It appears that upon closer inspection the recent VWC Access Project EIS decision by the Rio Grande National Forest has once again been constructed around a NEPA process so riddled with gaps and shortfalls that it will require a Federal Judge to set the matter straight. Recall that the Village at Wolf Creek's first EIS was trashed by a Federal Judge because of dishonest and inappropriate shenanigans (there will be more on that story in a following post).
Is the current Wolf Creek Village Access and land swap agreement another repeat of backroom power-politics in action? Can we the people do anything about it?
Considering there are some smart young folks just learning about the issues around Alberta Park and the Wolf Creek watershed, I though it would be a good thing to mirror the following information directly from the US Forest Service regarding NEPA guidelines.
Working within the system we can effect substantive change, but it's going to take the effort of some serious concerned citizens.
Highlights of the Final NEPA Procedures
Forest Service procedures for implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are now included in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFRs).
Placing Forest Service NEPA procedures in the Code of Federal Regulations is consistent with other federal agencies. (36 CFR, Part 220.)
The Forest Service NEPA procedures emphasize open and transparent decision making.
The NEPA regulations ensure the public has a voice in Forest Service decisions about its on-the-ground activities and that those decisions are well documented and fully disclosed to the public. The regulations:
Maintain the long-standing practice of requiring public scoping for all NEPA
proposals and encourage public participation throughout project planning.
Allow the responsible official to modify a proposed action or alternatives as the
analysis progresses and requires such modifications to be made in an open and
transparent process obvious to all interested parties.
Allow “adaptive management” proposals and alternatives so that Forest Service
decisions are more responsive to the uncertainties of natural resource
The Forest Service NEPA procedures have been updated and clarified in the CFRs to:
Incorporate current Council of Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance that:
Recognize that emergency situations sometimes require immediate responses
and provide for alternative procedures.
Clarify what past actions to consider in a cumulative effects analysis.
Clarify how to document alternatives considered in environmental
- Recognize that emergency situations sometimes require immediate responses
Incorporate current Forest Service decision making processes such as more in
depth public engagement and interaction.
Consolidate in one-location descriptions of when Forest Service proposed actions
are subject to NEPA.
The Forest Service did not make any changes to the categorical exclusions that were formerly in the directives system.
◦ The hazardous fuels treatment category will be retained in the NEPA procedures subject to the continued instructions of the Chief that Forest Service officials must refrain from use of this category while the litigation remains unresolved. Once the judicial process has been concluded, the category either will remain or be removed, depending upon the litigation’s outcome.
Additional background about the use and intent of CEs.
Categorical exclusion is defined by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations as “...a category of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and which have been found to have no such effect in procedures adopted by a Federal agency... and for which, therefore, neither an environmental assessment nor an environmental impact statement is required.” (40 CFR 1508.4)
Categorical exclusions are used for routine actions that have been found by
the agency through experience and environmental review to have no
significant environmental effects either individually or cumulatively.
Forest Service procedures for categorical exclusions are developed in
consultation with the Council on Environmental Quality along with public
review and comment.
The Forest Service NEPA procedures regulations restrict the use of
categorical exclusions when an action normally excluded from EIS or EA
documentation may have a significant environmental effect. Categorical
exclusions do not apply where there are extraordinary circumstances, such as
adverse effects on threatened and endangered species or their designated
critical habitat; wilderness areas; inventoried roadless areas; wetlands;
impaired waters; national recreation areas; and archaeological, cultural, or
The Forest Service is also publishing its NEPA guidance handbook (FSH 1909.15) which provides guidance and instruction on how to carry out the NEPA Procedures rule.
NEPA Procedures (36 CFR 220), and Directives
- Zero Code
- Chapter 10, Environmental Analysis
- Chapter 20, Environmental Impact Statements and Related Documents
- Chapter 30, Categorical Exclusion from Documentation
- Chapter 40, Environmental Assessments and Related Documents
- Chapter 50, Implementation and Monitoring
- Chapter 60, References