In the summer of 2003 the Bush Administration proposed rules changes relating to Forest Service projects that would fall under the definition and category of Categorical Exclusions. The projects identified as meeting the definition of Categorical Exclusions would be exempted from full environmental analysis as previously required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In these cases the Categorical Exclusions (CEs) pertained to certain timber harvest actions, and fire management activities. In December 2006, the Bush Administration released its final directive relating to another CE, this time relating to the development, revision, and amending of Forest Management Plans. This CE seeks to exempt Land and Resource Management Plans for NEPA analysis by advancing the notion that Forest Plans do not have a direct impact on the natural environment.
Categorical Exclusion for Fire Management (June 5, 2003)
On June 5, 2003, the Administration issued a rule change for the use of CEs on National Forest lands for "hazardous fuels" projects. The CE can be used for mechanical hazardous fuels reduction projects (i.e. logging) up to 1,000 acres in size and for prescribed burning projects up to 4,500 acres. The 1,000-acre size limit for logging projects is excessively large. By comparison, in the late 1980s, the Forest Service limited the size of categorically excluded timber sales to 10 acres. This directive opens the door for an irresponsible logging program that would ignore environmental impacts and public opposition to harmful projects.
On December 5th, 2007, the Sierra Club and Sierra Forest Legacy won a legal victory against the Fire Management CE when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a District Court's ruling that the Forest Service did not violate the National Environmental Policy Act(NEPA) when promulgating the Fuels CE. The Court called the Forest Service's decision to issue the Fuels CE as "arbitrary and capricious" and that the agency had failed to demonstrate a "reasoned decision" based on relevant factors and information. To read this important decision click here.
Categorical Exclusion for Timber Harvest (July 29, 2003)
This exclusion for timber harvest allows the harvest of live trees not to exceed 70acres with no more than a ½ mile of temporary road. This new NEPA exclusion rule also allows salvage harvest up to 250 acres, and the incidental removal of any size trees, alive or dead, for landings, skid trails and roads. This exclusion from NEPA allows for the removal of insect, disease, windthrow, or ice-damaged trees, commercial sanitation (the plucking out of large snags) and fire salvage anywhere on the landscape including old growth forests where such structures and processes are often a key part of normal (and beneficial) ecosystem function.
Categorical Exclusion for Land Management Plans (December 11, 2006)
In preparing this latest CE the Bush Administration determined through their review of this proposed directive that the writing of management plans has no effect on the environment, which qualifies the individual plans of each National Forest for categorical exclusion from individual study under the National Environmental Policy Act. This action completely rewrites the 1976 National Forest Management Act (NFMA)and is perhaps the most radical attack on forest policy in the past three decades. Under NEPA and NFMA, public involvement and environmental analyses are required whenever the Forest Service undertakes changes to forest management plans. These revisions typically occur every 15 years for each National Forest. Under this new CE however, any update, alteration, or significant change would not be subject to NEPA review. The assertion by the administration that Forest Plans, which provide the blueprint for management on each National Forest, do not have a significant impact on the environment are therefore not subject to environmental review lacks credibility and is both irresponsible and inaccurate.