On Wednesday, June 12th the Forest Service released a draft rule to revise procedures for how the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The most significant change is the proposed creation of new Categorical Exclusions (CEs).
Most relevant to RVCC, the proposal creates an expansive “restoration” CE. Unlike the Healthy Forest Restoration Act (HFRA) CEs, this would allow for purely commercial harvest, absent requirements of a collaborative process, the retention of old trees, or reference to fire condition class. Furthermore, despite stating that commercial harvest must be coupled with a restoration activity to utilize the CE, restoration activities are broadly defined and include commercial harvest.
The Forest Service also proposes a different approach to public comment on NEPA analysis, reserving the scoping process for Environmental Impact Statements. Public comment for CEs and Environmental Assessments could still be conducted, but at the discretion of the responsible official.
RVCC commented during the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, an outcome of the agency’s Environmental Analysis and Decision Making (EADM) effort. There is a 60-day comment period, and comments can submitted via the public participation portal or by emailing comments directly to firstname.lastname@example.org. There will also be Forest Service webinars on the process on June 25th and July 12th. For information, see the bottom of the Forest Service “Current Revisions to NEPA Procedures” webpage. RVCC will likely submit comments again.