(Guest column from Rebecca August of Los Padres ForestWatch with a new comment generator!) Good morning! The Trump administration is launching a bold move to undercut environmental regulations in national forests as a gift to timber companies and other special interests.
The proposed regulatory changes will effectively gut the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) as it relates to national forests by not requiring thorough environmental analysis or consideration of public input prior to approving commercial logging, mining, oil drilling, and other projects in places like the Los Padres National Forest.
“By going to such great lengths to obstruct public input, the administration shows its hand, and how much power there is in our collective voice.” Rebecca August, Public Lands Advocate, Los Padres ForestWatch.
The administration’s proposed rule was recently published in the Federal Register and at regulations.gov. Deadline is now August 26th, 11:59 pm EST.
Comment with LPFW great new “original comment” generator here!
Or, go old school and comment here.
(Lots of source material below under “Deeper dive for “right-size” comments!“)
Basic background on the crazy stuff this plan would allow…
- Allow commercial logging on up to 6.5 square miles at a time without an environmental assessment or public comment period
- Allow the Forest Service to avoid preparing an environmental assessment if it vaguely claims that there will be “long-term beneficial effects”
- Allow for projects up to nearly 11.5 square miles in size to be conducted without an environmental study and analysis of alternatives
- Allow the Forest Service to legitimize illegal roads and trails without study of environmental impacts and to build up to five miles of road at a time without public input, environmental study, or analysis of alternatives
- Allow the agency to ignore criteria such as a project’s impact on sensitive species when deciding whether to prepare an environmental assessment
- Create new loopholes for projects that the public and organizations won’t be able to formally object, meaning litigation will be the only way for the public to seek changes to a project after it is approved
- Drastically limit the public’s ability to comment on proposed projects during a process known as “scoping,” meaning the public loses its right to help direct what impacts the agency studies as well as its development of alternatives based on concerns from local communities.
“This is yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to chip away at the bedrock environmental laws that keep public lands, wildlife, and people safe from damaging activities. These rule changes only serve to benefit private interests like timber companies.” Bryant Baker, Conservation Director, Los Padres ForestWatch
These changes are being directed by unelected members of the Trump administration without the consultation of your elected representatives. Once these rule changes are approved by the Forest Service, they can only be blocked by an act of Congress and the approval of the President.
Deeper dive for “right-size” comments!
(Note from Indivisible Ventura: The government pointed out that in the previous stage – “Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” – they received only 1,229 unique comments out of 34,674 and, in Trump-speak, they were happy to dump all the copies. Don’t copy anyone else’s comment! Pretend you’re in Creative Writing Class 101 and come up with a comment (or two) reflecting your unique voice. (IV is all about the snark.) We’ve provided some source material below to help. In a hurry? Use LPFW’s AWESOME comment generator! )
Break trail, not public processes. If you want to have a voice in the management of public lands, now is the time to speak louder than ever. Photo Credit: Thomas Woodsen
(For those writing their own original comments, here’s a little more meat from this great article by the forestpolicypub.com people, which we’ve dropped in here whole. Remember, rephrase, rephrase, rephrase!)
Forest Service Draft NEPA Rule Would Sharply Curtail Environmental Analysis and Public Review of Forest Management
On June 13, 2019, the Forest Service released a proposed rule amending its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures. (1) The public has 60 days – until August 12, 2019 – to comment on the proposed rule. Information about the proposed rule, how to comment, and upcoming informational webinars are available on a Forest Service webpage. The agency is also revising its directives, Forest Service Manual 1950 and Handbook 1909.15, to reflect the proposed rule, with the proposed directives to be published in the Federal Register at an unspecified later date for public review and comment. (2)
According to the Forest Service, the proposed rule is designed to “increas[e] the pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground” – with a focus on removing hazardous fuels – by “complet[ing] project decision making in a timelier manner.”(3) The proposal, however, is much broader than its stated goals, exempting unqualified commercial timber harvest and a breathtaking range of other forest management activities from environmental analysis or public review via a suite of new and expanded categorical exclusions and other mechanisms that fundamentally undermine NEPA’s bedrock principles of government transparency, accountability, public involvement, and science-based decision-making.
