Frequently Asked Questions
Proposed Soil and Water Restoration Categorical Exclusions
Sept. 5, 2013 FAQs
The Final Rule
The Forest Service has supplemented its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations (36 CFR Part 220) with three new categorical exclusions for activities that restore lands negatively impacted by water control structures, natural and human caused events, and roads and trails.
These categorical exclusions will allow the Forest Service to more efficiently analyze and document the potential environmental effects of soil and water restoration projects that are intended to: (1) restore the flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains by removing water control structures, such as dams, levees, dikes, ditches, culverts, pipes, and drainage tiles; (2) restore lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions, to the extent practicable, by removing debris, sediment, and hazardous conditions following disturbance events; and (3) restore lands occupied by roads and trails, excluding National Forest System roads and National Forest System trails, to natural conditions..
More information about the categorical exclusions for soil and water restoration can be found here:
Federal Register Final Rule - (pdf - 272k)
Soil and Water Restoration Categorical Exclusions Press Release - (pdf - 159k)
Forest Service Handbook 1909.15, Chapter 30 - (pdf - 160k)
Many National Forests have ecological landscape-level restoration needs due to fire; insects and diseases; recreation, road, and special use impacts; and climate change. Due to the ecological conditions resulting from these stressors and impacts, the Forest Service has identified a need to efficiently restore landscape health, diversity, and resiliency.
These three categorical exclusions (CEs) promote hydrologic, aquatic, and landscape restoration activities and thereby sustain natural resource values through more efficient management. All three CEs involve activities that are intended to maintain or restore ecological functions and better align the Agency’s regulations, specifically its CEs, with the Agency’s current activities and experiences related to restoration.
For decades, the Forest Service has implemented terrestrial and aquatic restoration projects. Some of these projects encompassed actions that promoted restoration activities related to floodplains, wetlands and watersheds, or damage resulting from past disturbance events. The Forest Service has found that under normal circumstances the environmental effects of certain restoration activities have not been individually or cumulatively environmentally significant. The Forest Service’s experience predicting and evaluating the environmental effects of the category of activities outlined in this final rule has led the Agency to supplement its NEPA regulations by adding three new categorical exclusions for activities that achieve soil and water restoration objectives.
The Categorical Exclusions
Category 18 allows the restoration of wetlands, streams, and riparian areas by removing, replacing, or modifying water control structures such as, but not limited to, dams, levees, dikes, drainage tiles, ditches, culverts, pipes, valves, gates, and fencing to allow waters to flow into natural channels and floodplains that restore natural flow regimes to the extent practicable.
Category 19 allows for the removal of debris and sediment following disturbance events (such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, mechanical/ engineering failures, etc.) to restore uplands, wetlands, or riparian systems to pre-disturbance conditions, to the extent practicable, such that site conditions will not impede or negatively alter natural processes.
Category 20 allows for implementing restoration activities that restore, rehabilitate, and/or stabilize lands occupied by roads and trails, excluding National Forest System roads and National Forest System trails, to a more natural condition by removing, replacing, or modifying drainage structures and ditches, reestablishing vegetation, reshaping natural contours and slopes, reestablishing drainage-ways, or other activities that will restore site productivity and reduce environmental impacts.
Exact language of the three categorical exclusions can be found in the Federal Register notice, and Forest Service Handbook 1909.15, Chapter 30.
The Forest Service provides the following examples of implemented projects that include activities that are within the categories of action under the proposed soil and water restoration categorical exclusions.
- Restoring Wetlands, Stream and Riparian Areas
- Removing Debris and Sediment following Natural or Human-Caused Events
- Road and Trail Restoration
The use of categorical exclusions allows the USFS to protect the environment more efficiently by reducing the resources spent analyzing proposals that do not have potentially significant environmental impacts, and focusing resources on proposals that do. The USFS establishes categorical exclusions based on, in part, its experience implementing similar actions, the experience of other agencies, and information provided by the public.
Additional information supporting the establishment of these three soil and water categorical exclusions can be found in the Supporting Statements and Appendices.
Proposed Soil and Water Categorical Exclusions Supporting Statements
Appendix A – Previously Implemented Actions – CE #1
Appendix B – Professional Staff and Experts – CE #1
Appendix C – Select Research Papers and Supporting Documents – CE #1
Appendix D – Previously Implemented Actions – CE #2
Appendix E – Professional Staff and Experts – CE #2
Appendix F – Select Research Papers – CE #2
Appendix G – Previously Implemented Actions – CE #3
Appendix H – Professional Staff and Experts – CE #3
Appendix I – Select Research Papers & Supporting Documents – CE #3
Appendix J – Summary of Extraordinary Circumstances by Agency
Appendix K – Comparative Display of Extraordinary Circumstances by Agency