Action Alert! Help defend NEPA, a bedrock environmental law!

In Defense of NEPA

Why you should care about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and how to help

BMBP field surveys every major timber sale in our work area. Based on what we find on the ground, we fight hard to protect mature and old growth forests, clean water, and important wildlife habitat. Proposed changes to NEPA would severely limit our ability to provide meaningful public input.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a bedrock environmental law that provides the foundation for agency transparency and accountability concerning how projects affect the environment. It is one of the most democratic laws in the country, and seeks to ensure that the public and local communities have a voice in how public lands and resources are managed. NEPA requires that agencies conduct transparent environmental analyses and consider public input for projects that may have significant effects on the environment, such as logging, livestock grazing, toxic herbicide use, mining, and drilling on public lands.

NEPA is under attack: Trump and the republican administration have proposed changes that would gut key portions of NEPA, and would roll back or severely weaken portions of the law that provide for transparent environmental analyses, meaningful oversight, and public input regarding much of the logging on public lands.

Please speak up for public forests, and send in your comments today! We need environmental laws such as NEPA to be strengthened, not weakened!

Please speak up to defend NEPA now! Submit your comments today. The comment deadline has been extended until August 26th. Email your comments to: nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us or submit comments online at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FS-2019-0010-0001

Proposed changes to NEPA: The proposed changes would allow for expedited logging of forests on public lands by gutting important requirements for environmental analyses in many situations, and by eliminating key opportunities for public review. The proposed changes would put clean water, vulnerable species, and forests under attack from rampant logging and weakened oversight.

Without adequate public oversight, egregious abuses and ecologically costly mistakes are much more likely to occur. This picture shows old growth Ponderosa pines which were accidentally killed by the negligent use by agencies of a toxic herbicide. Hundreds of old growth Ponderosa pines were killed along HWY 20 on public lands on the Deschutes National Forest outside of Sisters, Oregon.

The proposed changes include greatly expanding the use of “Categorical Exclusions”. Categorical exclusions were originally intended to exempt minor actions from environmental review– actions such as fixing latrines or installing picnic tables at campgrounds. Categorical exclusions have already been expanded in recent years to include certain kinds of logging projects, and unfortunately resulted in a loss of opportunities for public comments or oversight, and in negative environmental impacts. The proposed changes would make this situation exponentially worse.

The current proposed changes to NEPA would greatly expand categorical exclusions so that many large-scale logging projects and other actions would be exempt from public oversight and science-based environmental review.

For example, the changes would expand the use of categorical exclusions to include:

  • Commercial logging up to 4,200 acres (6.6 square miles!) per project;
  • Building up to five miles of new roads or 10 miles of reconstructed road at a time;
  • Allowing for illegally created roads and trails to become part of the official roads and trails systems;
  • Bulldozing new pipeline or utility rights of way up to 20 acres (e.g., 4 miles at 40’ across).

Personalize your comments as much as possible! Suggested talking points:

The proposed changes would gut requirements for adequate and transparent environmental review of logging projects, road-related actions, and pipeline or utility projects. Without adequate environmental review or opportunities for meaningful public oversight and input for these actions:

  • Endangered and threatened species will be put in jeopardy of population declines, extirpation, and extinction.
  • Water quality and stream habitats, which are already suffering from pollution and overly high temperatures on public lands, will face severe and increasingly widespread degradation due to increased logging and road-related activities. You can read more about logging, roads, and streams by clicking here.
  • Wildlife habitats and connectivity corridors will be logged at an increasing pace and scale, and become unsuitable for many species that rely on them. You can read more about some of the logging projects and the specific threats they pose to biodiversity and ecological integrity in eastern Oregon by clicking here.
  • The proposed changes would result in a more fragmented landscape, meaning that species would be less able to migrate, shift their ranges, maintain genetic connectivity, or adapt to climate change. Large habitat blocks with strong connectivity corridors are needed by species if they are to survive and adapt to climate change. You can read more about how logging and road-related actions can exacerbate the negative effects of climate change on streams, wildlife, and ecosystems by clicking here.