Rather than focusing on and addressing the actual causes of agency inefficiency in environmental decision-making (e.g., funding, staffing, training, and turnover), the Forest Service has targeted America’s “magna carta” of environmental laws with its radical proposal. Ironically, the result is likely to be increased litigation and poorer management of our shared national forests, as corners are cut, laws are broken, and the public is cut out of decision-making.
(Indivisible Ventura: Before we start, the idea of “right-sizing” public comment over the treatment of our own land makes us itchy to start typing. We hope it inspires you too.)
The proposed rule would:
1. Add new “exclusions” to help industry rip through our forests faster – and “right-size” public engagement into nothing.
The proposed rule would adopt seven new categorical exclusions (CEs) and expand two existing CEs (4) to shield from any environmental review or public process a wide array of projects. The Forest Service estimates that up to 3⁄4 of decisions that currently receive public input could proceed under CEs in the future. (5) These include, but are not limited to:
1a. They want to re-define “restoration” and “resilience”
The proposed rule would broadly define “ecosystem restoration and/or resilience activities” on up to 7,300 acres, including commercial logging of up to 4,200 acres, as long as it includes at least one restoration add-on (e.g., replacing a culvert to restore fish passage). CE could be used to authorize up to 6.6 square miles of logging with NO PUBLIC IMPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS!
Other exceptions: Mineral and energy exploration — such as using seismic testing to gather geological data and various small-scale infrastructure building — could also be exempt if it lasts less than one year. The proposed rule would also add to categories of actions “normally” requiring an EIS any mining operations that authorize surface disturbance on greater than 640 acres over the life of the proposed action.
(nevadacapitalnews.org) Sam Evans, national forest and parks program leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center: “Just to give you a sense of the scale of the logging projects that we’re talking about in the southeast where I live and work, the projects on our local national forest range from about 300 acres on the small to medium side to about six to 700 acres on the big side. There are some outliers on either end, but that’s sort of the size that we’re talking about for a normal project. The new categorical exclusion, the new loophole would allow the Forest Service to do 4,200 acres at a time. That would entirely devour the timber sale program in the southeast, which means that in the future, the public wouldn’t be involved in any of the decisions to cut trees on the national forests.”
(Indivisible Ventura) Commercial logging is NOT a “restoration” or “resilience” activity and “right-sizing” public comment is not a thing! Throw in some factoids from this fascinating article on a similar action to speed up post-fire logging in 2015 from (hcn.org): “…The third-largest wildfire in California history, 2013’s Rim Fire, burned more than 400 square miles, including parts of Yosemite National Park and the Stanislaus National Forest. A year later, the Forest Service proposed cutting down the dead and damaged trees across about 50 square miles, but environmental groups sued to stop the salvage logging, saying it would harm wildlife and impede forest regeneration. Their appeal was denied and logging began, but the groups’ concerns are increasingly borne out by science: Recently-released studies point to the crucial importance of burned-over habitat for many species, including the Pacific fisher and black-backed woodpecker….Despite this, Congressional Republicans (pushed) two bills (that year), supported by the timber industry, that would speed up logging in national forests after wildfires and reduce environmental review…The bills’ supporters say that cutting burned trees soon after a wildfire reduces fuel for future fires, and allows the Forest Service to recoup some of the trees’ value as timber. They continuously, and wrongly, blame reductions in commercial logging for increased fire risk…
…But researchers are finding that commercial logging and clearcutting may actually increase damage from future fires. In the Rim Fire and other large fires, the areas that burned least intensely were those that had been protected from logging, in which big, mature thick-barked trees more readily withstood the heat of the flames. Young, recently-planted trees and debris from logging operations proved highly flammable. The ecological importance of large mixed-intensity fires is clear — they help produce a mosaic of habitat types, and patches that burn at high intensity, where most or all of the trees are killed, become “snag forests,” one of the rarest but most ecologically vital habitat types, says Chad Hanson, director of the John Muir Project, a nonprofit group that opposes salvage logging.”…Salvage logging shortcircuits the post-fire rejuvenation process, many studies show, removing the snags and downed trees that create shade and shelter. Heavy machinery can destroy regenerating conifers and other plant life and create erosion, while herbicides prevent the growth of beneficial shrubs and forbs (a herbaceous flowering plant that is not a grass, sedge, or rush. Hanson describes it as “kicking the forest when it’s down.” Read more here. Also see ‘The Myth of “Catastrophic” Wildfire’ and “The Big Lie: Logging and Forest Fires” by Chad Hanson.
