On June 13, 2019, the Forest Service released a proposed rule amending its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures, opening the door to large-scale logging and clear-cuts in our National Forests.
The significance of this action cannot be overstated. Under the Forest Service’s “multiple use” mandate, the agency is required to balance the often competing priorities of outdoor recreation, logging, livestock grazing, energy production, and the protection of watersheds, wildlife and wilderness areas. As a panel of three federal judges aptly wrote in decision halting work on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in December 2018: “We trust the United States Forest Service to ‘speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.’”
Robust NEPA review, with the critical opportunity it provides for public input on most Forest Service projects, helps to ensure that forest management remains the product of science-based decisionmaking that does not prioritize any single use at the landscape level. NEPA is not an impediment to responsible government decisionmaking – it’s a prerequisite for it.
The Forest Service is trying to justify these environmental rollbacks under the guise of preventing forest fires, but large-scale logging can actually increase the risk of fire.
Large swaths of western forests remain at severe risk of fire, and decades of data show that intense logging has contributed to the problem. Logging operations have historically removed the largest and most fire-resistant trees. The young trees that replace cut trees are highly susceptible to fire and serve as fire ladders, allowing the fire to reach up into the canopy of the forest. Thinning and other forest management activities designed to remove hazardous fuels can and do limit the behavior of dangerous wildfires in wildland-urban inferface areas and in dry forests where regular surface fires have not been occurring, but such activities must be science-driven and should only be carried out after an environmental review has been completed.
The Forest Service’s ANPRM opens the door to inappropriate high-acre Categorical Exclusions (CEs) for activities such as logging, road-building, and restoration projects that circumvent needed environmental review. Managing national forest land responsibly, including reducing the risk of wildfires, requires landscape-level planning, science-driven decision making and public input that is accomplished through robust NEPA review. Getting forest management wrong can be deadly. Getting it right, usually requires NEPA.
These proposed changes are a blatant attempt to eliminate local input from government decision-making, institutionalize climate denial, and further the administration’s toxic fossil fuel agenda.
The Forest Service has for many years endured chronic operational and organizational challenges related to funding, staffing, and training, caused in part by a historical diversion of resources to fight wildfires. The percentage of the Forest Service’s annual appropriated budget dedicated to wildfires increased from 16 to 50 percent between 1995 and 2017, with a corresponding 39 percent reduction in all non-fire personnel since 1995.
Let’s call this proposal what it really is – a thinly veiled attempt to make it easier to rubberstamp permits for massive corporations to clear-cut, drill, and mine in our national forests. We can’t let that happen.
The good news is that you can help us fight back! Make your voice heard – go to ourforestsourvoice.org and tell the Forest Service to abandon these industry-driven rollbacks.