    Past logging within the Sunrise timber sale area. Sunrise is a current timber sale on the Umatilla National Forest that BMBP field surveyed, and on which we submitted comments and objection. The Forest Service chose not to even bother with negotiations or an objection resolution hearing, or to seriously consider our public input, on this sale.
  • Carbon sequestration will be lost in favor of profits. Logging is the largest source of carbon emissions in Oregon. The proposed changes would make it easier for the agency to log forests more quickly and on a much more widespread basis, both of which would likely increase carbon emissions.
  • The cumulative impacts of logging in large, back-to-back projects (which could each be exempted from NEPA under the proposed changes) would mean that severe negative impacts to wildlife, water quality, and ecosystems would occur on an enormous and ecologically unsustainable scale.
    • In your comments, you can ask the agency to back up its claims or assumptions. For example, what factual information does the Forest Service have to support its assumption that logging and roading projects will not have significant impacts on the environment—especially given that multiple categorical exclusion logging projects can be combined and add up in back-to-back projects across the landscape?
  • The Forest Service consistently fails to conduct meaningful, widespread, or long-term monitoring. You can ask that the Forest Service provide monitoring data that prove that logging as ‘restoration’ is actually beneficial to water quality, wildlife, or forest ecosystems. Ask for post-logging monitoring evidence or case studies that would back up their conclusions that logging is restoration.
  • Much of the Forest Service’s justification for logging is not based on science, or is speculative at best. The agency is ignoring a mountain of well-documented scientific evidence showing the negative effects of logging and roads on many at-risk or listed species, wildlife habitats, clean water, carbon sequestration, ecosystems, and even wildfire risk. You can read more about fire ecology and the scientific controversy around this issue here.
  • Comment on why you think that transparent and meaningful environmental analyses, with opportunities for public review and input, are important to you.
  • User-created roads and illegal roads are a serious and widespread problem on public lands, and negatively affect clean water, streams, at-risk and vulnerable species, and wildlife habitats. They need to be decommissioned, not sanctioned. Allowing illegal user-created roads to become part of the official road system sanctions and incentivizes the creation of illegal roads. We need to instead enforce existing laws and regulations, and to lessen the bloated and ecologically and economically unsustainable road system that currently exists on National Forests.

    Existing roads (in red) shown on the Malheur National Forest (administrative boundary in light green). Data sources and software: FSGeodata Clearinghouse accessed at https://data.fs.usda.gov/geodata/edw/datasets.php; GoogleEarth Pro.
  • Road building and reconstruction often cause sediment pollution into streams and waterways, and can severely degrade water quality and stream habitats. Road building or reconstruction should require full review under NEPA, and should not be exempted as a categorical exclusion.
    • With few exceptions, no new roads should be built on National Forests, especially without in-depth NEPA review. National Forests already have far too many roads. There are approximately 90,000 miles of roads on National Forest lands in Oregon and Washington. In eastern Oregon, for example, the Malheur and Wallowa-Whitman National Forests already contain over 9,000 miles of existing roads in each forest (over 18,000 miles of existing roads total). One could drive from the northwestern tip of Washington state to the farthest northeastern tip of Maine, down to Miami, Florida, over to San Diego, California, and back up to the northwestern tip of Washington state, and still not have traveled as many road miles as are contained within either the Malheur or the Wallowa-Whitman National Forests. Many National Forests are facing similarly bloated road networks that are environmentally and economically unsustainable. The proposed changes to NEPA would make it even easier to build or rebuild roads, with less public oversight or transparent and meaningful environmental analyses. This would be a serious mistake ecologically and economically, and would also jeopardize public safety.
  • The expansion of categorical exclusions to include bulldozing new pipeline or utility rights of way up to 20 acres (e.g., 4 miles at 40’ across) would further fragment forests, harm wildlife and waterways, and make it easier to build and expand fossil fuel or mass-scale energy projects. This is the wrong direction for addressing climate change and loss of biodiversity, which are the most pressing environmental crises of our time.
Karen Coulter on an old growth ponderosa stump along HWY 26.

Public lands are already facing widespread degradation and attacks. For example, in eastern Oregon the Forest Service is continuing to target mature and old growth forests, wildlife corridors, streamside corridors, and never-logged forests with logging projects across the landscape. Many endangered, threatened, and sensitive species continue to decline, sometimes severely, and to take a back seat to profits. Streams and rivers are already suffering from widespread degradation due to roads, logging, and overgrazing and trampling from livestock.

