Letter: Why NEPA needs to be changed
On June 13, the Forest Service released a proposed rule for modernizing its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. For those of us who work closely with the Forest Service, the proposed updated rule is welcome news.
Issues such as epidemic levels of insects and disease, catastrophic wildfires and extended drought have challenged staff and resources across the U.S. This has led to “analysis paralysis,” with an Environmental Assessment (EA) taking over two years to complete and 3-5 years for an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This is not effective when there are over 80 million acres of National Forest System lands at risk of severe fire. Further, funding for preventative forest management programs has decreased as wildfire suppression consumes larger shares of the Forest Service’s budget.
In addition to forest management, other important programs such as recreation and special uses will benefit from the revised rules. The Forest Service has a backlog of 5,000 new special use permits or renewals that must go through the NEPA process. This affects more than 7,000 businesses and 120,000 local jobs. Here in Colorado, those backlogs include outfitter and guide permits for biking, hunting, camping, etc. In a state where recreation contributes greatly to the overall economy, this backlog has huge ramifications.
In a perfect world, we could just allocate more funding to the Forest Service to hire more staff, leading to faster NEPA planning. Unfortunately, that is not likely to occur. Therefore, it is critical to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of NEPA planning.
I encourage all of you who would like to see the Forest Service spend less time and money planning and more time and money actually getting projects done on the ground to submit comments to the Forest Service by Aug. 12 using the following link: http://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FS-2019-0010
Rocky Mountain States Director
Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities
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