The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) today announced a new National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Pilot project under an initiative launched in March 2011 to increase the quality and efficiency of Federal environmental reviews and reduce costs. CEQ has selected a U.S. Forest Service proposal to develop NEPA best practices for forest restoration projects using lessons learned from two restoration projects currently being analyzed in Arizona and Oregon.
"NEPA is a cornerstone of our country’s environmental protections and critical to protecting the health of American communities and the natural resources we depend on,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “This pilot project will promote faster and more effective Federal decisions on projects that will help restore our forests and support strong and healthy communities and economies."
"These two projects demonstrate that by involving partners early in the NEPA process we can cut costs and operate more efficiently while still maintaining strong environmental safeguards at the ground level," said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. "We look forward to replicating what we are doing in Arizona and Oregon to other parts of the country where we are engaged in critical restoration work."
Under this NEPA pilot project, the Forest Service will compare and contrast environmental review methods used for the landscape-scale Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Arizona and the smaller-scale 5-Mile Bell project in Oregon. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative is an effort to collectively manage portions of four contiguous National Forests. The pilot includes the first restoration project under consideration, which would cover approximately 1 million acres. The Forest Service will employ a collaborative NEPA approach to plan and analyze the proposed restoration activities in an Environmental Impact Statement of unprecedented scale and scope for forest restoration projects. In collaboration with stakeholders, the Forest Service also will develop an adaptive management strategy to allow for flexibility in implementing the restoration projects and minimize the need for future planning and environmental reviews.
The 5-Mile Bell Landscape Management Project is an ecological and habitat restoration project on nearly 5,000 acres of National Forest System lands on the Oregon Coast. For this smaller scale project, the Forest Service will employ an innovative approach to NEPA by engaging local, state and tribal partners in the environmental review process up front to an unprecedented extent. In an effort to reduce potential conflicts and delays, the partners will collaboratively prepare the environmental review and implement the selected land restoration project.
CEQ and the Forest Service will compile the lessons learned from the NEPA approaches used for both the small-scale and the landscape scale projects and use them to develop best practices for future land restoration projects.
The Forest Service project is the fifth pilot selected under the NEPA Pilot Program, which is part of a broad CEQ initiative to modernize and reinvigorate how Federal agencies implement NEPA. Other actions under the modernization initiative include issuing new NEPA guidance for Federal agencies, enhancing public tools to encourage participation in the NEPA process, and forming rapid response teams to help expedite the review process for transportation, transmission and renewable energy projects.