Environmental Protections and Public Input Removed from National Forest Management Planning
The Bush Administration has finalized a rule change exempting forest management plans from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). With the change, forest managers will no longer have to consider the environmental impacts of their forest management plans and can fast-track plans through public comment periods, eliminating opportunities for public input.
Possibly the most important decisions forest managers make about how to manage national forests, the management plans evaluate and determine how much logging, drilling, and recreation can occur on a forest and where it can occur. Forest-wide management practices also are set into these plans, such as the width of stream-side buffers designed to protect waterways and fish. In addition, decisions about how to manage habitat and wildlife are made at this stage.
According to the nonprofit group Defenders of Wildlife, proper planning enables forest managers to determine which areas will remain road free and which will be opened for resource extraction. The group fears that this new regulation will create an open season on national forests, and that the U.S. Forest Service and communities near the forests will not have the opportunity to consider or comment on the impacts such activities will have on forest lands.
NEPA requires the Forest Service and other federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of significant decisions such as those made in forest management plans regarding road construction, resource extraction, and recreational use. Fifteen-year forest plans for each national forest were mandated by Congress in 1976 as a reform effort to make forest managers plan for long-term forest use, to involve the public in their decision making, and to consider the overall environmental impacts of their forest management decisions.
Defenders of Wildlife says that the Forest Service under the Bush Administration has gone farther than any other agency in history in exempting significant federal actions from NEPA, and that failing to consider the effects of decisions governing such actions on the national forests will be disastrous for public resources such as water and wildlife.
The National Forest System consists of 192 million acres in 42 states, managed in 155 national forests.
Defenders of Wildlife is a national, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to the protection of native wild animals and plants in their natural communities.