National Forest Timber Project Timeline Checklist
Is the agency making a good faith effort to give a heads up about upcoming projects?
A lot of scoping notices are brief, sometimes no more than 4-5 pages. Depending on how much the public is paying attention, they may have more detail. You are not legally bound to enter comments at this phase, but it is highly advisable to do so.
Does the notice have a map of the area by stand?
Does the notice breakdown the specified treatment by stand?
What is the purpose and need? (Most will be “restoration”, “regeneration”, or “resiliency” oriented)?
Where in the management plan are these goals found?
How are the following addressed:
- Road volumes
- Invasive species
- TES species
Most scoping comment periods are 30 days, but some forests are beginning to shorten this time. Watch closely.
Get GIS maps from the agency of the project. (You should just go ahead and get it for the whole forest. KMZ format is good for “end user” application.
If the project is big, make a list of priority sites to visit. Priorities will often be based on:
- Age of stand; older stands are precious in themselves
- Proximity to streams
- Very Steep slopes and other “high risk for logging” criteria.
- If the stand has an uncommon or underrepresented forest community type
- Verify forest composition. Is the age, forest composition, basal area what the agency says it is?
- Any uninventoried old growth, snag/habitat trees?
- TES species (tough for beginners, but once you learn of some that are present in you district, good to know a few)
- Uninventoried/user-created roads
- Proposed logging on sites that have very steep slopes (many forests acknowledge 30%+ as having potential erosion hazards); get a free clinometer app
- Potential uninventoried cultural heritage/historical sites;
- Outstanding scenic places and values
- Identify concerns from field visit. Georeferenced and photographed concerns are better.
- Identify need for their analysis to include thing that tend to not get enough attention, such as economics, roads analysis, impacts to soil and water quality, etc.
- Examples of past projects that have not been successful (erosion effects, desired species did not come up)
The EA should be of sufficient depth to cover environmental and economic implications of the project. Many tend to be 80-130 pages, but can go longer if the project size is large or if there are some particularly sensitive issues to address.
There should be, at minimum:
- A Biological Assessment that covers things like impacts to species of concern and TES (threatened and endangered species)
- Clear maps that show exactly where specific logging or other impacts should happen
- A discussion of public comment and the agency’s response
- Analysis of impacts to soils and watersheds.
- A Roads/Transportation Analysis
- Recreation effects analysis
- An economics analysis
- A mitigation strategy that discusses how negative impacts of logging and associated activities will be addressed. The bare bones strategy is usually called “Best Management Practices”.
Environmental Analysis Comments
Here’s where the comments need to be very specific and legal/scientific citations need to be in order. Generally, there is a 30 day comment period.
- Citations from scientific, economic, and other research. You must provide hard copies or electronic copies of such studies for them to be considered. However, once they are in the agency’s record, you don’t have to send them again if you cite them later.
- Citations of statues and other government directives that support your concerns. NEPA/procedural arguments are harder to win, but DO matter, and SHOULD be pursued when the agency isn’t following procedure.
- Look for failures to address public comment adequately? If you made timely comments during the scoping phase, were those concerns addressed?
- Is the agency following the “best available science”? Are there countervailing studies?
- Is the agency using past monitoring and evaluation of previous projects to see if they are successful?
- Did they perform a roads analysis? Were any roads found that could be decommissioned and revegetated? If you identified such roads for them during scoping, did they provide a “purpose and need” for keeping that road open?
- Is there something in the proposal that conflicts with their Long Range Management plan? This doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, it’s a definite point of contention.
- Make sure that you get an acknowledgement of the receipt of your comments during the appropriate comment period.
Let’s say the agency has released a FONSI. You can file an objection. The forest supervisor can offer to meet with you to try to resolve your objections but is not required to do so. Your objection MUST have the following:
- An objection must directly arise from concerns addressed during the EA commenting period. If it was not addressed in those comments specifically, you cannot object on that ground.
- Exceptions to this can only happen due to seriously significant things that may arise since the EA comment period, such as a dramatic natural or other event that takes place in the forest, or some significant revelation “smoking gun”. Otherwise, new arguments cannot be made at this time.
- Your objection must follow a pretty standard format in how it is addressed and the language used. Some examples are found here that let you get a feel for this format.
- All relevant statutory citations that support your arguments must be clear so the reviewer can go to the source.
- If several groups have acted as a coalition in previous comments, there must be a lead person to whom responses from the agency will be addressed.
If the agency has not resolved your concerns, your only redress is to file with the federal district court in the jurisdiction where the project will take place. It is beyond the scope of this checklist to go into the ins and outs of federal lawsuits. However, following good procedure throughout the process ensures that in the event that such a thing happens, you are better positioned to success.