Major Rollback of Regulations for National Forests Proposed
Source: The Los Padres ForestWatch
Last week, the Trump Administration announced plans to weaken National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations that apply to national forest management across the country. The proposed regulatory changes—the first agency-led changes since the George W. Bush Administration—would allow large commercial logging and other projects in places like the Los Padres National Forest to move forward with limited environmental analysis and public input.
The administration’s proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, would establish several new loopholes that the Forest Service will be able to use to fast-track potentially large and impactful projects. These changes would make it easier for the agency to approve such projects without first preparing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement and without providing a public comment period, in many cases.
One of the proposed loopholes would allow for projects up to nearly 11.5 square miles in size to be conducted without an environmental study that analyzes alternatives and that provides more than one public comment period. Under this same loophole, the agency would also be able to approve commercial logging on up to 6.5 square miles at a time.
“This is yet another attempt by the Trump Administration to chip away at the bedrock environmental laws that keep public lands, wildlife, and people safe from damaging activities,” said Los Padres ForestWatch Conservation Director Bryant Baker. “New loopholes for commercial logging only serve to benefit timber companies, and they’re a clear indication of what the administration’s intentions are.”
Recently, two commercial logging projects were approved across 4.5 square miles of the Los Padres National Forest under a similar loophole. The Trump Administration’s proposed changes would facilitate more of these types of activities over larger areas without robust environmental review.
Other changes would let the U.S. Forest Service easily legitimize illegal roads and trails without fully assessing their potential impacts, build up to five miles of road at a time under a categorical exclusion, ignore criteria such as the effect on sensitive species when deciding whether to prepare an environmental assessment, and make it easier for projects to move forward without an environmental study if the agency vaguely claims that there will be long-term beneficial effects.
The agency’s intention to expand the use of categorical exclusions will also eliminate the ability for the public and organizations to formally object to many projects, meaning litigation will be the only way for changes to be sought after activities are approved.
Moreover, the proposed rule would drastically limit the public’s ability to comment on proposed projects in the first place. A process known as “scoping,” allows the public to submit comments on an initial proposal before it undergoes environmental review and helps direct the agency in their development of alternatives based on concerns from local communities. Scoping would no longer be required for most projects—including large commercial logging projects that would fit within the new loophole,
“By going to such great lengths to obstruct public input, the administration shows its hand, and how much power there is in our collective voice,” said Los Padres ForestWatch Public Lands Advocate Rebecca August.
The public has until August 12 to submit comments on the proposed regulatory changes. More information and a simple way to submit public comments online can be found at LPFW.org/rollback.