Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Dismantling NEPA Part 2: Local BLM Efforts to Undermine the Public Input Process

A BLM field trip into a portion of the Nedsbar Timber Sale as part of NEPA planning in 2014. If the Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands Environmental Assessment is approved, community meetings, field trips and public comment periods would be a thing of the past. 
On a national level the Trump Administration is pushing hard to eliminate or drastically reduce public involvement in federal land management planning, but it is not just a national issue. Local land managers in southwestern Oregon are also working to find ways to cut the public out of the process. This includes our local BLM, who is proposing an extremely large Programmatic Environmental Assessment of Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands (IVM-RL EA). 

Although the name intentionally sounds rather benign, the goal of this project is to increase timber production without conducting environmental review or soliciting public input. "Integrated Vegetation Management" is often actually commercial logging and "resilient lands," refers to the entire landscape. When translated from industry/agency jargon, Integrated Vegetation Management for Resilient Lands, means, "log the entire landscape."

The Programmatic EA would allow 15,000 acres of commercial logging and 25 miles of new road construction annually on the Roseburg and Medford District BLM. The majority of the project, including 14,000 acres of commercial logging and 20 miles of new road construction, would be proposed annually on the Medford District BLM, including both the Grants Pass and Ashland Resource Areas.

A fire-adapted forest proposed for logging in the Nedsbar Timber Sale and canceled due to public input during the NEPA process.

Under the proposals of the Programmatic EA, the Medford District BLM would no longer be required to conduct site specific environmental analysis and would no longer ask for public input or solicit public comments on up to 14,000 acres of commercial logging each year. Instead, they will notify the public only after approving a timber sale. Project approval would be followed by a mere 15-day Objection period, and barring an objection or lawsuit, commercial logging projects could then proceed to the federal timber auction.

Although the proposal would allow logging in nearly any land management designation, it appears to be specifically designed to implement logging prescriptions in Late Successional Reserve (LSR) forest. LSR forest was set aside to protect the habitat of the Northern spotted owl, to encourage the maintenance and development of late successional forest habitats, and to provide connectivity between old forests. LSR forests are the foundation of Northern spotted owl recovery and are necessary for the Northern spotted owl's continued persistence. 

The IVM-RL EA would allow land managers to downgrade or remove Northern spotted owl habitat within LSR forest by logging large, old trees, removing important habitat elements and significant levels of canopy cover, all with no environmental review or public comment. 

In fact, currently the Grants Pass Resource Area is considering the Late Munger Project in LSR forest. The project is located in the Williams Creek watershed between Mungers and Powell Creeks. Despite having no authorization to do so, the agency is already planning the Late Munger Project under the expectation that the project will be "tiered" to the Programmatic EA and approved without environmental review or public comment.

Given that no EA has been published, no analysis has been conducted and no official decision has been recorded for the Programmatic EA, the Late Munger Project should be canceled. Either the outcomes of the Programmatic EA are predetermined or the development of the Late Munger Project is pre-decisional; either way, the development of the Late Munger Project under the currently unauthorized provisions of the Programmatic EA is unacceptable.

The proposed IVM-RL EA would also build many miles of new roads, create new log landings, drag large logs across mountainsides with tractors, clear vast skyline yarding corridors and increase fire risks, not only in the Late Munger Project, but throughout southwestern Oregon.

The BLM calls thinning like this in the O'Lickety Timber Sale restoration or fuel reduction. It is, in fact, commercial timber production that degrades ecological values and tends to increase fire risks as woody vegetation fills in the canopy gaps created by commercial logging operations.

Although the agency claims to be conducting "habitat restoration and resilience treatments," the Programmatic EA would allow the agency to log virtually anywhere in the Medford or Roseburg District BLM landbase. This could include Late Successional Reserve forests, Riparian Reserves, Lands with Wilderness Characteristics, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument and other conservation-based land management allocations. The level of harvest proposed in the Programmatic EA could range from "regeneration" logging, (a form of clearcut logging) to heavy commercial thinning. 

Unfortunately, the concept of restoration is being used as an excuse for the BLM to log virtually anywhere and by any means they deem necessary. Restoration is used as a euphemism to disguise the impact of commercial logging and provide a thick layer of greenwash over BLM timber sales. 

Despite their overly optimistic claims, BLM logging projects are far from restorative and generally include an increase in fire risk, an increase in overstory tree mortality, the spread of noxious weeds, increased soil erosion and stream sedimentation, significant impacts to biodiversity and a loss of late successional habitat used by the Pacific fisher, the Northern spotted owl, the Siskiyou Mountain salamander, and many other important wildlife species. 

What the BLM is proposing is not focused on restoring habitats, it is an attempt to increase timber production and reduce the public's ability to provide feedback or influence the process. 

Intact, old-growth forest was targeted for logging in the Pickett West Timber Sale. Large portions of the project were canceled due unacceptable impacts to the red tree vole, late successional habitat and due to public input provided during the NEPA process. NEPA tends to make land management projects more socially and environmentally acceptable and creates transparency that is important when managing public lands.

Comment now on this project and support the public's right to provide input and influence public land projects. Let the BLM know that all commercial timber projects and road construction projects should undergo a full National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process with rigorous environmental review and a full public comment process. 

To read the Scoping Notice and comment on this project, follow this link and hit "Comment on Document": 


Sunday, July 28, 2019

Dismantling NEPA Part 1: A National Push for NEPA Rule Changes

Community members and the Forest Service conducting a public field tour during a NEPA process in the Applegate. If proposed NEPA rule changes are approved, public involvement could be a thing of the past.

