Scientists Oppose Draft Forest Service Rule
For Immediate Release, August 26, 2019
Over 230 scientists oppose Draft Forest Service Rule That Would Block Scientist Voices, Gut Bedrock Environmental Law
Washington, DC― Over 230 scientists submitted comments strongly opposing a draft US Forest Service rule that would overhaul regulations that implement the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), one our nation’s landmark environmental laws. The proposed rule is designed to speed up logging and other damaging activities across the 193 million-acre national forest system, while cutting the public and independent scientists out of the vast majority of all national forest decisions.
The letter, signed by scientists with expertise in conservation biology, ecology and hydrology, raised concerns about the proposed changes saying they “would hamstring the agency from making informed decisions in an era complicated by unprecedented climate change and a legacy of land-use impacts to the national forest system.”
“In shutting scientists and the public out from forest planning decisions, the Trump Administration continues its reckless policies that will change the very future of our nations treasured forests and rivers, said Dr. Dominick A. DellaSala, Chief Scientist at the Ashland-Oregon based Geos Institute, and lead scientist on the letter. “The Forest Service is chipping away at public accountability with severe consequences likely to our national forests.”
For nearly half a century NEPA has guaranteed public transparency, federal government accountability and ensures that the best available science is considered in federal decisions on public lands. The current NEPA rules require that the Forest Service to notify the public of pending logging, mining, drilling and other projects on national forests and to require the public, including scientists, to comment on these decisions.
The rule would cut out scientist and other public voices from most extraction and development projects on national forests by ending early notification, called scoping, and by creating a host of new loopholes known as “categorical exclusions.” Among many new loopholes, two would allow logging up to nearly 7 square miles and bulldozing up to 5 miles of new logging roads at a time without any public engagement.
“Logging roads cause permanent, elevated levels of erosion and pollution of waters by sediment and nutrients, said Dr. Chris Frissell, a freshwater ecologist and watershed expert in Fisheries Science with 37 years of experience. “We now know how environmentally devastating these accumulated harms to water quality are around the world. The Forest Service’s irresponsible proposal to build more roads without strict limits on road construction and active restoration of the existing road system will increase harm to wild fish and our rivers and streams.”
Categorical Exclusions are reserved for categories of actions that do not cause significant harm either individually or cumulatively like campground modifications and parking lots. The new rules would now apply to mining and oil and gas drilling as well as pipelines and transmission lines that could permanently cut through national forests without any public engagement.
The Trump administration has ordered the Forest Service to increase timber targets to levels not seen in 20 years. The draft rule also weakens standards for categories of extraordinary circumstances such as threatened species, or the presence of wilderness when a more thorough environmental review is required.
“The national forest system stores massive amounts of atmospheric carbon and provides clean drinking water to millions of citizens in rural and urban communities. These values will be increasingly important in helping society slow and adapt to global heating and are unduly being compromised by the Forest Service,” added DellaSala.
Geos Institute is a science-based organization that works to make communities whole in the face of climate change.
Dr. Chris Frissell (PhD, MS, BA) is an ecologist and fisheries scientist and founder and principal scientist at the firm of Frissell & Raven Hydrobiological and Landscape Sciences. He holds an affiliate professorship at the Flathead Lake Biological Station, University of Montana.
The link to the scientist letter can be found here – https://forestlegacies.org/images/scientist-letters/FS_NEPA_Comments_Scientists_Final.pdf
- Greens lash out at plans to speed NEPA reviews (E&E News Greenwire, August 27, 2019)
- UM scientists join hundreds nationwide protesting Forest Service move to squelch public comment (Missoula Current, August 28, 2019)