Update 8/9/19: After a telephone interview with Chad Hanson of the John Muir Project regarding the role logging played in the ferocity of the Camp Fire, he has sent additional information, which we’re attaching here.
Camp Fire Photo Report: here. (Photo below contained in report)
- “The Myth of “Overgrown” Forests (2018) here
- “Does increased forest protection correspond to higher fire severity in frequent-fire forests of the western United States? (2016) here
- “Common Myths about Forest and Fire” (2019) here
- “We Cannot Effectively Fight Climate Change Without Increasing Forest Protection” (2019) here
- Dead Trees (“Snags”) Do Not Make Forests Burn More Intensely (2017) here
Financial aspects to consider too…
This article has some interesting facts to use too… “…national forests provide many favorite places for recreation by Californians. But all of these benefits are harmed by one activity—commercial logging on national forests through the Forest Service’s timber sale program, in which private timber companies pay the Forest Service to be allowed to cut down trees on public land. However, the Forest Service spends so much money preparing these timber sales, such as through road-building and trying to repair some of the ecological damage after logging, that the Forest Service’s timber sale program is a net money loser, costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
In other words, the timber sales program functions as a particularly destructive form of government subsidy to private logging companies.
This subsidy is so large that if the government ended the Forest Service timber sales program, a portion of the money saved could be used employ every timber worker that is currently involved in cutting down national forests to instead work on ecological restoration, repairing the damage that has been done to our forests, and there would still be millions of dollars remaining in taxpayers savings. At the same time, less than four percent of U.S. wood supply comes from our national forests, a tiny fraction that could easily be replaced through a bit more recycling or a little less waste. So commercial logging of our national forests is not only ecological damaging and economically wasteful, it is also unnecessary. In the 90’s, the John Muir Project published these conclusions in “Ending Timber Sales on National Forests: The Facts”, a report which was reviewed and approved by the Congress Research Service, the non-partisan research arm of the U.S. Congress.” (See their page on monitoring logging projects propose in mature and old-forest areas)
1b. They want to cede control of road planning to ORV riders (?!?)
The proposed rule would convert illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) routes to official Forest Service System roads or trails – contrary to decades of Forest Service travel and transportation management policy designed to make more ecologically and fiscally sustainable the agency’s bloated transportation system and ensure that any ORV route designations “minimize” impacts to resources and conflicts with other recreational uses; WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
(Indivisible Ventura) Off road vehicles cause widespread environmental damage. There’s already been a lot of public interaction between the Forest Service and the public on how they can work together to protect the land. PinelandsAlliance.org created this graphic document to visualize what’s happening with illegal off-roading. The pic above is from their document.
1c. They want to allow the construction of new roads against best practices – ACTION ITEM!
