Gila County Supervisor Tommie Martin — one of the driving forces in the 4FRI movement — was among those openly questioning whether Pioneer had the financing or expertise to undertake the massive thinning project, which depend on the contractor building bio-fuel plants and mills that could turn a profit on millions of saplings and small trees.
#Locked in a campaign for re-election now, she says her doubts about Pioneer’s financing remain — but the effort now relies on Pioneer’s success. Martin has played a leadership role in the effort to convince the U.S. Forest Service to thin fire-prone thickets on the outskirts of Rim Country communities. She has also spearheaded the effort to post water-filled bladders strategically throughout the region to enable fire trucks and firefighting helicopters to quickly fill up storage tanks to contain brush fires.
#Meanwhile, other recent developments have advanced the effort to use a revitalized timber industry to thin millions of acres in Northern Arizona where a century of grazing and fire suppression have created an overgrown, tree-choked forest.
#Tree densities across most of the ponderosa pine forests of Northern Arizona have increased from perhaps 30 per acre to closer to 800 per acre in the past century, according to researchers from Northern Arizona University. A once-open, fire-adapted forest now generates an increasing number of massive crown fires, which threaten to incinerate forested communities.
#It costs up to $1,000 per acre to thin and burn off the slash piles, which means it would cost taxpayers about $6 billion annually to thin those forests by hand. The 4FRI approach would give private contractors a guaranteed 10- or 20-year supply of mostly small-diameter trees as an inducement to invest millions in building mills and power plants that could turn a profit on the vast oversupply of small trees.
#The 4FRI approach could get a boost in November if Flagstaff voters approve a $10 million bond issue to raise money to support forest-thinning projects in the Lake Mary watershed. Backers say that a crown fire that killed all the trees and scorched the soil would result in a dramatic increase in silt building up in Lake Mary, endangering Flagstaff’s already precarious water supply.
#The Schultz Fire two years ago demonstrated the risk to the city. The fire roared through an area that had been earmarked for a 4FRI project. The monsoon rains that followed caused mudslides that inflicted millions of dollars of additional damage on homes.
However, the Forest Service adopted many of the recommendations of the Stakeholder Group, but refused to commit to the preservation of most of the larger trees. Forest Service biologists reasoned that in some areas those larger trees exist in relatively dense clusters.
#That refusal to set a clear size limit on the trees caused concern among some members of the Stakeholder Group, including Martin — who found herself in the unusual position of agreeing with the Centers for Biological Diversity, which had spent years suing to block timber projects on the grounds they continued to target the big, fire-resistant trees.
#The selection of Pioneer after almost two years of study and delay initially posed a near-mutiny among the Stakeholder Group. Pioneer actually offered to pay the Forest Service millions less for the bid than did the contractor who had spent years working with the Stakeholder Group. Moreover, Pioneer omitted any money for monitoring whether the thinning projects had the desired impact on wildlife and watersheds.
#Martin also raised concerns about whether Pioneer had enough financing — and a business plan that would yield a profit on turning small trees into energy and into furniture.
#Forest Service officials in the Southwestern Regional Office in New Mexico made the selection, without direct input from the Stakeholder’s Group.
#Pioneer has said it remains on track to start work in the spring. Marlin Johnson said the company will start off with already-prepared timber sales and send the wood it harvests to existing mills, while the company continues to line up financing for its own mills.
#The company plans to build a 500-acre plant near Winslow, which will convert small trees into finger-jointed materials, like furniture and other wood products. The company also plans to build a bio-diesel fuel plant, which would turn brush and scraps into diesel.
#Johnson noted that Western Energy Solutions/Concord Blue USA will build and operate the bio-diesel plant.
#However, Pioneer has yet to announce any firm commitment for financing of the thinning projects or the Winslow plant.
I’ve heard many times that groups think “you should never take big trees,” e.g. diameter limits But if big trees are in a clump, and you are trying to thin trees, then to get fewer trees in the clump you would have to take out big trees. I’d be interested to have a discussion with someone with this point of view and see what their side of the story is.. that is.. the “no big trees” point of view.
