Forest Service to Speed Up Environmental Reviews, Permitting

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Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has ordered the U.S. Forest Service to speed up processes for environmental reviews and permits to enable more logging, grazing, oil development and mining on federal land.

In a memorandum to U.S. Forest Service Chief Vicki Christiansen, Perdue said more was needed to relieve burdensome regulations on industries and make national forests and federal grasslands more productive.

“These lands are critical for the prosperity of rural communities, sustaining jobs and livelihoods in grazing, mining, oil and gas development, recreation and forestry,” Perdue said in the memo.

The vision laid out in the memo is in line with the Trump administration’s broad effort to allow more energy extraction and infrastructure development on federal lands and waters.
Perdue directed the Forest Service to streamline processes and identify new opportunities for mineral extraction, expedite broadband development, and speed up permitting for grazing and logging. He also said the agency should increase recreation opportunities and open public access to more forest lands. His memo also seeks to speed up reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act by setting time and page limits on key environmental study documents.

“Under this administration, the Forest Service has sold more timber than we have in the last 22 years and made significant increases in our hazardous fuels treatments and active management of our national forests,” said Perdue. “While I am proud of our progress to promote active management, reduce hazardous fuels, work across boundaries and increase the resiliency of our nation’s forests and grasslands, I believe more can be done. Today, I am announcing a blueprint for reforms to provide further relief from burdensome regulations, improve customer service, and boost the productivity of our national forest system.” Purdue’s direction will encompass four areas of the agency’s work:

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Increasing Productivity of National Forests and Grasslands

The Forest Service will focus on productive use of national forests and grasslands, and identify new opportunities to deliver goods and services to the American people efficiently and effectively.

Valuing Grazing and National Grasslands

The Forest Service will recognize grazing on national grasslands as essential for their management and streamline range improvements and the permit renewal process to reduce burdens and improve customer service for America’s grazers.

Increasing Access to National Forests

The Forest Service will modernize and simplify the permitting process to increase public access to national forests and grasslands.

Expediting Environmental Reviews

The Forest Service will streamline their environmental review process through greater accountability for efficient decision making, succinct and understandable documentation, and focus and effective public engagement.

“Our mission delivery today includes a whole range of values and benefits that people expect from their forests and grasslands,” said Christiansen. “The Secretary’s direction will help ensure we are providing healthy resilient forests and grasslands that continue to deliver on the goods and services the American people want and need, while also supporting communities, public access and fire-adapted landscapes.”

The Forest Service already is in the process of rolling back its role under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which requires robust environmental reviews of any major action taken by the government on public lands. The White House is pursuing a similar rollback of the law through its Council on Environmental Quality.

Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program, criticized Perdue’s initiative. “This is a roadmap to national forest destruction, and it’s painful to read,” said Spivak.

“In the midst of the climate and extinction crises, Perdue offers a dystopian vision of expanding mining, fracking, logging and grazing in national forests,” said Spivak. “This will increase air and water pollution, kill wildlife and increase carbon pollution. It’s the extractive industry’s agenda on steroids.”

U.S. Representative Bruce Westerman, a Republican from Arkansas, supported the move and said it would be good for national forests. “The healthiest forests are ones that are actively managed, not left susceptible to disease and wildfire,” Westerman said in a statement.