The proposed rule would allow construction of up to 5 miles or reconstruction of up to 10 miles of Forest Service System roads – also contrary to long-standing policy that the agency is no longer in the business of building permanent system roads and that projects may be implemented via construction of only temporary roads that must be decommissioned, WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
Action – Call your legislator on the “Roadless Area Conservation Act”
(Indivisible Ventura) New legislation proposed by Sen. Maria Cantrell, along with Congressman Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) have introduced legislation to permanently protect millions of acres of national forests from adding any new roads. HR 2491/S.1311 – “Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019”. This bill would codify the 2001 Roadless Rule, which limits costly roadbuilding and logging on roadless areas across the National Forest System. This legislation is said to “protect hunting and fishing opportunities, provide critical habitat for 1,600 threatened or endangered species, lessen wildland fire risk, and supply clean drinking water to millions of Americans in 39 states”.
Reps.: HR 2491 is currently supported by 44 representatives here. Brownley and Carbajal are already cosponsors. If yours isn’t on the list, call… (instructions below)
Senators: S.1311 is currently supported by Senator Harris, as well as these senators here. Sen. Feinstein was on the 2018 version, remind her to sign on. If your senator isn’t on this list, call them! It’s easy! Ten seconds tops.
Minimal script:“Hi, I’m calling from [zip code] and I want to Rep./Sen. [___] to cosponsor (Rep:/HR 2491/Sen: S.1311) – “Roadless Area Conservation Act of 2019”
Rep. Julia Brownley (CA-26): Thank her with an email,
or Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24): Thank him with an email.
Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: Thank her with an email,
Who is my representative/senator?: hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com
2. The “rules” would allow 98% of actions take place with ZERO public oversight.
The proposed rule would eliminate the requirement to conduct public scoping (6) for 98% of all proposed actions, including those covered by CEs. (7) The agency would be required to provide notice of CE projects only in its Schedule of Proposed Actions or SOPA, which may not be published until AFTER the decision has been made and the project completed.Without an opportunity to weigh in on proposed CE projects, the only option for the public to have its voice heard would be to resort to the federal courts. Most projects will occur with WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS
(winterwildlands.org) “If these revisions go through, you’ll be in the dark about most Forest Service projects. You may not even know that your local forest is considering building a new road or approving a new logging project, and litigation will be your only option for speaking up for the public lands you value. Cutting corners and disenfranchising the public is no way to manage our national forests.”
(NYTimes) Sam Evans “Each federal agency has some leeway to implement the law, but the Forest Service’s newly proposed rules would instead circumvent it, creating loopholes for logging projects, road construction and even permits for pipelines and other utilities...Far too often, the Forest Service proposes logging in rare old-growth forests, near sensitive streams, or on steep, fragile slopes. Or it proposes building new roads or permitting pipelines in undeveloped backcountry areas. Under current law, new roads and all but the smallest and least consequential timber sales require, at a minimum, advance public notice and the opportunity for the public to comment and suggest improvements. Most of the time, bad projects are relocated or improved because of public input. In fact, on the Southern Appalachian national forests where I work, public input is responsible for reducing or avoiding harm to old-growth, roadless areas, rare species and habitats, and soil and water 77.4 percent of the time…Without accountability, harms will multiply: more logging in the wrong places, more roads built in remote areas, more pipelines and utility rights of way fragmenting habitats. And there will be no chance for individuals to speak up to protect the special places that matter to them most. The public tolerates commercial logging on public lands only because passionate forest advocates have found ways, working with industry representatives and agency professionals, to minimize harm and even to harness logging for ecological good. If the Forest Service abandons the process that makes this possible, it will undermine the cooperation that allows us to share our public lands.”
(southenvironment.org) Sam Evans “The Forest Service is trying to create loopholes for itself that would entirely remove the public from most decisions affecting public lands. National Forest users–hikers, bikers, and wildlife watchers–won’t know what’s coming until the logging trucks show up at their favorite trailheads, or until roads and trails are closed.” The agency’s claim that it can commercially log up to 4,200 acres at a time without causing any harm to ecological values, without participation, doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Evans. “To put that number in perspective, in our Southern Appalachian national forests, where I live, work and hike, timber projects are never more than a fraction of that size, and they still routinely include logging in old growth forests, recreation areas, and rare habitats. Most of the time, the public speaks up for those values, and as a result they are protected. But they can’t be protected without transparency and accountability, and that’s what the Forest Service is proposing to eliminate.”