Indian Valley, part of the Amador Ranger District, Eldorado National Forest, is being restored as a high elevation meadow, after decades of misuse. Grazing has ceased but, its impacts still linger. In the past, willows were removed and water was channeled away, causing increased erosion of these shallow and fragile soils. The water table has been lowered and the meadow hasn’t been able to support the vegetation that it used to.
Concentrating runoff by channeling the water causes increased erosion, especially when we have rain on snow events. There were significant impacts from the winter of 1996. This project aims to get the water to spread out, linger, and re-charge the water-holding capacity of up to 500 acres.
A system of catchment ponds, compacted soil plugs, and native plant re-vegetation will cause snowmelt runoff to spread out and slow the erosive power of concentrated water. This project has a history of being de-funded and handed off but, all things came together when Coca Cola offered up some cash, which led to some additional matching funds and collaboration. The Ranger District had to jump through all the NEPA hoops, as surveys had to be completed for endangered willow flycatchers, frogs and toads. The one impact they could not remedy is a historic road, which travels across the meadow. Relocation was made impossible, due to archaeological sites. Removal or closure would be politically impossible.
The willows have made a great comeback, since grazing ended. However, you can clearly see that the foreground vegetation is quite sparse. Raising the water table a few feet will lead to meadow restoration. The numerous braided side channels would re-charge the water table. There appears to be one of the historic man-made channels in this picture.
Here is what appears to be one of the natural side channels, which no longer is supplied with water, due to lowered water table, erosion, and channeling of the water. This restoration project appears to be a win-win situation for everyone.
Here is a non-Forest Service link to the project:
Sierra Institute’s Response to the Economic Analysis of the Critical Habitat Designation for Northern Spotted Owl
The US Fish and Wildlife Service contracted with a group called Industrial Economics out of Cambridge Massachusetts, to do the socioeconomic analysis of the designation of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl.
Here is a link to the page that has the Sierra Institute report, the Executive Summary, and conclusions, and an excerpt from the Executive Summary.
The purpose of this report is to review and provide comments on the May 29, 2012 draft report by Industrial Economics, “Critical Habitat Designation for the Northern Spotted Owl,” prepared for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Industrial Economics’ assessment is insufficient in its documentation of cumulative socioeconomic impacts and current socioeconomic conditions. Their interpretation of the charge of “determining whether the benefits of excluding particular areas from the designation outweigh the benefits of including those areas in the designation” is overly
narrow. As an assessment, the report does not comport with sound socioeconomic assessment science and lacks a sufficiently comprehensive evaluation of potential impacts.
While acknowledging a loss of over 30,000 jobs in the timber industry from 1990 to 2010, Industrial Economics argues that these loses were offset by regional population gains of 15% and an 18% employment increase in the decade of the 1990s. Industrial Economics errs by assuming: 1) job gains in the 1990s offset job losses in the 2000s, 2) regional population and job increases directly offset timber industry job declines, and 3) employment gains (and
losses) are equally distributed across the region. They report regional job increases of only 3% in the 2000s, and do so without analyzing impacts associated with the Great Recession, which hit hard many of counties where critical habitat areas are designated.
In discussing timber harvest impacts, Industrial Economics bases its incremental change analysis on a period in which there is a severe downturn in the economy and wood products industry. This results in an undercount of likely impacts. Estimates of harvest totals are generalized and not linked to subunit timber harvest totals, resulting in estimates that, as they acknowledge, “could vary materially from future actual timber harvest…”
Because of the shortcomings of Industrial Economics’ report as a socioeconomic assessment, the Sierra Institute for Community and Environment provides additional analysis and review of socioeconomic conditions. This is done also to improve the understanding of socioeconomic changes that have taken place since 1990 and the potential impacts of
northern spotted owl critical habitat area designation of almost 14 million acres across the California-Oregon-Washington northern spotted owl region. Designation of this amount of land as critical habitat area requires deeper and more comprehensive analysis.
