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Action needed if you think our public lands are ours

It’s time to tune in if you haven’t heard about our government’s cynical proposal to largely discontinue congressionally mandated public input and transparency for most projects across our 190-million-plus-acre national forest system. The Forest Service and its client industries are counting on our inattention.

Our foundational National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requires thorough and transparent evaluation and documentation of expected environmental impacts of major proposed federal projects. These include proposals for oil and gas extraction, mining and projects which further the Forest Service’s mission to as soon as possible cut and/or burn 80 million acres of publicly owned trees and other vegetation in the name of improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk. NEPA mandates that the public be included in shaping proposed projects on public lands.

However, because the Forest Service views environmental analysis and public participation as time-consuming impediments to important progress, they propose eviscerating their environmental regulations. Their proposal states the revisions are necessary to “increase efficiency,” increase the “pace and scale of work accomplished on the ground,” and “modernize the agency’s NEPA policy.” Given the Forest Service’s predilection for projects involving mining, logging, burning and drilling, results of the proposed NEPA rollback would include increased pollution, accelerated climate change, and assorted types of environmental destruction, including severe ecological damage to our forests.

The Forest Service’s proposal is one of numerous unprecedented assaults on our public lands by our administration, two others of which were implemented by our Department of the Interior over just the past few weeks.

On July 29, William Perry Pendley, author of a 2016 op-ed in The National Review titled “The Federal Government Should Follow the Constitution and Sell Its Western Lands,” was put in charge of the Bureau of Land Management and the 245 million public acres it administers. Pendley wrote in his piece that “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”

On August 12, our administration announced unprecedented rollbacks to how the Endangered Species Act of 1973 is applied, easing the way for extractive industries to move forward on many projects. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt stated that the new policy is intended to “modernize” the Act.

If you think we should have a say before our public lands are further turned over to private industry, or before billions of our trees are cut and burned in the name of something you don’t understand having to do with forest health and fire risk, it’s not too late to ask the Forest Service to set aside their NEPA regulation revisions and keep our environmental rights intact. You can submit your view via the official pubic comment process, which ends Monday.

Email comments to nepa-procedures-revision@fs.fed.us or post them at https://www.regulations.gov/comment?D=FS-2019-0010-0001.

Moreover, it is never too late to contact public agencies and elected representatives to claim our right to have a significant say about what happens on our public lands.

Jonathan Glass lives in Santa Fe.

 

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