(wilderness.org) Susan Jane Brown, staff attorney and public lands director with the Western Environmental Law Center: “The Forest Service has used the mantra of ‘shared stewardship’ to describe its management goals for national forests with stakeholders such as states, tribes, and the broader public. But this proposed rule cuts the public out by authorizing nearly every land management action without detailed environmental analysis and public comment or administrative review. That’s no one’s definition of shared stewardship.”
Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club deputy legislative director for lands and wildlife: “Yet again the Trump administration is rolling back vital safeguards and curtailing public input. These changes will not protect our forests from fire, but rather risk their future.”
Ted Zukoski, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Trump administration is trying to stifle the public’s voice and hide environmental damage to public lands. These rules would let the Forest Service sidestep bedrock environmental laws. Logging companies could bulldoze hundreds of miles of new roads and chainsaw miles of national forests while ignoring the damage to wildlife and waterways. All of this would happen without involving nearby communities or forest visitors.”
3. “Sensitive, schmensitive”
The proposed rule would weaken the “extraordinary circumstances” backstop for CE proposals. (8) If a proposal implicates “extraordinary circumstances,” it is ineligible for a CE, even if it would otherwise qualify. The proposed rule would eliminate the presence of “sensitive species” as an extraordinary circumstance.
Even worse, the proposal would impose a significantly higher threshold for when extraordinary circumstances exist, requiring a “likelihood of substantial adverse effects to the listed resource condition” and allowing a Forest Service line officer to make this science-based determination without the benefit of any environmental analysis or public oversight.
(Indivisible Ventura) OK, stay with us on this… the rule proposal provided a WHOLE PARAGRAPH (provided below to study) on why they needed to remove two words – “Sensitive Species”. This is a clear sign in this incredibly corrupt administration that some chicanery is about to take place, as clear as Trump accusing others of things he’s done. Two things come immediately to mind. First – they are also going to start pulling “sensitive species” out of other documents, until it can’t be found anymore or be connected to NEPA projects, not unlike their unremitting campaign against the words “climate change” and “global warming”, as well as “diversity, entitlement, evidence-based, fetus, science-based, transgender and vulnerable.” Next, unless instructions are branded on their foreheads, the hacks running this administration either don’t know nor care about following any rules. Hence our president’s team of “acting” officials and Hatch Act violators, the current kerfuffle with Agriculture Secretary Perdue not consulting Congress before forcibly relocating his department to Kansas City, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, prune-faced with the indignity of having to listen to a clear explanation by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez that he needed to file THREE reports as required by law. So…no. Leave “Sensitive Species” in. Make it an entire chapter. With pictures.
(regulations.gov) “The proposed rule would adjust and refine instructions for evaluating extraordinary circumstances. The proposed rule would revise the list of resource conditions to be considered in determining whether extraordinary circumstances warrant analysis and documentation in an EA or EIS. The proposed rule would remove “sensitive species” from item (i). The Agency’s 2012 planning regulations marked a transition away from the term “sensitive species,” and retention of the term in the NEPA procedures is unnecessary. All land management plans have direction to provide for the diversity of plant and animal communities and support the persistence of native species in the plan area. All Forest Service projects must comply with relevant land management plans; therefore, it is not necessary to include sensitive species in the list of resource conditions.”
As for allowing Forest Service line officers to make decisions about issues facing endangered species or other sensitive environmental issues…they lost that right in the late 90’s-2000, when they grifted for the logging industry at the expense of California spotted owls, as they ignored public input and contradicted scientific information. Sorry, restoring trust in the Forest Service’s pronouncements is absolutely not going to happen during this administration.