Its important to note that the Forest Service and other agencies have a long history of repeatedly greenwashing their logging projects as needed for ‘restoration’ or to supposedly benefit forest ‘health’. Such rhetoric continues to be used by agencies and administrations to justify the logging of large trees, old and mature forests, and streamside corridors; converting old and mature forests into tree plantations; the spraying toxic pesticides and herbicides; and the list goes on. The current changes proposed to NEPA would make it much easier for federal agencies to continue this path of destruction, and strip opportunities for meaningful oversight or accountability.

Caroline measuring a large old growth tree in the Ragged Ruby timber sale in the Malheur National Forest. Many sales, particularly those in the Malheur, are targeting large trees, old and mature forests, and streamside corridors for logging. BMBP is working to challenge these logging proposals. The proposed changes to NEPA would severely limit how transparent the Forest Service has to be about their plans, and eliminate many opportunities for meaningful public comment.

Speak up today! NEPA is the foundation for transparency and public oversight on public lands. Without NEPA’s requirements that agencies conduct transparent environmental analyses and consider public input, meaningful public oversight and advocacy work would be become much more difficult if not impossible, and in many cases would simply be excluded from relevant legal influence. Environmental degradation and agency abuses will become much, much worse.

The current state of affairs: Logging, and the roads and toxic herbicide use associated with logging on public lands, continue to pose serious threats to clean water, biodiversity, sensitive and at-risk species, and the climate. Only a small percentage of logging projects on public lands face litigation from environmental groups. If the federal government adhered to existing laws that are designed to ensure credible environmental analyses and protection of ecosystems, clean water, and endangered or threatened species, these lawsuits would not be, as they often are, successful.

NEPA has already suffered from attacks that have succeeded in significantly weakening portions of this law, and have resulted in reduced public oversight and greater environmental degradation. The current changes proposed to NEPA would constitute a severe and crippling blow to public oversight and advocacy for forests, and would open the door to rampant and greatly increased environmental degradation and destruction.

While not perfect, NEPA and other environmental laws help to ensure that public lands are actually public, rather than completely in the control of private corporate interests. Logging companies and other corporate interests already enjoy outsized benefits of profiting from public lands, and the public pays for the infrastructure, cleanup, and restoration costs associated with the resource extraction and environmental degradation—often at a monetary loss to the public.

Given the current environmental crises such as loss of biodiversity and climate change, this is exactly the wrong direction to go—we need stronger environmental laws, not fewer or weakened laws!

What NEPA does (and does not) mandate: NEPA requires that federal agencies take a “hard look” at the environmental effects of their actions, that they conduct publicly transparent environmental analyses, and that they consider public input. The law applies to actions which may have significant effects on the environment and which use federal dollars or takes place on public lands.

The law does not require agencies to protect the environment, or avoid actions that are environmentally destructive. It simply mandates that the environmental consequences of their proposed actions are transparently and clearly analyzed, and that the public can review and provide input on the proposed actions.

History is important: The environmental laws and protections that we have in place are the result of decades of costly and catastrophic pollution and environmental degradation that often jeopardized public health. Our environmental laws grew out of public outrage over polluted air and water, and devastated ecosystems—outcomes of decisions that were largely made behind closed doors and without the input of the public or local communities. NEPA was signed into law in 1969 by Richard Nixon, and a spate of additional environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act (1970), Clean Water Act (1972), the Endangered Species Act (1973), were passed shortly thereafter. Public outcry about environmental devastation was the platform on which NEPA and other bedrock environmental laws were passed. The public demanded that their voices be considered in matters that affected them and their communities, and put their health and well being at risk.

We can’t slide backwards, or go back to an era of no oversight or transparency, rampant abuses, and widespread environmental destruction. Please speak up to defend NEPA now! Submit your comments today. The comment deadline has been extended until August 26th. Email with your comments to: nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us or submit comments online at: https://www.regulations.gov/document?D=FS-2019-0010-0001

Or you can also mail comments to: NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker, USDA Forest Service, 125 South State Street, Suite 1705, Salt Lake City, UT 84138

The USDA’s summaries and an FAQ about the proposed changes can be found here as well as here and here and here. The entirety of the proposed changes are detailed here.  

Thank you for commenting, and for standing up for forests and streams on public lands!


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