Agricultural Act of 2014 (Farm Bill) Categorical Exclusions from NEPA
In February, 2014, President Obama signed into law the 2014 Agricultural Act, or Farm Bill, which included amendments to existing law governing national forest system lands. Title VIII--Forestry amended Title VI of the Healthy Forests Restoration Act of 2003 (16 U.S.C. 6591 et seq.) by adding a new type of categorical exclusion from the requirements of NEPA to address "substantially increased tree mortality due to insect or disease" or "dieback due to infestation or defoliation by insects or disease" on national forest system lands. The bill is in effect until 2018.
The amendment requires the Forest Service to designate "landscape-scale areas" based on these criteria:
- the area is experiencing declining forest health based on annual forest health surveys, or
- the area is at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality over the next 15 years due to insect and disease infestation based on the National Insect and Disease Risk Map, or
- the area is in an area where hazard trees pose imminent risk to public infrastructure, health or safety.
The bill also recinds the appeals process that was adopted in 2012 (Pre-Decisional Objection Process, Section 428 of division E of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012). Under this amendment, there will be no appeal or pre-decisional objection process.
Other key elements and requirements for projects qualifying for the new CE are excerpted here:
Requirements for projects qualifying for the new CE include the following:
‘‘(1) IN GENERAL.—A project referred to in subsection (a)
is a project to carry out forest restoration treatments that—
(A) maximizes the retention of old-growth and large trees, as appropriate for the forest type, to the extent that the trees promote stands that are resilient to insects and disease;
(B) considers the best available scientific information to maintain or restore the ecological integrity, including maintaining or restoring structure, function, composition,
and connectivity; and
(C) is developed and implemented through a collaborative process that—
(i) includes multiple interested persons representing diverse interests; and
(ii)(I) is transparent and nonexclusive; or
(II) meets the requirements for a resource
advisory committee under subsections (c) through (f) of section 205 of the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000 (16 U.S.C. 7125).
(1) PROJECT SIZE.—A project under this section may not exceed 3000 acres.
(2) LOCATION.—A project under this section shall be limited
(A) in the wildland-urban interface; or
(B) Condition Classes 2 or 3 in Fire Regime Groups
I, II, or III, outside the wildland-urban interface.
(A) PERMANENT ROADS.—
(i) PROHIBITION ON ESTABLISHMENT.—A project under this section shall not include the establishment of permanent roads.
(ii) EXISTING ROADS.—The Secretary may carry out necessary maintenance and repairs on existing
permanent roads for the purposes of this section.
(B) TEMPORARY ROADS.—The Secretary shall decommission any temporary road constructed under a project under this section not later than 3 years after the date on which the project is completed.
(d) EXCLUSIONS.—This section does not apply to—
(1) a component of the National Wilderness Preservation
(2) any Federal land on which, by Act of Congress or Presidential proclamation, the removal of vegetation is restricted or prohibited;
(3) a congressionally designated wilderness study area;
(4) an area in which activities under subsection (a) would be inconsistent with the applicable land and resource management plan.
(e) FOREST MANAGEMENT PLANS.—All projects and activities carried out under this section shall be consistent with the land and resource management plan established under section 6 of the
Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 (16 U.S.C. 1604) for the unit of the National Forest System containing the projects and activities.
(f) PUBLIC NOTICE AND SCOPING.—The Secretary shall conduct public notice and scoping for any project or action proposed in accordance with this section.
Thus far, the Forest Service has designated approximately 47 million acres nationally as in need of action to address "insect and disease threats that weaken forests and increase the risk of forest fire."
A map of the areas in California that have been designated as landscape-scale areas for treatment are found here. Governor Brown's natural resources agency also recommended 1,508,929 acres for treament in California. Three large watersheds were specified: Santa Ana, South Fork of the American River, and McCloud-Pit River watersheds.
Sierra Forest Legacy has been engaged in monitoring and commenting on the CEs that have been proposed in the Sierra Nevada thus far. See comment letters below.
Cleveland-Ice House CE Eldorado National Forest
Summit CE Sequoia National Forest