[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 2 (Wednesday, January 3, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 302-303]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2017-28298]



Forest Service

36 CFR Part 220

[Docket No.
RIN 0596-AD31

National Environmental Policy Act Compliance

AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.

ACTION: Advance notice of proposed rulemaking; request for comment.


SUMMARY: The Forest Service is proposing to revise its National 
Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) procedures with the goal of increasing 
efficiency of environmental analysis. This will help the Forest Service 
implement its core mission by increasing the health and productivity of 
our Nation's forests for the benefit of all Americans, and in turn 
foster productive and sustainable use of National Forest System lands. 
The Agency's NEPA procedures are a key component of its overall 
environmental analysis and decision-making process. The Agency is 
seeking comments from the public on ways it can achieve the goals of 
increased efficiency of environmental analysis.

DATES: Comments must be received in writing by February 2, 2018.

ADDRESSES: Please submit comments via one of the following methods:
    1. Public participation portal (preferred): https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/CommentInput?project=ORMS-1797.
    2. Mail: NEPA Services Group, c/o Amy Barker; USDA Forest Service, 
Geospatial Technology and Applications Center, 2222 West 2300 South, 
Salt Lake City, UT 84119.
    3. Email: nepa-procedures- [email protected].
    All comments, including names and addresses when provided, are 
placed in the record and are available for public inspection and 
copying. The public may inspect comments received online via the public 
reading room at https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public/ReadingRoom?project=ORMS-1797, or at U.S. Forest Service, Ecosystem 
Management Coordination, 201 14th St. SW, 2 Central, Washington, DC 
20024. Visitors are encouraged to call ahead to (202) 205-1475 to 
facilitate entry to the building.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Jim Smalls; Assistant Director, 
Ecosystem Management Coordination; 202-205-1475. Individuals who use 
telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal 
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at 1-800-877-8339 between 8:00 a.m. 
and 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, Monday through Friday.



    The Forest Service is proposing to revise its NEPA procedures 
(including its regulations at 36 CFR part 220, Forest Service Manual 
1950, and Forest Service Handbook 1909.15) with the goal of increasing 
efficiency of environmental analysis. The Agency will continue to hold 
true to its commitment to deliver scientifically based, high-quality 
analysis to decision makers that honors its environmental stewardship 
responsibilities while maintaining robust public particiption. These 
values are at the core of the Forest Service mission.
    Reforming the Forest Service's NEPA procedures is needed for a 
variety of reasons. An increasing percentage of the Agency's resources 
are spent each year to provide the necessary resources for wildfire 
suppression, resulting in fewer resources available for other 
management activities such as restoration. In 1995, fire made up 16 
percent of the Forest Service's annual appropriated budget. In 2017, 
more than 50 percent of the Forest Service's annual budget will be 
dedicated to wildfire. Along with this shift in resources, there has 
also been a corresponding shift in staff, with a 39 percent reduction 
in all non-fire personnel since 1995. Additionally, the Agency has a 
backlog of more than 6,000 special use permits awaiting completion, and 
over 80 million acres of National Forest System land are in need of 
restoration to reduce the risk of wildfire, insect epidemics, and 
forest diseases.
    Increasing efficiency of environmental analysis will enable the 
Agency to complete more projects needed to increase the health and 
productivity of our national forests and grasslands. The Agency's goal 
is to complete project decision making in a timelier manner, to improve 
or eliminate inefficient processes and steps, and where appropriate 
increase the scale of analysis and the amount of activities authorized 
in a single analysis and decision. Improving the efficiency of 
environmental analysis and decision making will enable the agency to 
ensure lands and watersheds are sustainable, healthy, and productive; 
mitigate wildfire risk; and contribute to the economic health of rural 
communities through use and access opportunities.

Agency NEPA Procedures

    Each Federal agency is required to develop NEPA procedures that 
supplement the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations and 
reflect the agency's unique mandate and mission. The CEQ encourages 
agencies to periodically review their NEPA procedures. The Forest 
Service's NEPA procedures were last reviewed in 2008 when the Agency 
moved a subset of its NEPA procedures from the Forest Service Manual 
and Handbook to the Code of Federal Regulations. However, the Agency's 
NEPA procedures still reflect in part the policies and practices 
established by the Agency's 1992 NEPA Manual and Handbook. The proposed 
revision of the Forest Service's NEPA procedures will be developed in 
consultation with CEQ.

Request for Comment

    The Agency is seeking public comment on the following:
     Processes and analysis requirements that can be modified, 
reduced, or eliminated in order to reduce time and cost while 
maintaining science-based, high-quality analysis; public involvement; 
and honoring agency stewardship responsibilities.
     Approaches to landscape-scale analysis and decision making 
under NEPA that facilitate restoration of National Forest System lands.
     Classes of actions that are unlikely, either individually 
or cumulatively, to have significant impacts and therefore should be 
categorically excluded from NEPA's environmental assessment and 
environmental impact statement requirements, such as integrated 
restoration projects; special use authorizations; and activities to 
maintain and manage Agency sites (including recreation sites), 
facilities, and associated infrastructure.
     Ways the Agency might expand and enhance coordination of 
environmental review and authorization decisions with other Federal 
agencies, as well as State, Tribal, or local environmental reviews.

[[Page 303]]

    Dated: December 20, 2017.
Tony Tooke,
Chief, USDA, Forest Service.
[FR Doc. 2017-28298 Filed 1-2-18; 8:45 am]