WASHINGTON― Conservation and public-interest groups today submitted formal opposition to a proposed Trump administration rule that would fundamentally change long-held environmental practices and allow for the sweeping destruction of national forests across the country.
In comments to the U.S. Forest Service, 177 groups said the proposed changes to the agency’s National Environmental Policy Act implementing procedures would gut this important decision-making tool by waiving requirements that the agency disclose environmental harm and involve the public.
Among other things the proposed rule would allow the agency to approve large-scale commercial logging and roadbuilding on up to 7,300 acres (11 square miles) of national forest land at a time, without public input or comment.
The Forest Service’s sweeping draft rule broadens so-called “categorical exclusions” to exempt an alarming range of projects from public review, including logging, roadbuilding, oil and gas drilling, mining and power lines. Currently categorical exclusions are reserved for routine projects that don’t harm the environment, such as hiking-trail restoration or maintenance on a park building.
The Forest Service’s draft rule proposes a sharp reduction in public input. The public would lose the right to comment on more than 93 percent of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. Although the Forest Service has stated that the changes are needed to speed up project delivery, the groups’ comments point out that projects receiving public input and transparent scientific analysis are more efficient on a per-acre basis than projects developed behind closed doors.
Before finalizing its proposal, the Forest Service must consider the objections raised in tens of thousands of comments submitted in opposition. If the Forest Service does not abandon the proposal or fundamentally change course, the proposal’s fate will ultimately be decided by the courts.
The groups submitting comments today issued the following statements:
“This rule would keep the public completely in the dark while the Trump administration bulldozes our national forests,” said Randi Spivak, public lands director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Forest Service is saying ‘trust us’ with public lands, but their track record gives the public every reason not to trust them. This agency has a duty to protect public lands and we intend to make sure that they do, even if it means taking them to court.”
“The Forest Service’s proposed rule is deeply flawed, not only because it violates federal environmental laws, but also because it seeks to take the public out of public lands management,” said Susan Jane Brown, attorney and public lands director at the Western Environmental Law Center. “Rather than building agreement around transparent science-based land management and restoration, the rule would shroud agency decision-making in arbitrary agency discretion. Instead of increasing efficiency, the proposed rule is guaranteed to result in controversy and litigation. The Forest Service should abandon this rulemaking effort.”
“The Trump administration is rushing to hand favors to big oil, gas, logging, and mining interests once again with the Forest Service’s latest proposal to attack bedrock environmental law,” said Olivia Glasscock, attorney at Earthjustice. “This proposal would shut the public out of over 90 percent of decisions affecting national forests and grasslands. The Forest Service should abandon it and instead concentrate on protecting our best tools in the fight against climate change — our forests.”
“This rule would streamline the destruction of America’s national forests,” said Alison Flint, director of litigation and agency policy at The Wilderness Society. “Under the guise of ‘modernizing’ forest policy, the rule would shut out the public while speeding up logging, road building and other assaults on wild lands that the public owns. In our comments to the Forest Service, we cite decades of data and science showing that roads are a leading cause of pollution to the forest, rivers and streams that provide drinking water for millions of Americans as well as critical habitat for native fish and other wildlife.”
“This proposal would shut out the public — including nearby communities — from helping decide what makes sense for our publicly owned forests,” said Matthew Davis, legislative director at the League of Conservation Voters. “This is yet another Trump administration attack on our public lands and our democratic process for the benefit of corporate polluters. The Trump administration’s Forest Service should abandon this irresponsible proposal and make sure the public’s voice is heard in decision-making.”
“Public involvement is fundamental to democracy, but this proposed rule seeks to silence local communities and move decision-making about our forests behind closed doors,” said Joro Walker, general counsel for Western Resource Advocates. “We urge the Forest Service to abandon this misguided rulemaking process, which will deprive on-the-ground agency staff of a critical planning tool and put the West’s unique natural places, critical wildlife habitats, and scarce water resources at risk. It will also do nothing to alleviate the real cause of backlog at the agency, which is a lack of funding, rather than the public input and environmental review process.”
“Yet again the Trump administration wants to roll back vital safeguards and curtail public input. This rule will make it easier to log, drill and mine our forests ― actions that will be doubly bad for our climate by both increasing pollution and limiting our ability to reduce it. Our forests must be managed as part of the climate solution,” said Kirin Kennedy, Sierra Club deputy legislative director for Lands and Wildlife.
“Audubon and the public depend on NEPA to ensure that decisions affecting birds like marbled murrelets in the Tongass National Forest in Alaska and greater sage grouse in the Sawtooth National Forest in Idaho are based on sound science and made with public input,” said Nada Culver, vice president for public lands at the National Audubon Society. “But the Forest Service is letting all these fundamental concepts fly out the window in order to more hastily approve logging, energy development and road building. The Forest Service should abandon this ill-advised process.”
“Public input has saved countless acres of old growth forests, rare habitats, streams, trails, and scenic vistas by persuading the Forest Service to relocate or scale back logging projects, roads, and other infrastructure,” said Sam Evans, national forests and parks program leader for the Southern Environmental Law Center. “Now, under tremendous pressure to meet climbing timber quotas, the agency wants to forgo those improvements and instead hide the impacts of its projects from public view. We won’t stand for it.”
“The proposed rule brings no comfort to the hundreds of imperiled wildlife species that depend on America’s national forests for their survival. As the world wrestles with a biodiversity crisis, it is irresponsible and reprehensible for this administration to willfully ignore the negative impacts of logging and roadbuilding on America’s treasured wildlife and lands,” said Peter Nelson, director of federal lands for Defenders of Wildlife.
“From Grand Canyon to Shenandoah National Parks, more than a dozen of our country’s most iconic parks border national forest lands. And what happens in forests adjacent to national parks can dramatically impact the environment inside the park itself. The U.S. Forest Service’s proposed rule not only threatens the lands, water and wildlife found in our national forests, but will also inevitably impact the irreplaceable natural and cultural resources within park borders,” said Ani Kame’enui, deputy vice president of government affairs for the National Parks Conservation Association. “NPCA has long been a supporter of the National Environmental Policy Act and its facilitation of community engagement and commitment to landscape connectivity. The proposed rule cuts at the very heart of this bedrock law, undermining both national park landscapes and the millions of people who visit these treasured places each year.”
In addition, the following organizations, state governments and decision-makers also submitted comments opposing the Forest Service’s proposed rule:
- Jim Furnish, a retired deputy chief of the U.S. Forest Service;
- The Conservation Alliance, a group of 250 outdoor and related businesses;
- 25 U.S. senators;
- 27 U.S. representatives;
- Horst Greczmiel, former associate director for NEPA Oversight at the Council on Environmental Quality;
- Local elected officials from Eagle County, Pitkin County, Gunnison County, the City of Aspen and Boulder County, Colorado; county officials in Pima County, Arizona; San Juan County Commission and Grand County Commission, Utah; and King County, Washington.