Don Amador's blog on BRC site:
Wednesday, June 13, 2012
New FS Rule Green Lights Road Ripping
HQ is extremely concerned about the new proposed Forest Service rule that would allow categorical exclusions (Cat Ex) for the aggressive decommissioning (e.g. road ripping) of public routes.Article on Proposed Rule to Rip Roads
BRC Media Release on Proposed Rule (good read and lots of info)http://www.sharetrails.org/news/2012...-proposed-rule
According to one notorious anti-access champion as cited in an E &E article…”The new categorical exclusions appear less controversial than earlier proposals that sought to exempt certain tree removal projects from NEPA reviews, said Andy Stahl, executive director for the Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics.” Hey Andy, how about cutting OHV some slack when it comes to designating historic "non-system" routes that have been used for decades and some even signed and maintained by the FS?
While some of the proposed cat ex’s for restoration work could be used to address OHV trail maintenance issues, HQ believes this new rule - with the usual lack of oversight from either the FS’s Washington Office or Regional Offices – basically gives the “green light” to Forests that are **** bent on the aggressive decommissioning of routes to go forth and rip.
One example of this is where the BRC et al filed a lawsuit which challenged the Smith River NRA’s road ripping (e.g. ground disturbing activities during the rainy season in the watershed of a wild and scenic river) without any NEPA process.
BRC Lawsuit Challenging Road Rippinghttp://www.sharetrails.org/news/2010/05/18/county-and-recreation-groups-challenge-illegal-road-decommissioning-northern-califor
Link to lawsuithttp://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/Turcke_Six_Rivers_Lawsuit_Orig_Filed_May2010.pdf
Another example of an overzealous unit when it comes to decommissioning of route is on the Gunnison NF in Colorado.
HQ blog with info on that Unit (letters, etc.)http://thegeneralsrecreationden.blog...lorado-nf.html
HQ history of Road Ripping (letters and strategy of eco-groups)http://thegeneralsrecreationden.blog...rest-near.html
The most recent example of a unit that focuses on road decommissioning is highlighted in BRC’s June 5 scoping comments on a proposed action that combines TMR with a large road ripping project.
BRC’s June 5, 2012 Scoping Comments on the Six Rivers NF/Smith River NRA Proposed Actionhttp://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/Tyrone_EIS_scoping_comments_6-5-12.pdf
Stay tuned on this latest version of the road ripping saga...
From the Wildlands CPR website:
Forest Service Proposes Limited Rule for Road & Trail Reclamation
Created by Adam Rissien on June 13, 2012
Today the Forest Service proposed a new rule in the Federal Register “streamlining” its environmental review for three types of restoration activities:
•restore the flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains by removing, replacing or modifying water control structures;
•restore lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions by removing debris and sediment conditions following natural or human-caused events; and
•restore, rehabilitate or stabilize lands occupied by non-National Forest System roads and trails to a more natural condition.
(click here for the official announcement)
So long as there are no extraordinary circumstances involved, these kinds of projects would be authorized through a categorical exclusion (CE), which means a full environmental assessment or environmental impact statement is not required. While this continues the agency’s trend of reducing the amount of analysis it conducts to approve projects, which can certainly be problematic, these three new categorical exclusions should increase the number of restoration projects that improve water quality and fish passage, and remove user-created, off-road vehicle routes as well as other routes such as abandoned temporary roads and fire lines.
When the Dept. of Agriculture first announced plans to create a new categorical exclusion for road reclamation, we fully supported it as long as there was a project file to review and opportunity for public comment; this announcement assures that the public will be fully involved and impacts will be disclosed through scoping, a project file, and/or a decision memo. This is great news. If the review or comments demonstrate a project has extraordinary circumstances then an environmental assessment will likely be completed. For example, this may happen if removing a road negatively impacts threatened, endangered or sensitive species such as bull trout or Westslope cutthroat trout.
Unfortunately the proposed CE excludes those roads or trails that are part of the official transportation system. When thinking about all the efforts to rightsize the road system, the new CE is not helpful. By 2015 the Forest Service is supposed to have identified a minimum road system and decommissioning opportunities, but the proposed rule would not apply to these system roads. This means any project that decommissions a system road would have to be analyzed under an environmental assessment or impact statement. We believe that the extraordinary circumstance trigger under the CE regulations offers enough opportunity to determine if such in-depth analysis is necessary, and the proposed rule should be clarified to apply to system roads and trails.
It seems the main reason why the proposed rule only applies to non-system routes is due to the perceived level of controversy that may be associated with reclaiming a road. In the Federal Register the agency explains its rationale:
The Forest Service experience is that the majority of issues associated with road and trail decommissioning arise from the initial decision whether to close a road or trail to public use rather than from implementing individual restoration projects.
Federal Register Volume 77, Number 114 (Wednesday, June 13, 2012), p. 35324
This concern over public access is not a reason to omit system roads and trails from the CE since eventually every forest in the country will have a travel management plan that determines the level of motorized access for public use. Forests that have travel plan decisions in place and that have identified a minimum road system will have addressed access needs for recreation and resource management. If the Forest Service wishes to ensure the CE does not change previous access decisions, it can clarify this in the new rule rather than limiting its scope to only non-system routes. Therefore, decommissioning system roads and trails should be authorized under the new CE.