Guest column: Forest Service looks to streamline NEPA process

It has been more than a decade since the Forest Service last updated its National Environmental Policy Act regulations and we are overdue to propose changes to modernize how we comply with it. It is clear that to better protect all communities in Arizona, our processes must be more efficient.

Over the past 10 years, challenges such as wildfire, extended drought, insect infestation and disease have made it more difficult to protect communities and resources from threats like catastrophic wildfires. These challenges have strained available resources and staff across our agency. In Arizona, the proposed changes will save time, be more cost effective, and allow us to implement projects more quickly on the ground so that we can shift resources to reduce threats to communities. The agency also recognized that far too much time and excessive paperwork is currently required to issue permits for activities on the national forests that are important to individual and community prosperity and well-being.

To respond to these challenges the Forest Service has proposed changes to modernize how the agency complies with the National Environmental Policy Act. The updates would give land managers new tools and provide the added flexibility needed to tackle today’s unprecedented challenges and improve service to the communities we serve. These updates are based on years of experience and data. We found that in many cases, we do more analysis than necessary, slowing down important work to protect communities, livelihoods and resources. We now have an opportunity to use that information to our advantage, and we want to hear from you, the people we serve, to help inform these proposed updates.

The Forest Service remains absolutely committed to engaging citizens in our work and protecting the values and benefits that people get from their national forests and grasslands. National Environmental Policy Act regulations are a key component of how we as forest managers perform environmental analyses and make decisions. We understand that communities care about their public lands, and our rules under the National Environmental Policy Act give people a voice in how our lands are managed. And there are clear safeguards in place to ensure that these updates do not circumvent National Environmental Policy Act regulations.

In Arizona and the surrounding states of our region, it’s only through our relationships with tribes, stakeholders, partners, other agencies and the public that we are able to work to reduce risks from wildfire, restore healthy resilient landscapes and watersheds, improve infrastructure, promote sustainable recreation opportunities and improve wildlife habitats. The Forest Service can’t do this alone, so working together to accomplish these priorities benefits everyone.. We encourage you to learn more and visit fs.usda.gov or the Forest Service website on this topic to learn how to provide feedback and see more detailed information about the proposed updates. Your continued support and engagement are appreciated as we strive to meet the needs of the communities we serve and the land we steward.

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