On January 3, 2018, the Forest Service published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and Request for Comment. The proposed rule seeks to revise the Forest Service’s formal NEPA regulations as well as its internal NEPA procedures. The Forest Service requested comments on: methods to improve efficiency; approaches to authorize many projects under a singular NEPA review; actions that could be categorically excluded from NEPA procedures; and ways the agency may better coordinate environmental review with other government entities.
On March 16, 2018, the Forest Service published an executive summary of the 34,000 comments received on the Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Forest Service stated that it expects to publish a proposed rule in early Summer 2018.
On March 23, 2018, in the omnibus spending bill, Congress included categorical exclusions for “hazardous fuels reduction” for certain forested areas. This is intended to speed up the removal of dead wood that can fuel wildlands fires, but may also have the effect of allowing more trees to be logged on federal lands. The definition of “hazardous fuels reduction” referenced in the bill includes “crushing, tractor and hand piling, tree removal (to produce commercial or pre-commercial products), and pruning.” This will allow the Forest Service to approve these actions, including logging, without going through a full NEPA analysis. The categorical exclusion applies to hazardous fuel reduction on areas up to 3,000 acres in size.