4. Like a kid hiding broccoli on his plate...
The proposed rule would permit the use of multiple CEs to carry out land management decisions. (9) The Forest Service would have discretion to authorize larger, complex projects without preparing any NEPA analysis by breaking apart the various project elements and picking and choosing CEs from the agency’s expansive list to cover each element, resulting in a far greater likelihood of significant effects. Large projects would be completed WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
(nevadacapitalnews.org) Sam Evans – “In Nevada, mining activity is largely conducted on Bureau of Land Management land, but when licensing mines, the proposed rule change would allow the Forest Service to use a categorical exemption to authorize mining activity of up to 640 acres of surface disturbance. A football field is 1.32 acres in size…. Six hundred and forty acres is not a large area, but the concern is, once a mining project gets started, it often goes through a number of expansions, so this is a way of kind of leapfrogging in,” said John Hadder of Great Basin Resource Watch. “Starting out with a small operation, no environmental analysis, and then they begin to expand. And even though the expansion process may require an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) they’ve already got the mine there. Putting controls on what happened at that point is a lot more limited once the mine is in place already, especially if you want to try to oppose it in any kind of a high level.”
(nevadacapitalnews.org) John Hadder “Another large red flag… is that the proposed rule change as written could authorize a massive underground mine with a categorical exemption because it disturbs less than 640 acres on the surface. Underground mines often require deep groundwater pumping operations, so miners can access ore deposits, but according to John Hadder, these types of mines have the potential to significantly affect ground and surface water with no public oversight if approved with a CE.
“There are mines that tend to go underground that often have a lot less surface disturbance,” Hadder said when asked how the proposed rule changes could affect the licensing of mines in the state. “The example that I was looking at is the Hollister underground mine project, which in the draft EIS would only disturb 220 acres (on the surface). So that one would be excluded from an EIS in the future, however, an underground mine has significant impacts on the groundwater that we noted in our comments.”
Even though the Hollister mine, located just outside Winnemucca, Nevada recently closed for lack of profitability, Hadder said small mines can have significant environmental and cultural impacts.“The Hollister mine actually infringes upon Western Shoshone cultural areas, the Tosawihi quarry, and so in an EIS process you look at how the mine affects the whole region, so even though the mine footprint itself may be fairly small, you have to look at cumulative impact. And so this is where this 640 (acres) is really a too narrow a scope. Even a small mine could have significant regional impact depending upon where it’s located. So that’s the clause we definitely want to see removed.”
5. “Close enough for government work” is not close enough.
The proposed rule would adopt another interior review process called “determinations of NEPA adequacy” (10) or DNAs, which are a mechanism that the Department of the Interior has long used to claim that an existing environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement (EIS) adequately analyzed a new/different proposed action and so no EA, EIS, or CE is necessary. Often the existing EA or EIS is outdated and/or never contemplated or analyzed the specific impacts of the new proposed action. (BTW – NEPA stands for “National Environmental Policy Act“) The Forest Service rarely monitors the actual effects of its decisions, so it’s unlikely that the agency can rationally conclude that future projects will have no environmental impacts. Moreover, given the severely degraded condition of many of our national forests, it is arbitrary to suggest that past land management decisions have resulted in limited environmental impacts. Projects that are “sort of like” another project will go through WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
Example: (Center for Biological Diversity) “The BLM used “determinations of NEPA adequacy… to auction off more than 2,300 acres of Wayne National Forest for fracking, (using) DNAs to avoid any analysis of site-specific environmental harm before leasing public lands to industry. Conservation groups have mounted administrative or legal challenges to these lease sales. “In a time of accelerating climate change, biodiversity loss, and air and water pollution crises, this action by the supposed stewards of our natural resources is unconscionable,” said Heather Cantino of Athens County Fracking Action Network. “Wayne and BLM’s justifications for this action are not based on science or the public interest, which by law they must be. Today’s protest stands up for the law and the rights of the American people.”
