Early TSW readers may remember that this blog was started in 2009 with me and Martin Nie, a professor of the University of Montana, discussing forest planning, when the 2012 Planning Rule was beginning to be designed. At the time, we called the blog “New Century of Forest Planning.” One of the reasons Martin was so fun to argue with is that we disagreed on many things about planning. My idea was that in the relatively arcane world of forest planning, students would learn from heating different perspectives. I haven’t heard from Martin lately, but apparently we still disagree.
Yesterday it turned out that the Forest Service rejected the proposal, according to KPAX
They cite inaccuracies between the master development plan and the proposed plan.
Tammy MacKenzie, the public information officer for the Flathead National Forest, told MTN the plan to expand the lodge at the base of the Swan Mountain Range was bigger than what was originally asked for.
I thought this earlier article from the Daily Montanan “Flathead National Forest: Decision on Holland Lake likely coming this week or next” was interesting in terms of Martin’s more general comments on Forest Service public involvement, NEPA and the use of CEs, as reported.
In comments and at public meetings, many people have called on the Forest Service to do a thorough environmental review and not grant a categorical exclusion. Martin Nie, director of the Bolle Center for People and Forests at the University of Montana, is among those.
In his Oct. 5 letter, Nie talked about working for a center named after the late Arnold Bolle, named in the Gallery of Outstanding Montanans in the Capitol as the “Dean of Western Forests,” he said.
He said Bolle led an investigation of forest management in 1969 that resulted in a report that found the Forest Service’s culture didn’t involve the public “in any way but as antagonists,” and he said decades later, the same is true.
Wow, that’s quite a claim! All that work with collaborative groups, all that learning, all those requirements, it’s hard to believe he really said that. Perhaps in his experience. Not in mine. More likely there is literature around that, there certainly is around improving processes (e.g.this 2006 Leach paper).
“Rarely have I been approached by so many citizens about a local project or proposal, all with deep concerns and lots of questions about the proposed expansion and the Forest Service’s misuse of NEPA,” Nie wrote of the National Environmental Policy Act, which sets the standards for exceptions and reviews.
He said granting exceptions to some projects “is both reasonable and necessary,” but the Forest Service is using the NEPA exclusion “to an alarming degree,” some 84 percent of the time.
I’m hoping that the Forest Service uses both statutory and regulatory CEs as appropriate. For me, that’s kind of the point of being in a federal agency, do what Congress says, plus your own rulemaking. Suppose there is a new legislated CE for certain outfitter guide activities. Would that be even more “alarming” because the percentage of projects using CEs would increase? Also, if the number came from the 2020 Fleischmann et al. paper, it should probably be 82% (rounded from 82.3 in the abstract)*.
But federal regulations prohibit the exception where there are “extraordinary circumstances,” such as where threatened or endangered species might be affected, and he said the Flathead National Forest’s own plan identifies unique characteristics of the area.
“The ecological setting of Holland Lake provides a textbook example of extraordinary circumstances that warrant closer environmental analysis and full public participation,” Nie wrote.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with finding items of interest in the FS NEPA regulations here is a link. Extraordinary circumstances are at 31.2.
31.2 – Extraordinary Circumstances
Resource conditions that should be considered in determining whether extraordinary circumstances related to a proposed action warrant further analysis and documentation in an EA or an EIS are:
(1) Federally listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitat, species proposed for Federal listing or proposed critical habitat, or Forest Service sensitive species;
(2) Flood plains, wetlands, or municipal watersheds;
(3) Congressionally designated areas, such as wilderness, wilderness study areas, or national recreation areas;
(4) Inventoried roadless areas or potential wilderness areas;
(5) Research natural areas;
(6) American Indians and Alaska Native religious or cultural sites, and
(7) Archaeological sites, or historic properties or areas.
The mere presence of one or more of these resource conditions does not preclude use of a categorical exclusion (CE). It is the existence of a cause-effect relationship between a proposed action and the potential effect on these resource conditions and if such a relationship exists, the degree of the potential effect of a proposed action on these resource conditions that determine whether extraordinary circumstances exist. (36 CFR 220.6(b))
I actually don’t see “ecological setting” included. I’m guessing the environmental docs on this project discuss this..