Elk NetworkUSDA Forest Service Announces Key Changes to NEPA Procedures

General | December 4, 2020

Below is a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation provides funding for a wide range of habitat enhancement work including prescribed burning, forest thinning, invasive weed treatment and other projects. Environmental groups that file lawsuits to stop or alter such conservation work benefitting elk and other wildlife often cite NEPA. RMEF provided comment in support of several provisions to fine-tune the process.

The USDA Forest Service today announced the publication of a final rule implementing key changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The changes include new tools and flexibilities to tackle critical land management challenges as part of a broader agency effort to better serve the American people through timely, high-quality management decisions affecting infrastructure, permitting and restoration of natural resources on their national forests and grasslands.

“These changes will ensure we do the appropriate level of environmental analysis to fit the work, locations and conditions,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The new categorical exclusions will ultimately improve our ability to maintain and repair the infrastructure people depend on to use and enjoy their national forests – such as roads, trails, campgrounds and other facilities.”

Categorical exclusions are a type of analysis for certain activities that typically do not have significant environmental effects. The rule establishes new or revised categorical exclusions that eliminate redundant efforts, allowing for previous environmental analyses to be used to support new decisions under certain circumstances, among other efficiencies.

The Forest Service finalized the regulations following its review of extensive public engagement and decades of experience complying with NEPA, one of the nation’s foundational environmental laws. The changes will allow Forest Service officials to concentrate resources on projects that are potentially more complex or have greater public interest, while also meeting NEPA requirements and fully honoring the agency’s environmental stewardship and public engagement responsibilities.

(Photo source: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)