Action Alert! Defend the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)

NEPA allows us to have a voice in how our public lands are managed and provides foundational environmental protection. The U.S. Forest Service is proposing significant changes to its regulations. Take action to protect how NEPA is used in Forest Service decision making!
The Mountaineers The Mountaineers
July 26, 2019
Action Alert! Defend the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA)
we appreciate collaborating on this issue with our partners at OUTDOOR ALLIANCE and WINTER WILDLANDS ALLIANCE

The U.S. Forest Service is proposing significant changes to its National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) regulations. NEPA is one of the U.S.’s foundational environmental laws that charges land management agencies to evaluate the environmental and possible social and economic impacts of a proposed action, as well as ensuring that the public has the opportunity to review and comment on proposals. NEPA is our voice to how our public lands are managed.

Do you remember when we asked you to comment on an industrial-scale mine in the Methow Valley? Or when the public submitted nearly a million comments on the proposed rollbacks to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments?

Those were public comment periods required by NEPA.

NEPA is arguably the most important law for environmental quality and public lands management in the U.S., since it requires that we measure the impact of changes to public lands, like building a new mine, a timber sale, or enlarging a parking lot, and study the potential impacts on air and water quality, recreation access, potential pollution, and more.

Right now, the Forest Service is considering broad, potentially devastating changes to how it implements NEPA that could scale back your ability to have a voice over your public lands. Their proposed changes would eliminate the public process and public notice altogether from about 98% of all Forest Service projects.

The Forest Service is accepting comments on this issue until August 12. We’ve made it easy to submit a comment directly to the Forest Service about NEPA and the public process and encourage everyone who cares about public lands to do so.


More on these proposed revisions

Last year, the Forest Service held a number of roundtables on how to improve and update NEPA regulations. Outdoor Alliance and its member groups and staff participated in many of these roundtables. Most everyone agrees that there are opportunities to improve and simplify NEPA processes, however, the revisions proposed by the Forest Service are much broader than their stated goals and would fundamentally undermine NEPA’s bedrock principles of government transparency, accountability, public involvement, and science-based decision-making.

The proposed revisions remove the public process and public notice from almost all Forest Service projects. This would be accomplished by eliminating scoping (a key process that informs the public that a land management agency is considering changes) on categorical exclusions. It also eliminates scoping for Environmental Assessments, an even bigger concern given that they encompass much bigger and more complex projects. One example of why scoping is important is in the Bozeman Ranger District on the Custer Gallatin National Forest, the North Bridger Vegetation Management Project was analyzed under a Farm Bill Categorical Exclusion. Because the public was able to participate through scoping, the project was modified to protect hiking and mountain biking trails and minimize impacts to backcountry skiing and snowmobiling. This led to a project where forest management goals were met, but not at the expense of outdoor recreation opportunities.

Among other issues, the proposed revisions also suggest that an older NEPA analysis can be used without doing a new one. This is a problem, however, when many of the prior analysis are 20-30 years old, and don’t consider current outdoor recreation activities or changing landscapes. And they would also allow the Forest Service to convert illegal trails to authorized trails without any public review or environmental analysis. Though there’s a backlog of trail creation, trails should be vetted and sustainably designed.

These revisions would leave lawsuits as one of the only options for the public to object to major changes on National Forests, which is onerous for everyone. The Forest Service is accepting public comments on these proposed revisions until August 12. It’s incredibly important that they hear from you about how these revisions would affect your ability to participate in public land management and in protecting public lands.

Take Action Now

Thanks to OUTDOOR ALLIANCE and WINTER WILDLANDS ALLIANCE for partnering with us on this issue.

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Evy Dudey
Evy Dudey says:
Aug 17, 2019 10:45 AM

The Forest Service is accepting public comments until August 26th, per the Take Action Now link.