Case studies, two in California and three each in Oregon and Washington, were conducted to better understand socioeconomic changes and current socioeconomic conditions “on the ground.” Some key findings from these cases include in California:
• Siskiyou County lost all its saw mills, has seen its population age, and has lost eight schools, challenging the county to provide for the remaining students and reverse the loss of young families.
• In Humboldt County there are powerfully suggestive relationships between mill closures and student impoverishment as reflected in Free and Reduced Price Meal (FRPM) enrollment rates. This county has suffered dramatic declines in its goodsproducing sector, with the manufacturing subsector losing 65% of its 1990 jobs by 2011.
• Tillamook County has 24% of its children living in poverty, and 39% living in singleparent households, almost double the national average.
• Douglas County has 31% of its children living in poverty – twice the national average and 34% in single-parent households.
• In both of these counties, but especially in Douglas County, there are significant declines in manufacturing jobs, particularly since 2008. Free and Reduced Priced Meal participation rates increased over the last four years as well, some schools by almost 20 percent.
• Josephine County, over the last several decades saw forestry and logging jobs decline by 80%. Wages have stagnated and are two-thirds of the Oregon average. The county now ranks near the bottom of Oregon counties in health indicators and FRPM participation rate for the county is 70%.
• Grays Harbor County Natural Resources and Mining jobs declined by over 50% and
Forestry and logging jobs by just under 70% from 1990 to 2010. The county is near the bottom of the health rankings for counties in the state. FRPM participation rates for the county exceed 60%, with one school district at 92% in 2011 and another at 88%; the lowest rate is 41%, reflecting the considerable differences across the county.
• Skamania County has 90% of its land in federal ownership, and 59% of the land in the county is designated as critical habitat area. Natural resource and manufacturing jobs have declined by over 50% over the last 20 years, though service industry jobs have increased dramatically during this period.
* * *
Timber receipts and, more recently, the Secure Rural School and Community Self-Determination Act (SRS) payments to replace lost timber receipts to counties and schools have been historically important. In California, on average, Humboldt County Schools received just under 5% of their funding through SRS; Siskiyou received on average just
under 7%; and Trinity County received 15%. In Oregon, U.S. Forest Service SRS funding has provided on average 23% of county road budgets, with six counties receiving over 40% Response to the Economic Analysis of Critical Habitat Designation for The Northern Spotted Owl of their total road budget. Though dramatically lower in 2011, SRS payments comprised 40% or more of Skamania County general fund throughout the 2000s. In Oregon O&C counties, the Bureau of Land Management contribution to county budgets has been significant. In Douglas County in 2009 it comprised 17% of total county revenues and in Jackson County, it makes up 7% of total county revenues.
Eighteen counties received SRS O&C funding that goes directly to county general funds.
SRS is scheduled to expire in 2013. Loss of these funds will challenge already financially cash-strapped counties and school districts.
The time has long since past that we “reconcile” what Industrial Economics’ terms in its report as “competing economic and conservation goals.” Newer approaches address forestry as a “triple-bottom-line” endeavor—one in which economy, environmental, and community (or equity) benefits are all a part and integrated. This approach is not about trading off
harvests at the expense of the environment, or environmental outcomes with community and economic interests, but integrating them in ways that advance them collectively. The tenets of what Industrial Economics calls “ecological forestry” discussed in the report are suggestive, but remain too narrow as presented.
Note from Sharon: So the topic of job losses in the PNW has been discussed heatedly since I left there in the 80s. In the interest of understanding the impacts of the proposed action, it seems like this is of enough importance that I would yard up the economists in the PNW area who have worked on it to review it, and have the discussion in a public forum. The stakes are too high for any lesser form of information.
I also have to wonder why this group was chosen to do the analysis. Did more local economics groups not compete? Did they ask for too much money?
My main experience with large EIS’s (and longest!) was Colorado Roadless. I can’t imagine contracting something that size and complexity (spotted owl, across states) nto an outfit that is potentially starting from scratch. But maybe I’m missing something. I also hope the economists at the state universities were involved in reviewing.. it would be good to see the reviews and how the comments were responded to in a public venue.