This summer the Forest Service proposed dramatic nationwide changes to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. These revisions to NEPA would allow widespread logging, mining and road building throughout Forest Service lands.

To achieve these goals the agency has proposed sweeping changes that would drastically limit public input and eliminate environmental review for the vast majority of Forest Service projects. These changes would essentially shut the public out of public land management planning.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the foundation of public involvement on our public lands. It is also intended to facilitate a thorough environmental analysis for federal land management projects. The public process required under NEPA has consistently made public land management projects significantly better for natural resources, wildlife, watersheds and local communities. NEPA brings a sense of democracy and accountability into the public land management planning process.

NEPA's bedrock principals include government transparency, accountability, public involvement, and science-based decision making. It is used to analyze the impacts of specific land management projects, disclose those impacts to the public and allows the agency to make more informed decisions. The public's ability to provide comment and demand a seat at the table is dependent on the integrity of the NEPA process.
The Elimination of Public Scoping
The Forest Service's proposed NEPA revisions would eliminate the requirement to conduct public scoping on most federal land management projects. Public scoping is used to inform the public of land management proposals and solicit an initial public comment period. This comment period is used to create proposed action alternatives, document public concerns and identify exceptional values at risk. 

Scoping promotes transparency, accountability and scientific credibility. It also allows land managers to meaningfully address public concerns in an EA or EIS. The proposed NEPA revisions would largely eliminate Scoping requirements for most land management projects conducted on Forest Service lands.

Categorical Exclusions

The agency has also proposed the adoption of seven new Categorical Exclusions (CE) and the expansion of two existing Categorical Exclusions. CE's are used to expedite the planning process by virtually eliminating public involvement and environmental review. 

CE's supposedly identify projects "that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and therefore, do not require preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)." Historically, CE's were meant to facilitate the maintenance of existing infrastructure or to authorize very small projects, with minimal environmental effects.

Large Forest Service logging projects, including up to 4,200 acres of commercial logging, could be approved without public input or environmental review under the newly proposed Categorical Exclusions.

The proposed NEPA revisions would allow land managers to  approve large, complex, and potentially damaging projects as CE's. It would also allow land managers to approve numerous associated projects under CE's, creating significant cumulative effects, without analyzing, documenting or disclosing those effects publicly in an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statment.

Although the Forest Service claims they need these changes "to increase the pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground," and address supposed wildfire concerns, these Categorical Exclusions would include many provisions that have no restorative benefits and do not directly address fire, fuels or community fire safety. These provisions include, but are not limited to:

  • The ability to authorize broadly defined "restoration and/or resilience activities" without public input or environmental review. This would include up to 4,200 acres (or 6.6 square miles) of commercial logging and 7,300 acres of manual thinning in a single CE. 
  • The ability to authorize the construction of up to 5 miles of new road and the reconstruction of 10 miles of existing roads in a single CE, with no public input or environmental review. 
  • The ability to convert currently illegal and environmentally damaging off-road vehicle routes into official Forest Service trails or roads without public input or environmental review. 
  • The ability to authorize damaging land management projects in Inventoried Roadless Areas with no public input or environmental review. 

The proposed rule changes would allow the agency to implement large and potentially damaging projects without site specific environmental review or meaningful public input. In fact, under the proposed rule changes, the public would only be notified of a project after it has been approved.

Determinations of NEPA Adequacy

The proposed NEPA revisions would also encourage the use of another internal review process, known as a Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA). A DNA allows Forest Service land managers to use their "experience" with past projects to authorize a project of similar nature without public comment or environmental review, again cutting the public out of the process and avoiding site specific environmental review. 

Condition-Based Management

Proposed NEPA revisions also propose the use of "condition-based management," which allows land managers to implement projects across broad landscapes based on a particular environmental condition, rather than on site specific needs. Environmental conditions such as high fuel loads, dense forests, bark beetle outbreaks, post-fire landscapes, and a broad range of other perceived and highly subjective conditions, would trigger specific management actions including logging, road building, and fuel reduction. 

Land managers would approve a range of generalized activities to address environmental conditions existing on the landscape. These activities would then be implemented across the landscape without public input or environmental review.


If these rule changes are approved it is estimated that roughly 75% of the projects currently requiring a more thorough EA or EIS would be implemented utilizing the newly proposed CE's. It is also estimated that an astounding 98% of federal land management projects would not include any level of public input before they are approved. 

    The proposed NEPA revisions will eliminate or limit important  requirements intended to protect public resources and encourage public involvement. If these provisions are approved, NEPA will be functionally dead, community-based collaboration will be a thing of the past, and science-based management will disappear from our federal lands.

    According to the official Forest Service website, the agency motto is, "Caring for the land and serving the people." The proposed NEPA rule changes will neither care for the land or serve the people. Instead they will serve the industries and ignore the people.
    Although local communities will be affected by federal land management planning decisions and often actively participate in the planning process, proposed NEPA rule changes will almost completely exclude the public from the process.

    Please Comment

    Please use the public process, while it is still available, and send in a comment opposing these unreasonable rule changes. The NEPA process should be used to front-load projects with public input, collaboration, and science. When implemented effectively NEPA can be used to find common ground, create better projects and implement non-controversial land management activities. The proposed NEPA revisions will do the opposite.

    Comments can be submitted until August 12, 2019. Please stand up for the NEPA process. The future of our National Forest lands depend on your contribution. Speak up for the science-based management, environmental review and rigorous public involvement process that NEPA currently requires. These are our public lands, please use your voice to protect them.

    To comment please follow this link and click on "Comment Now"


    Public meetings to discuss land management proposals and solicit feedback from community members are part of the NEPA public process and would be eliminated under new proposals by the BLM and Forest Service.