Should the Forest Service eliminate public input and environmental analysis?

Should the Forest Service eliminate public input and environmental analysis?

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OK team - prepare for a very important, and kinda wonky, article.

It all starts with NEPA, the National Environmental Policy Act. The federal government passed NEPA in 1970 requiring that before undertaking a major federal action, the responsible agency must analyze the environmental consequences of the action, make the analysis available to the public, and accept and consider public input. This public process is a sort of check and balance, making the agency accountable to the public interest and improving agency plans and decisions. 

If this sounds familiar, it's because NEPA is the federal law that created many of the tools that Bark and countless other advocacy groups use to watchdog the Forest Service and other federal agencies. NEPA is under attack which means Bark's strategies are in danger of being undermined. The current proposal would fundamentally change the relationship between the U.S. Forest Service and the public, cutting our voices out of how to manage these special places. 

Right now, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to eliminate public participation in the management of the nation’s 193 million acres of national forest lands, as a way of fast-tracking clear-cut logging, mining and road building. Roughly half of Oregon is federal public land. Specifically, the proposed changes would create loopholes to increase the speed and scale of resource extraction, including logging and mining, while eliminating public notification and input on up to 93% of proposed projects. 

Please take a moment to submit your comments today.

NEPA requires the Forest Service to provide maps and detailed plans of their proposal, which Bark's volunteers use to groundtruth. NEPA also allows the public to take a federal agency to court if they persist in breaking environmental laws. Without this vital regulation, federal agencies cannot be held accountable to protect the air, water, wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and special places we rely on for our well-being. The Forest Service did the right thing when they held a public meeting about the proposed actions in the Polallie Cooper Timber Sale (pictured above) where concerned members of the public were invited to contribute valuable information which resulted in significant improvements to the project - like wider buffers around trails and less destruction of aquatic habitat. While we can't stop every timber sale, we can protect the most sensitive and ecologically valuable areas by using the processes outlined in NEPA.

Environmental groups across the country are working together to protect NEPA and have put together a web tool to help you craft your own statement. Please use this form and the provided prompts to submit your comments today! Or send comments directly via this website, https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FS-2019-0010. Let the Forest Service know that you expect the most rigorous level of environmental assessment and mitigation of negative impacts, not a pared down process that ignores the public and the health of ecosystems in order to speed up logging and mining projects. Community members deserve to have their voices heard in projects that impact what is happening in the forests where they live, work, rest, and play.

While this issue will likely be decided in court, strong public outcry in support of one of our most important environmental laws will go a long way toward building the case that NEPA is necessary to uphold the public interest.

Thank you for all you do for the forest, whether with your boots or your words!​

 

Brenna Bell, Staff Attorney/Policy Coordinator
 
 
P.S. Want to see a post-fire, early seral habitat with your own eyes?  Join us for the next Bark-About on August 11th for an informative hike in the area of the 2008 Gnarl Ridge burn.
 
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