The USDA Forest Service (FS) has launched an Agency-wide effort to improve processes related to Environmental Analysis and Decision Making (EADM). The goal of the effort is to increase the health, diversity, resilience, and productivity of National Forests and Grasslands by getting more work done on-the-ground through increases in efficiency and reductions in the cost of EADM processes.
The FS has explored opportunities to improve EADM for over thirty years. Why is this a priority now? Here a few of the compelling reasons:
- An estimated 6,000-plus special use permits await completion nation-wide, a backlog that impacts more than 7,000 businesses and 120,000 jobs.
- Over 80 million acres of National Forest System lands need cost-effective fire and disease risk mitigation.
- The non-fire workforce is at its lowest capacity in years.
- The time it takes to environmental analysis has steadily increased, with an average of two years for an environmental assessment (EA) and almost four years for an environmental impact statement (EIS).
Regional Partner Roundtables
The FS asked the National Forest Foundation (NFF) to assist in hosting ten EADM Regional Partner Roundtables across the country in February and March 2018 with the objective of collecting diverse partner feedback to inform EADM processes on local, regional and national scales. The NFF and FS worked closely together to plan, coordinate, and facilitate the roundtables. The NFF is preparing a summary report for each of the ten roundtables that captures themes related to challenges and barriers, desired outcomes, and strategies and solutions. The NFF is also preparing a national report that synthesizes themes emerging from partner input at all of the roundtables.
The specific purposes of the Regional Partner Roundtables are:
- Share why changes are important for achieving the USDA Forest Service’s mission
- Identify, discuss, and capture partner perceptions on barriers and solutions
- Explore what roles partners can play moving forward
- Support dialogue to strengthen relationships between partners and the USDA Forest Service
- Explain how partner inputs will be incorporated from the Roundtables and from participation in the formal rulemaking process.
The Roundtables are a major piece of the USDA Forest Service’s strategy to involve the public and partners in its EADM effort. The Agency invited highly-engaged partner organizations, Tribes, governmental representatives and businesses to participate in the roundtables. The USDA Forest Service also requested formal comments from all members of the public in response to an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) in January 2018 regarding the National Environmental Policy Act, and is working toward issuing a proposed rule in May 2018 for additional comment.