I think it would be interesting to investigate further exactly what the FS did right with the cumulative effects of other species, and apparently, according to Judge Molloy, did wrong with lynx.
It seems odd to me that the FS would do an adequate analysis for the other species, but not for lynx (look at past, present and reasonably foreseeable future actions). Below is a quote from Judge Molloy’s decision (italics in both below quotes are mine) :
Once an agency detemines the geographical scope of its cumulative-effects
analysis, it must analyze the incremental impact of the proposed project when
added to past, present, and reasonably foreseeable actions within the selected
geographical area. Ctr for Envtl. Law & Policy, 655 F.3d at 1007; 40 C.F.R. §
1508.7. The plaintiffs in this case insist the Forest Service’s cumulative effects
Cumulative effects on lynx analysis for lynx is inadequate. On this point they are correct. On remand the
Forest Service must prepare a supplemental EA that adequately addresses the
cumulative effects for lynx, and if necessary after that review, an EIS.
“Consideration of cumulative impacts requires some quantified or detailed
information that results in a useful analysis, even when the agency is preparing an
EA and not an BIS.” Id. “An EA’s analysis of cumulative impacts ‘must give a
sufficiently detailed catalogue of past, present, and future projects, and provide
adequate analysis about how these projects, and differences between the projects,
are thought to have impacted the environment.’” Te-Moak Tribe ofW. Shoshone of
Nev. v. U.S. Dept. ofInt., 608 F.3d 592, 603 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Lands
Council v. Powell, 395 F.3d 1019, 1028 (9th Cir. 2004)). “An agency may,
however, characterize the cumulative effects ofpast actions in the aggregate
without enumerating every past project that has affected an area.” Ctr for Envtl.
Law & Policy, 655 F.3d at 1007.
When there is no BIS containing a cumulative effects analysis, “[T]he scope
of the required analysis in the EA is correspondingly increased.” Kern, 284 F.3d at
1077. “Without such information, neither the court nor the public … can be
assured that the [agency] provided the hard look that it is required to provide.” Te
Moak Tribe ofW Shoshone ofNev. , 608 F.3d at 603 (citations and internal
Depending on what the cumulative effects analysis
shows, the Forest Service might be required to prepare an EIS for the Project. See
40 C.F.R. § 1508.27(b)(7).
Here, the Forest Service did not discuss or mention any past projects or
actions in its cumulative effects analysis for lynx. (See EA, A-I FS000066.) In the
EA, the Forest Service discusses how it recently acquired 640 acres ofland owned
by Plum Creek Timber Company. (fd.) It discusses the impact of snowmobile
activity in the area. (Id.) But there is no discussion of past projects or activities.
Even assuming there are no past projects or activities that would have a
cumulative effect when considered along with the Colt Summit Project, the Forest
Service must still “characterize the cumulative effects of past actions in the
“neither the court nor the public … can be assured that the [agency] provided the
hard look that it is required to provide.” Te-Moak Tribe ofW. Shoshone ofNev. ,
608 F.3d at 603 (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).
etr for Envtl. Law & Policy, 655 F.3d at 1007.
I thought it would be interesting to compare the Judge’s statements to the US Attorneys’ on the point of cumulative effects on lynx, but don’t have a PACER account, nor would I know exactly what document to look for. To me, it would be illuminating to hear both sides. Can someone help locate this document, so we can hear the other side?
I could easily find the appeal response here (worth looking at to examine the kitchen-sinkery that the plaintiffs started with during the appeal).
Issue 32. The appellants allege the significance of the cumulative effects of habitat
fragmentation and reduction due to logging, road building, fire suppression, and other
management activities in regards to their effects on population levels or viability was not
Response: The Wildlife Report (PF, Doc. A-20, Table 5, pp. 14 to 15) indicates the project may
impact some individuals of some species, but there is no indication of project effects on
population levels or species viability of any threatened, sensitive, or management indicator
Fragmentation is discussed in the Wildlife Report (PF, Doc. A-20, pp. 93 to 96). It concludes
that the proposed action would have “no impact” on fragmentation, corridors, or linkages
because the vegetation would not be altered beyond patterns that occur naturally from fire and
other disturbance, and open road density would not increase.
