Leadership Corner

Revising our rule for NEPA implementation to improve land and resources

June 12th, 2019 at 12:04PM
Portrait of Chief Vicki Christiansen in uniform.
Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen

*Editor’s note: View a  recording of the June 13, NEPA Rule webinar on the Ecosystem Management Coordination page, in the EMC Announcements section (internal link).

Today, I’m pleased to announce the Forest Service is proposing a rule that modernizes processes for decision-making and environmental analysis on our forests and grasslands. This proposal marks the first significant rule change in our National Environmental Policy Act procedures in more than a decade. Changing conditions on the ground and over time require us periodically to review the way we carry out the law. After more than 10 years, with all that we have learned and now manage toward— including fire seasons that are now year round — another revision is due.

Modernizing how our agency complies with NEPA will allow us to step up the pace of our on-the-ground work to improve the condition of the lands and resources entrusted to our care. It will also help us better protecting communities and meet the needs of the people we serve. At the same time, the new rule would fully engage the public in our decision making, apply the best available science to our work, and use the newest information available as we make decisions.

To be clear, the proposed new rule would fully comply with NEPA. Every decision we make will continue to go through the appropriate level of NEPA analysis as well as the appropriate level of public engagement to protect the lands and resources entrusted to our care. Environmental protection remains fundamental to our mission of caring for the land and serving people.

Our proposed new rule results from an extensive study of our past experiences and from vigorous input from citizens across the country. After examining hundreds of past projects, we concluded that we do more analysis than needed, slowing our work and keeping us from fulfilling our mission as efficiently as we could. As we developed the proposed new rule, we received comments from more than 35,000 citizens; we also hosted roundtables across the country, listening to citizens and soliciting their advice.

The proposed new rule would give us more flexibility in responding to the unprecedented challenges we face in connection with extended droughts, catastrophic wildfires and epidemics of insects and disease. Among other reforms, the new rule would:

  • focus our environmental assessments on their core purpose in accordance with NEPA, saving us time in accomplishing the work we do for the health of the land;
  • tailor the amount of our environmental analysis to the scope of our projects, taking location and existing conditions into account and thereby reducing redundancy in our analysis for similar work under similar conditions — again saving us time;
  • let us adopt proven practices and apply lessons learned from our own experiences and those of other agencies, for more time saved; and
  • add new categorical exclusions to improve our ability to manage and restore our forests and watershed, maintain and repair the roads, trails, campgrounds and other facilities, and be more responsive to people that depend upon and enjoy their national forests and grasslands. 

Today’s release initiates a 60-day public comment period. In the process, the Forest Service will continue to deliver high-quality environmental analysis based on the best available science, and we will continue to make decisions that honor our fundamental commitment to environmental stewardship. Nothing in our proposed new rule changes that commitment — to the contrary: the new rule will give us even more capacity to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of America’s forests and grasslands, both now and for generations to come.

I invite you to learn more on our NEPA revision webpage, as well as participate in upcoming NEPA webinars and calls. The first is tomorrow, so check your inbox for and invite from me.