"Today's new rule is part and parcel of the Bush Administration's long-running agenda to take the 'public' out of public lands, and hand our national forests over to big energy and timber interests.
"For the first time since modern forest planning began more than 25 years ago, the Forest Service is seeking to exclude the long-term management plans that govern each national forest from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). This new rule is an attempt to hide the administration's plans for our forests from the public scrutiny required under NEPA.
"NEPA is the primary law that enshrines democracy and openness in decisions made by the federal government decision-making. NEPA is the law that requires the federal agencies to look at the big picture, share information with the public, and investigate alternative approaches that can make projects better and reduce adverse impacts to the environment.
"Claims that the Forest Service will take the required 'hard look' at environmental impacts only through implementation of site-specific projects, such as timber sales, would shut the public out of the development of the program that calls for such timber sales in the first place. These long-term forest plans – not site-specific project decisions -- decide which areas will be open to logging, off-road vehicle use, back-country recreation, and other uses. Also, these plans offer the only opportunity to take a 'big picture' look at how the entire forest is being managed, instead of the localized look that focuses on a project area alone. That 'big picture' look is critical for a number of wide-ranging wildlife species that depend on the national forests for their survival, including grizzly bears, lynx and elk.
"In recent years, the Forest Service has created and widely used a number of categorical exclusions that prevent NEPA review for individual timber sales. Excluding the forest plans themselves from NEPA review means that a great many of the agency's actions will never receive a hard look at all, at any level of forest management, much less involve the public in a meaningful way. Americans have a right to expect more from the agency that oversees our common trust, America's national forests."
Marty Hayden, Vice President for Policy & Legislation, Earthjustice, (202) 667-4500, ext. 218
Tim Preso, Staff Attorney, Earthjustice, (406) 586-9699