The U. S. Forest Service is planning to streamline the environmental reviews of certain prescribed fire and forest management projects, including logging.
Below is an excerpt from a June 12 article at NPR.org.
Federal land managers on Wednesday proposed sweeping rule changes to a landmark environmental law that would allow them to fast-track certain forest management projects, including logging and prescribed burning.
The U.S. Forest Service, under Chief Vicki Christiansen, is proposing revisions to its National Environmental Policy Act regulations that could limit environmental review and public input on projects ranging from forest health and wildfire mitigation to infrastructure upgrades to commercial logging on federal land.
“We do more analysis than we need, we take more time than we need and we slow down important work to protect communities,” Christiansen told NPR.
The proposed rule changes include an expansion of “categorical exclusions.” These are often billed as tools that give land managers the discretion to bypass full-blown environmental studies in places where they can demonstrate there would be no severe impacts or degradation to the land.
Above: A fuel break created along a road by mowing. BLM photo.
(Originally published at 9:55 a.m. MDT December 30, 2017)
In May the U.S. Geological Survey began an effort to study fuel breaks in the Great Basin to evaluate their effectiveness as well as the ecological costs and benefits. On December 22 the Bureau of Land Management announced the agency is proposing to develop two Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) for BLM lands in the states of Idaho, Oregon, Nevada, California, Utah, and Washington. One will cover the construction of fuel breaks while the other is for fuels reduction and rangeland restoration.
The process is expected to result in two programmatic EIS documents that would cover projects region-wide to gain efficiencies in subsequent National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses. The blanket approval will mean that individual landscape-scale fuel breaks and fuel reduction proposals will only need minor additional environmental reviews to proceed.
Fuel breaks are intended to interrupt the continuity of vegetation making it easier to control or stop the spread of wildfires. There is no guarantee of success since wind-blown burning embers can be lofted hundreds or thousands of feet ahead of a flaming front, crossing the breaks.
Landscape-scale fuel reduction would slow the spread and reduce the intensity and resistance to control of a wildfire making it easier for firefighters to keep a small fire from becoming a megafire. Another goal of the vegetation modification is to restore the rangelands habitat in order to provide multiple use opportunities for user groups and habitat for plants and animals. The projects are designed to reduce the threat of habitat loss from fires and restore rangeland’s productivity while “supporting the western lifestyle”, the BLM said in a statement.
The public has until February 20, 2018 to submit comments related to the programmatic EISs by any of the following methods: