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Comments on NEPA Forest Service Proposed Rule

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PDF version of comments

 

August 23, 2019

 

NEPA Services Group

c/o Amy Barker

USDA Forest Service

125 South State Street, Suite 1705

Salt Lake City, UT  84138

 

Re: Comments on Proposed Rule, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance (84 Fed. Reg. 27,544, June 13, 2019)

 

To Whom It May Concern,

 

On behalf of the American Hiking Society (AHS), our members, supporters, and the millions-strong hiking group nationwide, we write in opposition to proposed revisions to the U.S. Forest Service’s National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rules. We are particularly involved in regards to the important impacts to hikers and different recreation customers on the 157,000 miles of trails and surrounding house in our National Forests.

 

Proposed Rule Curtails the Public Process

 

Hikers, different path customers, and accomplice organizations that handle trails play an vital position in reviewing tasks on and round trails. The proposed adjustments drastically alter the best way wherein public enter is offered. Specifically, new and expanded categorical exclusions (CEs), which take away the chance for public enter, could be used for as much as three-quarters of project-level choices, together with adjustments to trails and trailheads.[1] These new and expanded authorities would dramatically have an effect on the general public’s proper to note and remark on trails and different site-specific choices. Projects licensed below CEs would not require scoping, which is meant to offer preliminary discover of attainable adjustments to the general public, leading to a loss of all advance discover and remark necessities. Under the proposed rule there’s a sturdy incentive for Forest Service line officers to skip this collaborative course of as it’s going to not be required. The public in impact would lose the chance to remark on over 93% of all Forest Service choices.

 

Categorical Exclusions (CE’s) Result in a Lack of Necessary Oversight and Review

 

American Hiking Society is against the proposed CE NEPA adjustments, of their present type, as a result of they:

 

  • considerably diminish public oversight, enter, and involvement of undertaking degree choices;
  • don’t adequately tackle the Schedule of Proposed Actions (SOPAs), their frequency of publication or publication of proposed tasks earlier than choices are made and applied;
  • permit an excessive amount of discretion by USFS district rangers relating to eliminating or truncating the general public’s involvement in administration of the general public’s National Forests;
  • permit industrial/non-commercial timber harvests as much as 4,200 acres with a CE, which signifies the magnitude of choices with out important public enter;
  • and permit highway building with out applicable evaluation and public enter.

AHS believes the far-reaching CEs within the proposed rule will undoubtedly diminish safety of the a number of sources the USFS manages and should defend. We share the considerations of others within the path group[2] and recommend as an alternative that the Administration request, and Congress present, enough funding to the Forest Service to offer staffing at a degree that permits compliance with the present USFS NEPA rule. While the proposed new rule purports to extend effectivity by lowering public involvement, we imagine the proposed adjustments will lower effectivity as a result of disenfranchised stakeholders (of many various factors of view) will probably be compelled to resort to litigation and legislative cures to make their voices heard.

 

National Scenic and Historic Trails Must be Added as Congressionally Designated Areas

 

While we urge the Forest Service to reject the proposed adjustments of their entirety, ought to that not happen, National Scenic and Historic Trails have to be added to the record of congressionally-designated areas as a way to guarantee their safety. These trails are congressionally-designated and managed pursuant to the provisions of the National Trails System Act (NTSA).[3] The proposed itemizing of equally located congressionally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers and wilderness areas within the proposed rule is commendable however doesn’t go far sufficient. A extra complete evaluation of the impacts of USFS actions on such areas have to be assured. The proposed rules talk about the existence of congressionally-designated areas “that should be considered” in figuring out whether or not extraordinary circumstances warrant an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) in lieu of a categorical exclusion to such evaluation.[4] Simple consideration of such congressionally-designated areas isn’t sufficient. The designation of such areas ought to definitively require an EA or EIS, to make sure public enter. In establishing these areas, Congress has statutorily mandated sure administration regimes, and, the federal legislation enacted by Congress in so doing have to be handled equal to federal legal guidelines dictating USFS administration of National Forests and actions associated thereto.

 

For the explanations detailed above we urge the Forest Service NOT to proceed with this NEPA proposed rule.

 

[1] CE (e)(21), CE (e)(23).

[2] AHS helps the feedback submitted by the Partnership for the National Trails System and encourages USFS to undertake the organizations suggestions.

[3] (16 USC §§1241, et. seq.)

[4] See proposed language 36 CFR §220.5(b)(1)(iii).

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