Cumulative effects discussions are covered in the Wildlife Report’s affected environment
sections (PF, Doc. A-20). Effects for connectivity, fragmentation, and linkages are discussed
where that issue has been raised: lynx (pp. 27 to 31); grizzly bear (pp. 35 to 45), fisher (pp. 49 to
52), wolverine (pp. 53 to 54), northern bog lemming (pp. 55 to 56), Townsend’s big-eared bat
(pp. 57 to 58), black-backed woodpecker (pp. 60 to 65), flammulated owl (pp. 67 to 70), boreal
(western) toad (pp. 70 to 72), northern goshawk (pp. 76 to 81), elk (pp. 81 to 85), and pileated
woodpecker (pp. 87 to 91).
The Biological Assessment for lynx and grizzly bear (PF, Doc. A-25) and subsequent letters of
concurrence (PF, Doc. K-14) indicate the USFWS concurred with the determinations for these
species (which include analyses on linkage and corridors). The record discusses effects of
habitat fragmentation on population levels and viability and is in compliance with NEPA,
NFMA, and ESA.
Thanks to my heroine of the day…
TEXT ORDER granting in part and denying in part Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment; granting in part and denying in part  Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. A separate Opinion will be entered in this case, however for the benefit of the parties and their planning I am denying most of the plaintiff’s claims, save one, and granting most of the defendant’s assertions, save one. The Project complies with Standards VEG S6 and ALL S1, which relate to lynx and lynx critical habitat. The project also complies with the Inland Native Fish Strategy standards governing streamside and wetland buffers. The Forest Service adequately analyzed the Project’s effects on lynx and grizzlies and did not violate Section 7(a)(2) of the Endangered Species Act. Furthermore, the Service did not improperly exclude the Summit Salvage Project Area from its analysis. The shortcoming of the Service, and the question on which the plaintiff’s prevail is in one aspect of the NEPA evaluation. The Service violated NEPA by failing to adequately analyze the Project’s cummulative effects on lynx. Consequently on this issue plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is granted and the cummulative effects analysis on lynx is remanded to the Forest Service for further consideration and analysis. In all other respects the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment is DENIED and defendant’s motion for summary judgement is GRANTED. A written order with my reasoning will follow. Signed by Judge Donald W. Molloy on 6/20/2012. (Molloy, Donald)
Thanks, JZ for this AP story in the Helena IR.
Lolo National Forest Supervisor Debbie Austin said the one-paragraph order does not address the status of the project, so both sides must wait for the full order to determine the effect of Molloy’s ruling. But Austin declared it a win for the project, saying the judge ruled with the Forest Service on most of the claims brought against it.
“We won on 11 of the 12 counts, and most importantly, we did show that we provided adequate analysis and are providing adequate protections for lynx, grizzly bears and bull trout,” Austin said. “We’re just waiting for the full opinion and we’re looking forward to strengthening the cumulative effects analysis and moving forward.”
The Wilderness Society also called the ruling a victory for the project because Molloy upheld “their most significant argument,” that the project would not harm lynx, grizzly bears and bull trout.
Assessing the long-term cumulative effects on lynx habitat won’t present a major obstacle because the judge has already agreed the project won’t harm lynx, the organization said.
Garrity said that when the Colt Summit Project is put into the context of other logging projects on private land and in the neighboring Flathead National Forest, there is a real threat to lynx habitat.
“I don’t think that’s something they can paper over,” Garrity said. “It’s a real issue.”
Austin said contracts for part of the project that are not being contested, such as roadwork and culvert repairs, already have been awarded and work could begin as early as July 1. A contract for the logging portion of the project has not yet been awarded, and advertising the timber sale has been pushed back to later in the summer because of other priorities, she said.
But the important thing, Austin said, is that the judge’s ruling is a good sign of the strength of the collaborative process and the Forest Service will be working to develop more projects using that method.
“The design and development is much better and I think that is shown in the judge’s decision,” she said.
