times the national rate of 0.9%.
The Southwestern Region (R-3) has the most litigated CEs at 37.2% of all litigated CEs nationally. The R-3 CE litigation rate is more than four times the national CE litigation rate. R-1 has the most litigated EAs (29 of 101 litigated nationally) and the highest EA litigation rate (7.6%). That is 3.8 times the national EA litigation rate of 2%. R-1 also has the most litigated EISs at 23 of 78 litigated nationally (29.5%). Further, R-1 has the highest EIS litigation rate with 29.1% of all R-1 EISs litigated.
The seemingly low rates of litigation underestimate the on-the-ground impacts to USFS programs and R-1 projects are the most frequently litigated among the USFS regions (Morgan and Baldridge 2015; Morgan et al. 2021). According to USFS officials, the R-1 timber program has had 210 to 466 million board feet of timber – or an estimated 18,000 to 41,000 acres of treatment area – associated with some phase of litigation. That is roughly equivalent to 50% to over 100% of the region’s annual timber program impacted by litigation between 2016 and 2021. Even when a project is not directly enjoined by a lawsuit, the work associated with responding to litigation is significant and takes personnel away from their planned program of work, representing additional opportunity costs to the agency.
This goes back to the ongoing discussion of whether litigation is a problem or not.. specifically with regard to vegetation projects. Lots of interesting info here.. especially the acres in Region 1 being litigated, as well as 31% of litigation being for projects identified as fuel management.