USFS aims to speed up process

It’s an oft-cited criticism that the Forest Service doesn’t move quickly on projects on the Allegheny National Forest.

That’s often because of requirements on the Forest Service that are a result of the National Environmental Policy Act, more commonly referred to as NEPA.

Federal forest service officials have proposed sweeping changes to how the Forest Service complies with NEPA designed to speed up the process.

“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,” a statement from the Forest Service out of Washington said. “Revising the rules will improve forest conditions and make it simpler for people to use and enjoy their national forests and grasslands at a 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 the changes will save time, federal officials stressed that “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 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.”

Here’s how it would work, according to the statement. “The updates would create a new suite of ‘categorical exclusions,’ 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.”

A comment period will be opened on this proposed rule change.