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USDA Forest Service Seeks Comments on Efforts to Improve Efficiency of Forest Conservation Activities

WASHINGTON, June 12, 2012 – The U.S. Department of Agriculture today announced a proposed rule to streamline and shorten categories of environmental review for certain restoration projects on National Forests. The proposed rule will allow the Forest Service to more efficiently implement projects related to improving water flow and the restoration of land and habitat.

"We are gaining efficiencies that allow us to move more rapidly through the environmental review process while reducing the cost to the taxpayers of unnecessary documentation," said Harris Sherman, Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. "These projects are really a win-win for the environment and the public and will result in positive environmental outcomes."

The three proposed categorical exclusions published in today's Federal Register facilitate the Forest Service to:

  • restore the flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains by removing, replacing or modifying water control structures;
  • restore lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions by removing debris and sediment conditions following natural or human-caused events; and
  • restore, rehabilitate or stabilize lands occupied by non-National Forest System roads and trails to a more natural condition.

"These proposed changes will allow us to be more responsive and do a better job of working with local governments, Tribes and communities to move forward important on-the-ground projects," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

The proposed rule accelerates the pace of restoration and calls for a three- to five-page decision documentation process, which is less costly to write and review and can reduce the timeframe by as much as nine months compared to a typical environmental assessments which can be hundreds of pages long. This process retains the public notice, comment and appeals procedures that currently apply to categorical exclusions.

Categorical exclusions define certain actions that typically do not have a significant effect on the human environment and therefore do not require preparation of a larger environmental review, such as an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement. The agency establishes categorical exclusions based, in part, on its experience implementing similar actions, the experience of other agencies and information provided by the public.

The comment period for the proposed change in Forest Service regulations is open for 60 days and closes August 13, 2012. Comments must be received in writing and can be submitted online, by mail or via facsimile.

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation's forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

USDA works with state, local and Tribal governments and private landowners to conserve and protect our nation's natural resources – helping preserve our land, and clean our air and water. President Obama launched the America's Great Outdoors initiative in 2010 to foster a 21st century approach to conservation that is designed by and accomplished in partnership with the American people. During the past two years, USDA's conservation agencies— the U.S. Forest Service, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Farm Service Agency—have delivered technical assistance and implemented restoration practices on public and private lands. We are working to better target conservation investments: embracing locally driven conservation and entering partnerships that focus on large, landscape-scale conservation.


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