August 21, 2019

Harris, Feinstein, Colleagues to Forest Service: Listen to Fire Fighter and Forest Manager Input to Protect National Forests

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on Wednesday joined Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Tom Carper (D-DE) and 21 of their Democratic colleagues in calling on the U.S. Forest Service to listen to the input of wildland fire fighters and forest managers and extend the public comment period for its proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rule. The proposed rule could undermine the scientific processes considered in NEPA to protect National Forests, reducing the critically important input from the public and forest officials.

“The proposed NEPA rule would impact management decisions on all 193 million acres of land in the National Forest System,” the senators wrote to U.S. Forest Service Chief Victoria Christiansen. “It is critical the public be provided ample time to thoroughly review and comment on a rule that would not only alter how the Forest Service manages our National Forests, but significantly change one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.”

Congress has recently provided new authorities to streamline work progress in our National Forests, but the proposed NEPA rule goes beyond these bipartisan agreements and therefore requires thorough input and review from the public and those most impacted by the proposal. In their letter, the senators requested an additional 46 days to the public comment period.

“The additional time gives the public— particularly those on the ground managing our forests and fighting wildfires, conducting field studies of species or managing recreation businesses on these treasured lands during the summer months— the time they need to review and provide comment on a rule that could considerably change current management practices,” the senators continued.

In recent years, wildfires across the country have grown in size and become more severe. Additionally, climate change, mismanaged forest practices, and increased development in the wildland-urban interface have put lives at risk. Restoration of National Forests is critically important, and now more than ever, management of forests needs to be science-based to best protect communities and restore habitats.

In addition to Harris, Feinstein, Cantwell, and Carper, the letter to the Forest Service was also signed by U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Tom Udall (D-NM), Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Cory A. Booker (D-NJ), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and Michael F. Bennet (D-CO).

The full text of the letter is available HERE and below.

August 21, 2019

Ms. Victoria Christiansen

Chief

U.S. Forest Service

U.S. Department of Agriculture

1400 Independence Ave, SW

Washington, DC 20250

RE: Proposed Rule, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Compliance (84 Fed. Reg. 27,544, June 13, 2019)

Dear Chief Christiansen,

We write to express concern about the U.S. Forest Service’s proposed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) rule (84 Fed. Reg. 27,544, June 13, 2019) and ask that you extend the public comment period by an additional 46 days. Congress has already provided significant new authorities to streamline work getting done in National Forests, including in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills and the FY 2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act. A proposal that goes beyond these bipartisan agreements requires thorough input and review from those most impacted by this proposal, our wildland fire fighters and forest managers. The recent 14-day extension does not provide the additional time required to review this proposal; it creates a distraction from the work that desperately needs to be done in our forests to keep our lands and waters healthy, reduce wildfires and protect communities. 

The proposed NEPA rule would impact management decisions on all 193 million acres of land in the National Forest System. It is critical the public be provided ample time to thoroughly review and comment on a rule that would not only alter how the Forest Service manages our National Forests, but significantly change one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws.  We are also concerned the proposed rule will reduce public participation and hinder collaborative management strategies, both of which are central to NEPA and key to successful forest management.

Wildfires across the country have grown in size and become more severe. Climate change, mismanaged forest practices, and increased development in the wildland-urban interface have put more lives at risk. In light of these challenges, restoration of our National Forests is critically important.  More than ever, management of our forests needs to be science-based if we hope to better protect communities and restore habitats. We are concerned the proposed rule could undermine the scientific processes that are considered in NEPA.

A proposal of this scale requires significant review, and we believe an additional 14 days is an insufficient amount of time to allow for full public participation. We ask that you extend the public comment period to a total of 120 days. The additional time gives the public— particularly those on the ground managing our forests and fighting wildfires, conducting field studies of species or managing recreation businesses on these treasured lands during the summer months— the time they need to review and provide comment on a rule that could considerably change current management practices.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

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