The Trump administration recently issued a directive calling for expanded use of DNAs for fracking leases on public lands across the country. That directive effectively excludes the public from the public-lands leasing process, shortens protest periods to just 10 days from 30 days, and restricts BLM staff from postponing lease sales to protect sensitive resources.”
The Forest Service, like the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) will become a rubber stamp for projects that the public won’t even learn about until the construction equipment is at their gates.
6. What’s one little fracking platform, or skinny little pipeline, in a wilderness area?
Think that it can’t happen?
The proposed rule would remove Inventoried Roadless Areas (IRAs) and potential wilderness areas from the classes of actions that normally require preparation of an EIS. (11) The proposed rule reasons that the Roadless Area Conservation Rule provides adequate protections for IRAs. A robust body of case law demonstrates that damaging projects are often proposed in IRAs, despite the Roadless Rule. Moreover, the Roadless Rule itself is under significant threat. The proposed rule would similarly remove projects in potential wilderness areas (i.e., areas identified in a Forest Service wilderness inventory) from increased PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
- (Senator Cantrell) “The Roadless Rule protects key recreational areas, vital watersheds, and irreplaceable fish and wildlife habitat,” Senator Cantwell said.“Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians depend on roadless areas for clean drinking water and to drive our juggernaut outdoor recreation economy. It’s time to permanently safeguard our remaining undeveloped forest lands as the foundation of our outdoor recreation economy, a home for wildlife, and a heritage for future generations.” (Indivisible Ventura – see “Action” in #1c above!)
- (Rep. DeGette) “The Roadless Rule is one of the most broadly supported environmental policies in the country that protects nearly 60 million acres of untouched forests for people to enjoy – yet, now it’s under attack. We are not going to sit back and allow this administration to undo this important rule and the protections it provides some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes.”
- (Indivisible Ventura – see “Action” in #1c above!) “The Roadless Rule was developed by the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) during the Clinton administration and finalized in 2001. Legislators said in their release it was introduced “following several years of deliberation, 600 public meetings in local communities nationwide, and 1.6 million public comments, including 60,000 from Washington state alone. They say that 96% of comments received favored strong protection for National Forest roadless areas while a March 2019 poll by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that three out of four respondents said they supported keeping roadless forest protections, and only 16% oppose it.”
- (Center for Biological Diversity) Trump Plan to Ramp Up Fracking, Mining in National Forests Threatens Climate
- (LA Times) “Mark Rose, a representative for the National Parks Conservation Assn., said Trump’s proposal to open up 1 million acres in CA to drilling is concerning because it includes so much territory, some of which borders pristine forestland like Yosemite and Sequoia national parks. “When you open up … this wide swath of land, it really scares us that wells could be drilled right next to a national park like Sequoia, which is already one of the most polluted parks in the country for air pollution.”
7. “Condition-based management” = loophole
Embraces “condition-based management,” (12) which allows the Forest Service to authorize land management activities – usually including timber harvest – without first gathering information about the resources that would be affected on the ground. Under this approach, the public would lose a fundamental right under NEPA – the chance to speak up for specific places or resources when they are proposed for logging. This lazy, industry-friendly giveaway would happen WITH NO PUBLIC INPUT OR ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS.
(nevadacapitalnews.org) “For environmentalists, condition-based management is a loophole for oversight and scientific rigor. Because a “broader proposed action” guides the project under the condition-based management scheme, the Forest Service is then able to conduct land management actions, typically timber harvests with no deference to specific conditions on the ground like insect outbreaks or high fuel loads, for instance. Site-specific analysis would not be required under condition-based analysis. Since its inception in 1970, the environmental analysis process as laid out in NEPA has been centered on the development of more environmentally friendly alternatives to proposed projects, but for Sam Evans, the shift toward conditions-based management undermines the heart of NEPA compromise.
“So the way this rulemaking looks at the National Forest is it says that one acre is no different than another acre and one logging project over here is no different than another logging project over there. But we know the different areas on the National Forest are really special for different reasons and special to different people, so the process that we’ve always used to figure out where are good places to go and do logging projects and where not, that’s the process that’s being proposed to eliminate.”
