The 1982 National Environmental Policy Act EPA regulations require the preparation of an environmental impact statement (EIS) for all forest plan revisions and significant amendments. These EISs are in a general class of EISs that have sometimes been called “programmatic EISs” (or PEIS) because they describe broad general effects and often do not contain project or activity details.
The details about project and activity effects will be analyzed and disclosed in subsequent NEPA documents developed in project planning. Thus, a forest plan looks like an EIS and will have the similar format to an EIS.
The mission of the Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Responsible officials for each national forest, grassland, and prairie will follow the direction of the planning rule to develop, amend, or revise their land management plans.
A new 2012 Forest Service planning rule provides a process for planning that is adaptive and science-based, engages the public, and is designed to be efficient, effective, and within the Agency’s ability to implement.
The new PEIS is intended to provide the flexibility to respond to the various social, economic, and ecologic needs across a very diverse system, while including a consistent set of process and content requirements for NFS land management plans. It is anticipated that the Agency will use the framework to keep plans current and respond to changing conditions and new information over time.
The 2012 program rules require increased protections for water resources, watersheds, and riparian areas, including requirements to identify watersheds for priority restoration; maintain and restore aquatic ecosystems, watersheds, water quality and water resources including public water supplies, groundwater, lakes, streams, and wetlands; maintain and restore riparian areas; and provisions for best management practices for water quality.
The 2012 planning rule also addresses mineral exploration in that the rule will consider renewable and non-renewable energy and mineral resources and development. When developing plan components for integrated resource management, the responsible official will consider renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources, land status, and the appropriate placement and sustainable management of infrastructure. The 2012 planning rule also requires compliance with existing laws and regulations governing mineral exploration and development on Federal lands.
In July 2004, Regional Forester for the Superior National Forest, Randy Moore, signed the Record of Decision (ROD) formally documenting his selection of an alternative to become the revised Forest Plan for the Superior National Forest. Thus the current plan for the Superior will be ten years-old in July of 2014. Much has happened in the last ten years that should now require a new PEIS for the Superior National Forest. Even the Forest Service notes that the plans are only good for a 10- to 15-year period.
Asking the Superior National Forest to begin a new Superior National Forest Plan (Programatic Environmental Impact Statement or PEIS) is only asking them to do a job that needs to be done now anyway.
Terence H. Cooper, Professor Emeritus , Dept. of Soil, Water and Climate, Univ. of Minn. and Ely, Minn.