Public Participation During the COVID-19 National Emergency

For 20 years, Bark has worked to demystify the decision-making processes used by the Forest Service to manage the public lands of Mt. Hood National Forest. Agency documents and communications are often difficult to access and understand. Public comment periods are brief, only quietly announced, and often ignore existing barriers to participation, such as working people’s daily schedules, holiday seasons, or national emergencies. When governments began calling for community response to COVID-19 to flatten the curve, Bark reached out to the Forest Service to ask if timber sale planning would pause, comment periods be extended, or new avenues for public participation be created with field trips and public meetings now out of the question. So far, we have not seen any indication that agency timelines will be altered by the pandemic.
Our concerns are shared by environmental organizations across the country as logging, pipeline construction and other controversial projects continue even as Federal employees are directed to work from home, further distancing the public from the decision-making. Acting quickly, a coalition of nearly 70 organizations drafted a letter together requesting that USDA Secretary Perdue and US Forest Service Chief Christiansen direct their agencies to provide additional time for the public to participate in national forest land management planning processes—both forest-wide and project level—during the current public health crisis caused by COVID-19. Read the letter here.