Tomorrow, the Trump administration will publish in the Federal Register important changes to the U.S. Forest Service’s regulations implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) that will undermine environmental review of and public engagement in a suite of activities that threaten the integrity of Americans’ treasured national forests.
Under the new rules, many Forest Service land management actions could be categorically excluded from detailed environmental review. The Forest Service has also codified a Department of Interior tool, called “determinations of NEPA adequacy” (DNA), that allow the agency to use past environmental analysis for future, similar projects without conducting new, site-specific analysis. The Department of Interior has abused DNAs for years to green-light the sale of oil and gas from public lands, a problem that will now extend to national forests.
Coupled with the Trump administration’s recently finalized changes to the NEPA regulations applicable to all federal agencies, including the Forest Service, the agency’s final rule will result in more logging, roadbuilding, and commercial use of our national forests without an understanding of how those activities affect wildlife, water quality, and recreational opportunities. The public’s voice in the management of its national forests will be muzzled.
While still enormously damaging to national forests, the Forest Service’s rule is much improved from initial drafts, thanks largely to detailed comments from the conservation and recreation community spearheaded by the Western Environmental Law Center and our partners. Rather than finalizing this rule, however, the Trump administration should have focused on addressing the real challenges facing science-based land management: lack of sufficient congressional funding, inadequate agency staffing, and insufficient training for NEPA personnel.
“As the Trump administration walks out the door, it is opening the floodgates on activities on our national forests that will worsen wildfires, degrade sources of clean water, harm the climate, and silence affected communities,” said Susan Jane Brown, public lands and wildlife director at the Western Environmental Law Center. “The Forest Service’s rule embodies the bottomless depths the Trump administration will sink to in order to devour our treasured national forests.”