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WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States Forest Service, which oversees the Pisgah National Forest and the Grandfather Ranger District, seeks public comment on its proposed revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, which some opponents say will lead to negative consequences.

“The proposed rule would contribute to increasing the pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground and would help the agency achieve its mission to sustain the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations,” the federal register notice on the proposed changes states.

The rule change was proposed on June 13 and is subject to a 60-day public comment period that ends on Aug. 12.

A June 2019 fact sheet released by the U.S. Forest Service says many of the changes center on adding to its categorical exclusions list.

“Categorical exclusions are a list of activities that agencies have determined, from analysis and experience, to not have significant environmental impact and, therefore, do not to require extensive environmental analysis,” the USFS’s fact sheet states.

The categorical exemptions that are proposed to be added include restoration activities, infrastructure activities and special uses, according to the USFS.

The Southern Environmental Law Center — an Asheville-based, non-profit environmental advocacy law firm — contends the proposed rules would eliminate up to 75 percent of opportunities for public comment on proposed changes.

“The Forest Service is trying to create loopholes for itself that would entirely remove the public from most decisions affecting public lands. National Forest users – hikers, bikers and wildlife watchers – won’t know what’s coming until the logging trucks show up at their favorite trailheads, or until roads and trails are closed,” stated Sam Evans, leader of SELC’s National Forests and Parks Program, in a June 13 statement.

The USFS states that adding categorical exemptions would speed up the timetable for environmental assessments.

“On average, an environmental assessment takes 687 days to complete,” the USFS fact sheet states. “Average time to complete a categorical exemption takes just 206 days. By using the new categorical exemptions in the proposed rule, the (U.S.) Forest Service could potentially complete analysis between 30 and 480 days earlier on applicable projects.”

To give a public comment or view the full proposed rule changes visit www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/revisions/index.shtml and click on “Public Participation Portal.” Other ways to submit comment are to mail NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker, USDA Forest Service, 125 South State Street, Suite 1705, Salt Lake City, Ut., 84138 or email nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us.

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