U.S. Forest Service Proposes to Chop More Trees and Cut Public Input

WASHINGTON D.C. – The U.S. Forest Service released a proposed rule today with significant changes to the agency’s process for considering and accepting public input, including a new loophole for commercial logging that would allow up to 4,200-acres of clearcutting--6.6 square miles--without any public involvement.

Although logging is one of the many uses of our national forest lands, logging in the wrong places and at the wrong times can cause unnecessary harm to important ecological, social, and economic uses. Those unnecessary harms can be avoided by considering public input, which is required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The proposed changes would profoundly affect the experience of visitors to their national forests, with more logging, more roads, and even more mining and fracking, but with few, if any, opportunities to provide input on whether and where those activities occur.

The agency currently consults with the public for about 277 of its decisions every year, using that input to modify and mitigate impacts to old growth forests, rare habitats, trails, and scenery. Under the proposed rule, up to 3/4 of those decisions would be shunted into new loopholes with no transparency or accountability.

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC) released the following statement from Sam Evans, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program:

“Balancing America’s many needs and uses on our public lands is hard work, but it's the Forest Service's most important job—today’s proposal makes it clear that the agency is turning its back on that responsibility,” said Sam Evans, Leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program. “Instead of working to balance the many ecological, economic, and recreational demands of our National Forests, the Forest Service is proposing to cut the public out of decisions that could cause serious harms to these treasured places, and to return to back-room decision making without any transparency or accountability.”

“The Forest Service is trying to create loopholes for itself that would entirely remove the public from most decisions affecting public lands. National Forest users--hikers, bikers, and wildlife watchers--won’t know what’s coming until the logging trucks show up at their favorite trailheads, or until roads and trails are closed.”

The agency’s claim that it can commercially log up to 4,200 acres at a time without causing any harm to ecological values, without participation, doesn’t pass the laugh test,” said Evans. “To put that number in perspective, in our Southern Appalachian national forests, where I live, work and hike, timber projects are never more than a fraction of that size, and they still routinely include logging in old growth forests, recreation areas, and rare habitats. Most of the time, the public speaks up for those values, and as a result they are protected. But they can’t be protected without transparency and accountability, and that’s what the Forest Service is proposing to eliminate.”

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Southern Environmental Law Center

For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With over 80 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. http://southernenvironment.org