Streamlining small-project review during Small Projects Day

Cowards Hollow Natural Area, Mark Twain National Forest Eleven Point Ranger District, October 17, 2014. USDA Forest Service photo by Anthony Lee.

WISCONSIN – Region 9 is saving time and working efficiently. And, in doing so, they’re meeting the goal of the Environmental Analysis and Decision Making effort to improve the health, diversity, resilience, and productivity of our national forests and grasslands by improving the way we analyze projects and make decisions to accomplish more work on-the-ground.

Twice a year, project proponents, specialists, and line officers gather to focus their attention on small projects. What do they consider small projects? Well, in Region 9 small projects are non-controversial, routine in nature, applicable to National Environmental Policy Act categorical exclusions, funded and an accepted project for the program of work.

Essentially, Small Projects Day is the IDT meeting for up to 20 projects at a single time.

The Small Projects Day process provides specialists and others with a set of tools that streamline and expedite the review of small-scale projects that are likely to have minor environmental impacts. The process relies on meeting scheduling, data collection, proposal development, group reviews, and on-the-spot project file documentation. It’s also important to use a coordinator/facilitator who understands NEPA and skillfully encourages team participation and determination.

The gathered “IDT” can conduct internal scoping on a pending project, address issues of concern, and determine necessary mitigation measures to ensure effects are within acceptable levels. The mode and level of public scoping desired by the line officer is also part of the documentation process. Ideally, Decision Memos are signed within a condensed timeframe following Small Projects Day.

Benefits of Small Projects Day

  • Provides a predictable time frame to address external proposals.
  • Affords project proponents information about when their proposal will be addressed.
  • Allows for scheduling a fixed amount of time toward annual work planning.
  • Prioritizes minor projects that would not otherwise become high enough priority for forest-wide consideration.
  • Produces a standard project-file documentation for all evaluated proposals.
  • Reduces the pressure on specialists to provide input on multiple and competing small projects.

Cautions of Small Projects Day

  • Responsible officials and project proponents should not pressure specialists to reach conclusions when information is lacking, or when a project should perhaps be evaluated under an environmental assessment.
  • Specialists should trust that the information provided by project proponents is accurate, and be sufficiently experienced and confident in their understanding of the likely impacts of a project.
  • Complete representation of all needed specialists is important to avoid follow-up meetings that would compromise process efficiency.
  • Responsible official participation is important to inform participants of their intention for each project and to make decisions.

All Forest Service employees have access to templates, sample agenda, and other documents in support of Small Projects Day in under Cadre Corner/Cadre New/Region 9.