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A Forest of Objections: The Effort to Drop NEPA Review for National Forest Management Act Plans

July 2009

Citation: 39 ELR 10651

Issue: 7

Author: Nathaniel S.W. Lawrence

Twice in recent years, the U.S. Forest Service has decided it could and should stop conducting environmental review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) for the long-range management plans it periodically must produce for individual national forests (or in some cases groups of forests). This is, at the very least, counterintuitive. These plans govern how the environment is shaped over the course of a decade or more, on many millions of acres of public land. What could be more deserving of plenary environmental review? The Forest Service has several reasons why it sees the answer to this question as "almost anything." After sketching the context for the Forest Service's effort, I review below its principal arguments and their failings, and finish with thoughts about how most constructively to approach some of the underlying concerns.

Forest management is a paradigm case of the need to consider long-term consequences in near-term decisionmaking. Trees take decades to reach commercial logging size. Groves take centuries to mature into old growth. Soils need millennia to develop. Fish and wildlife species, plants, and ecological communities evolve over millions of years. The short time horizons utilized day-to-day by many people and most business models are ill-suited to dealing with these processes. Take the short view and in short order you may wind up with no forest at all.

Nathaniel S.W. Lawrence is a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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