Note from Sharon: It should be interesting to see what kind of cumulative effects analysis is “enough.” Apparently, the bull trout and grizzly bear cumulative effects were “enough,” so we’ll be able to tell what Judge Molloy thought was missing. PS If anyone has a copy of the order please send to email@example.com.
Here’s a link.
Here’s an excerpt:
In a brief order that will be followed by a lengthier written opinion, Molloy granted the Forest Service’s motion for summary judgment on several points. Among other things, he concluded that the Forest Service had adequately reviewed the potential direct impact of the proposal on lynx and grizzly bears.
But he ruled that the analysis of the project’s cumulative impact on lynx as required by the National Environmental Policy Act was not sufficient.
The Forest Service will now have to conduct that analysis before the plan can go ahead.
Megan Birzell of the Wilderness Society, a supporter of the plan, said Molloy’s finding was not a major setback because of the judge’s concurrent finding that the project passed muster under the Endangered Species Act.
“The judge said it won’t have an impact on lynx, but the Forest Service needs to beef up their analysis to better document that,” she said.
It will be interesting to see exactly what the documentation didn’t have that the judge was looking for.
I received permission to reproduce this in its entirety so here it is. Here’s the link
POCATELLO, ID (June 13)–The BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) today strongly criticized a U.S. Forest Service proposal to exempt major ground disturbing activities from environmental analysis and public comment.
The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) today began accepting public comment on a proposed change in regulations that would allow certain activities, including road obliteration, to be exempt from any public comment or analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The proposed rule would allow the agency to bypass normal environmental review for projects that remove, replace or modify water control structures and remove debris and sediment after natural or human-caused events including floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The rule would also exempt road decommissioning efforts such, as stabilizing slopes, restoring vegetation, blocking the entrance to the road, installing waterbars and removing culverts.
However, the proposal would also exempt major ground disturbing activities such as completely eliminating the road bed by restoring natural contours and slopes.
“Some of the agency’s recommendations make sense, but as usual, they go too far,” said Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Policy Director for BRC. Hawthorne said, “If 40 years of NEPA has taught us anything it is that noble intentions don’t justify half-baked analysis. A bulldozer moving dirt is a bulldozer moving dirt. Environmental impacts don’t magically disappear because the source of sediment is called a restoration project.”
“This borderlines on willful mismanagement,” said Greg Mumm, BRC’s Executive Director. “The Forest Service is sitting on 20 to 40 million acres of beetle-killed fire hazard and the fuse is lit. Their priorities are out of whack.” Mumm said.
As an example, Mumm said that just in Colorado some 6.6 million acres are affected by the mountain bark beetle epidemic. The agency estimates that, over the next 10 years, an average of 100,000 trees will fall daily. Visitors to USFS lands are affected not only by the visual impacts, falling trees pose serious risk to human life and the infrastructure our rural communities rely on. Dead trees across the state have created heavy fuel loading which can result in intense, so-called “fatal wildfires.” Beetle-killed trees now threaten thousands of miles of roads, trails and developed recreation sites. Mumm said; “Exempting culvert removal is all well and good, but the agency crosses a line when, at the same time, they increase analysis on such things as maintaining safe power transmission corridors.”
Hawthorne also expressed frustration with the proposed changes. He noted that the USFS is saying the majority of issues associated with road and trail decommissioning arise from the initial decision whether to close a road or trail via the travel planning process. “That’s not our experience,” Hawthorne said. BRC has been urging the USFS to develop a streamlined procedure to allow public comment before any ground disturbing or road obliteration activities are proposed precisely because the travel planning is usually focused on recreational users of the Forest. Other users are often assured their access and activities could still continue under stipulations of their permit, lease or other agreement.
Hawthorne said few, if any, USFS travel planning projects get it right the first time. “Many travel planning projects we are aware of have been amended within one or two years after completion, and many have been amended even before the plan has been completely implemented on the ground.” It is quite likely that routes proposed for decommissioning will be necessary additions in future recreation and travel planning. Hawthorne said the fact the agency doesn’t want any public involvement means the agency probably doesn’t care about any potential recreational uses of these routes.
