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News & Press: Current News

USFS Proposes to Improve NEPA Practices

Saturday, June 22, 2019   (4 Comments)
Posted by: Doug Gann
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News Release

USDA Proposes Bold Moves to Improve Forest, Grassland Management

June 12, 2019 -


The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Forest Service (USFS) released proposed changes to modernize how the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposed updates would not only give the Forest Service the tools and flexibility to manage the land and tackle critical challenges like wildfire, insects, and disease but also improve service to the American people. Revising the rules will improve forest conditions and make it simpler for people to use and enjoy their national forests and grasslands at lower cost to the taxpayer. The revised rules will also make it easier to maintain and repair the infrastructure people need to use and enjoy their public lands—the roads, trails, campgrounds, and other facilities.

While these proposed changes will save time and resources, they are ultimately intended to better protect people, communities and forests from catastrophic wildfire and ensure a high level of engagement with people and communities when doing related work and associated environmental analyses.

“We are committed to doing the work to protect people and infrastructure from catastrophic wildfire.  With millions of acres in need of treatment, years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution – especially when data and experience show us we can get this work done with strong environmental protection standards as well as protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” said Secretary Perdue.

In 2008, the Forest Service codified its procedures for complying with NEPA in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) at 36 CFR 220. However, these regulations, in large part, still reflect the policies and practices established by the agency’s 1992 NEPA Manual and Handbook. When these regulations were adopted in 2008, they were intended to modernize and improve management processes. The proposed rule would further modernize the agency’s NEPA policy by incorporating experience from past 10 years. This experience includes input from comments on the Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking from January of 2018, as well as feedback from roundtables, workshops, and input from agency experts.

“We have pored over 10 years of environmental data and have found that in many cases, we do redundant analyses, slowing down important work to protect communities, livelihoods and resources,” said Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen. “We now have an opportunity to use that information to our advantage, and we want to hear from the people we serve to improve these proposed updates.”

The updates would create a new suite of “categorical exclusions,” a classification under the NEPA excluding certain routine activities from more extensive, time-consuming analysis under an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The proposed categorical exclusions would be for restoration projects, roads and trails management, and recreation and facility management, as well as special use authorizations that issue permits for outfitters and guides, community organizations, civic groups and others who seek to recreate on our national forests and grasslands. The new categorical exclusions are based on intensive analysis of hundreds of environmental assessments and related data and when fully implemented will reduce process delays for routine activities by months or years.

The proposed update is open for public comment for 60 days after publication in the Federal Register. Public comments are reviewed and considered when developing the final rule. Instructions on how to provide comments are included in the online notice.

More information on the proposed rule change and how to comment is available on the Forest Service website.


Sharon Leach says...
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Peggy and Rosemary - Categorical exclusions are a controversial topic, but as you point out, without EIS and other public review elements, projects can negatively impact ecosystems and recreation experience. Bike users do have (a lot of) influence on trails. Where possible, I believe it is good to have distinct trails for different user groups. A quiet hike and a fast-moving bike are not always ideal companions. And where trails impact fragile areas, it seems imperative to have more public comment, rather than less. NFH encourages cabin owner participation in forest decisions (like restoration, fuels, trails and more). Public lands depend on Public Comments and cabin owners are strong stakeholders in the process. At the same time, *some* renewals of old uses may need less NEPA process. Thanks for writing and feel free to write to me Sharon Leach, NFH Executive Director directly at
Peggy & Rosemary Laughlin says...
Posted Wednesday, July 15, 2020
I do NOT agree that USFS apply categorical exclusions to "restoration projects, roads & trails management, etc". We currently have a controversial trail expansion / restoration project in Lake Tahoe basin. "Multi use" trails are being constructed where one approved design was authorized, resulting in "conflict of use" between hikers, bikers & horses. Increased pressure to expand recreation opportunities is already a serious problem. LTBMU has allowed a mountain bike group with grants from corporate interests to influence trail reconstruction projects in pristine non wilderness areas around Fallen Leaf Lake without adequate EIS or public input, resulting in permanent alterations & degradation to environmentally sensitive, fragile terrain. Under loose terms "maintenance" & "bring up to standards", USFS has quietly altered approved plans without public input, adequate supervision or adherence to environmental, water quality, safety, and its own policies for review. $$ TALKS!
Sharon Leach says...
Posted Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Frank - This is an interesting perspective. Hopefully, the USFS will actually be able to overcome this kind of regulatory overkill as they reform the process. This is why recreation residence permit holders are and can be great partners for the Agency. We see what works and what is not working for the overworked staff and already stretched resources. Glad you responded. Very interesting discussion.
Frank Kalinoski says...
Posted Tuesday, July 16, 2019
In the Laguna Mtn rec Area in the Cleveland NF, SDG&E was replacing an old wooden power pole with a new steel pole to mitigate fire danger. On this long -disturbed ground next to a paved county road several non-working observers apparently had to be present to ensure compliance with NEPA - USFS biologist, USFS archeologist, USFS admin, local native indian tribe rep, SDG&E rep, SD County Road dept. This was a clear example of bureaucratic overkill and NEPA abuse. The USFS concern over ground disturbance, ecological impact and indian artifact abuse on the ground occupied by a power pole is ridiculous, unnecessary, costly in time and money and resources. Then the USFS complains it lacks the resources to perform its many tasks. The problem is their allocation and prioritization and management of resources.