So what is the real problem here, beside corporate pressure?
Not enough people work at the Forest Service.
To justify its proposed rule, the Forest Service argues that changes to NEPA are necessary to increase its efficiency and increase the pace and scale of land management decisionmaking. However, the Forest Service itself has acknowledged that a lack of internal agency capacity and training, as well as an agency culture that rewards “moving out to move up” (or, agency turnover), leads to delays in planning and implementation. The proposed rule does not address this fundamental problem.
(nevadacapitalnews.org) Sam Evans, national forest and parks program leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center “What I’ve learned is that the main impediments to getting work done are its budgets and its lack of good training mechanisms for getting its staff up to speed on how to work with the public. But instead, we’re seeing a rulemaking that scapegoats the environmental review process that really has very little to do with the delays that the Forest Service often experiences when it’s trying to get a decision done.”
John Hadder is the director of Great Basin Resource Watch based in Reno, Nevada. Hadder agrees with Evans’ assessment and adds that the solution to speeding up thorough and much-needed environmental assessments is to hire more people. “They talk about the justification and the need for what they call a more efficient process around NEPA and they pin it to increasing resources that are needed to fight wildfires, a lot of emphasis on the need to deal with wildfires and how much greater percentage of their staff has gone to wildfire abatement and wildfire fighting. My response to that at first is, well, hire more people to deal with NEPA instead of just trimming it back. Protection of our environment in the communities that depend on it is critical, and I would argue that probably some of the very projects that might slip through could actually affect fire issues. It’s mismanagement of our land in part, and that has resulted in increasing wildfires. If we’re going to spend more money on things then we certainly should spend a little more money on processing projects on public land.”
We really like this politely worded smack-down from the Rural Voices of Conservation Coalition, which addresses budget issues and training for employees.
Why is this so important?
(Sierra Club) With more than 240 million people living within 100 miles of a national forest or national grassland, the benefits of protecting national forest roadless areas are significant.
Water: Undisturbed ecosystems in wilderness areas produce clean water for thousands of communities. Twenty-nine million people drink water from watersheds that encompass roadless areas. National forests and grasslands, including wilderness, are the nation’s most important water source, providing drinking water to some 60 million Americans.
Outdoor Recreation: Tracts of intact roadless forests represent the last great opportunity for conserving our best outdoor recreation opportunities on our national forests.
Local Economies: Safeguarded landscapes boost the bottom line for local economies, attracting visitors and adding to local residents’ quality of life. Across the West, for example, counties with permanently protected public land report higher per capita income and above-average job growth.
Wildlife habitat: Roadless areas nationwide provide important habitat for fish and wildlife in our national forests, including more than 2,100 threatened, endangered, or sensitive animal and plant species.
There’s not as much as you think: Although the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to 109 million acres, that’s just 5 percent of the U.S. landmass, and half of this acreage is in one state, Alaska. We continue to lose more than 6,000 acres of open space a day to development. More can be done to ensure a natural legacy for future generations.
(1) 84 Fed. Reg. 27,544. If finalized, the regulations will be codified at 36 C.F.R. Part 220.
(2) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,550.
(3) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,544.
(4) 84 Fed Reg. at 27,546-49 and proposed rule § 220.5(d) & (e).
(5) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,550-51.
(6) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,545 and proposed rule § 220.4(d).
(7) Under the proposal, scoping would be required only for EISs. Between 2006 and 2016, only 678 of the ForestService’s 29,746 decisions (about 2.3%) were analyzed with an EIS.
(8) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,546 and proposed rule § 220.5(a) & (b).
(9) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,546 and proposed rule § 220.5(a).
(10) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,546 and proposed rule § 220.4(i).
(11) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,549 and proposed rule § 220.7(a).
(12) 84 Fed. Reg. at 27,545 and proposed rule §§ 220.3 & 220.4(k).