Supporting Information for Proposed Categorical Exclusions
In developing the Proposed Rule for 36 CFR 220, the Forest Service developed proposals for new categorical exclusions. The proposed categorical exclusions would be for restoration projects, roads and trails management, recreation and facility management, as well as special use authorizations that issue permits for resorts and outfitters and guides or for community organizations and civic groups. Information on how the proposed categorical exclusions were developed is highlighted below.
Supporting Statements and Appendices
Proposed Categorical Exclusions for Certain Infrastructure Projects
Proposed Categorical Exclusions for Certain Special Uses Projects
Proposed Categorical Exclusions for Certain Restoration Projects
Examples of Proposed CEs in the Proposed Rule
Many of the changes in the proposed rule are based on adding or expanding existing categorical exclusions. Categorical exclusions are a list of activities which agencies have determined from analysis and experience to not have significant environmental impact and therefore do not to require extensive environmental analysis. There are exceptions based on extraordinary circumstances and activities must be within the size and scope of what is described in the categorical exclusion. If the action does not fit within a category, or if extraordinary circumstances apply, the agency must conduct an environmental assessment to determine whether there are potential significant effects. If the agency finds that the activity will result in no significant effects, a decision can be made to proceed. If significant effects are possible or likely, an Environmental Impact Statement is required. This evaluation is necessary to determine how best to serve people in a way that responsibly protects our shared natural resources.
On average, an environmental assessment takes 687 days to complete. Average time to complete a categorical exclusion takes just 206 days. By using the new categorical exclusions in the proposed rule, the Forest Service could potentially complete analysis between as many as 480 days earlier on applicable projects. These figures are for how much time it takes to reach a decision. It does not represent actual days worked on analysis. They are also based on averages, and do not factor in extraordinary circumstances.
The categorical exclusions covered in the proposed rule fall into three general categories: those covering restoration activities, those that cover infrastructure activities, and those that cover special uses. The examples below are based on hundreds of analyzed environmental assessments.
Restoration projects include activities such as removing trees affected by insects or disease through commercial timber harvest and restoring streams to improve forest health and watershed conditions. These projects could also include reducing overgrown areas around communities to reduce wildfire risk and improve wildlife habitat through mechanical thinning and prescribed burning.
Infrastructure projects include activities like decommissioning poorly-located and difficult-to-maintain roads or trails which cause resource damage. Another example would be projects to relocate, build and decommission campsites to improve visitor safety, convenience and natural resource conditions.
Special uses and permitting include activities like issuing special use authorizations to build a water pipeline and storage tank for an area with poor water supply and quality. Other examples would be authorizing development or improvements for a communication site or authorizing an outfitter to lead guided hikes on a popular hiking trail.
These examples are provided to demonstrate what activities may be covered under the new and expanded suite of categorical exclusions and do not take into account specific scenarios or extraordinary circumstances. Based on extensive analysis of hundreds of similar projects, the necessary environmental review to authorize these types of important activities could be completed in less time with reduced process while maintaining important environmental safeguards.