# # #
The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. 1-800-BlueRib – http://www.sharetrails.org
This is the USDA Press Release online here.
USDA Forest Service Seeks Comments on Efforts to Improve Efficiency of Forest Conservation Activities
Improved restoration efficiency is goal of three proposed categorical exclusions
WASHINGTON, June 12, 2012 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced a proposed rule to streamline and shorten categories of environmental review for certain restoration projects on National Forests. The proposed rule will allow the Forest Service to more efficiently implement projects related to improving water flow and the restoration of land and habitat.
“We are gaining efficiencies that allow us to move more rapidly through the environmental review process while reducing the cost to the taxpayers of unnecessary documentation,” said Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. “These projects are really a win-win for the environment and the public and will result in positive environmental outcomes.”
The three proposed categorical exclusions published in today’s Federal Register facilitate the Forest Service to:
restore the flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains by removing, replacing or modifying water control structures;
restore lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions by removing debris and sediment conditions following natural or human-caused events; and
restore, rehabilitate or stabilize lands occupied by non-National Forest System roads and trails to a more natural condition.
“These proposed changes will allow us to be more responsive and do a better job of working with local governments, Tribes and communities to move forward important on-the-ground projects,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.
The proposed rule accelerates the pace of restoration and calls for a three- to five-page decision documentation process, which is less costly to write and review and can reduce the timeframe by as much as nine months compared to a typical environmental assessments which can be hundreds of pages long. This process retains the public notice, comment and appeals procedures that currently apply to categorical exclusions.
Categorical exclusions define certain actions that typically do not have a significant effect on the human environment and therefore do not require preparation of a larger environmental review, such as an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. The agency establishes categorical exclusions based, in part, on its experience implementing similar actions, the experience of other agencies and information provided by the public.
The comment period for the proposed change in Forest Service regulations is open for 60 days and closes August 13, 2012. Comments must be received in writing and can be submitted online, by mail or via facsimile.
Note from Sharon.. I’m curious to see what folks think about these CEs who generally think that CE’s are faux NEPA (well they didn’t exactly say that, but weren’t exactly CE enthusiasts .
May be of interest:
EPA Releases Innovative Mapping Tool to Improve Environmental Reviews and Planning / NEPAssist part of CEQ initiative to increase efficiency and effectiveness of environmental reviews
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the public release of a web-based mapping tool developed for Federal agencies to facilitate more efficient and effective environmental reviews and project planning. The tool, NEPAssist, is part of an initiative developed by the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to modernize and reinvigorate federal agency implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) through innovation, public participation and transparency. NEPAssist draws information from publicly available federal, state, and local datasets, allowing NEPA practitioners, stakeholders and the public to view information about environmental conditions within the area of a proposed project quickly and easily at early stages of project development.
“NEPA helps ensure that Federal agencies protect the health of our communities and the natural resources that support our economy,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “Making this tool available to the public will help make information more accessible, a key part of our effort to increase transparency for projects that impact American communities.”
“NEPAssist helps users identify the possible impacts of federal projects on local environments and communities,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “By making tools like NEPAssist available to the public, EPA is helping citizens to be involved in environmental decisions that affect their community.”
NEPA requires all federal agencies to incorporate environmental considerations in their planning and decision-making through a systematic interdisciplinary process. NEPAssist is designed to help promote collaboration and early involvement in the NEPA process by raising important environmental issues at the earliest stages of project development. The mapping tool can be used by Federal agencies to identify alternative project locations, to avoid and minimize impacts, as well as identify potential mitigation areas.
In October 2011, NEPAssist was selected as a White House Council on Environmental Quality National Environmental Policy Act Pilot Project to improve the efficiency of Federal environmental reviews. CEQ has selected five NEPA Pilot Projects that will employ innovative approaches to completing environmental reviews that can be replicated across the Federal Government. For more information on the NEPA Pilots Program, please visit http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/nepa-pilot-project.
More information on NEPA: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/nepa/index.html
More information on CEQ NEPA Pilot Projects: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa/nepa-pilot-project