The Forest Service is proposing to salvage log 247 acres in the FRSP and 200 acres in the BHSP. If the Forest Service considered the two areas together, it would exceed the 250-acre limit in Category 13. By splitting the project area into two smaller projects, the Forest Service keeps each one under 250 acres and claims it can use Category 13 to avoid further public participation and environmental review. The Forest Service must not be allowed to abuse the regulatory process to exclude large logging projects from NEPA's environmental review and public participation requirements.
Please contact the Forest Service and tell them to prepare a single EA or EIS for all of the salvage logging that is planned in response to the May 2017 windstorm. Contact info and a sample letter are provided below. If submitting comments via email, please put "Brush Hollow, FR 185/458, and Watson Farm Salvage Projects" in the subject line.
Robert T. Fallon
Marienville Ranger District
131 Smokey Lane
Marienville, PA 16239
Dear Ranger Fallon:
I am writing to request that you prepare a single EA or EIS for all of the salvage logging that is proposed in response to a windstorm that occurred in the Allegheny National Forest in May 2017. Currently, the Forest Service has planned three separate projects: the Forest Roads 185/458 Salvage Project, Brush Hollow Salvage Project, and Watson Farm Salvage Project. Instead of preparing a single EA or EIS for the entire area proposed for salvage logging, the Forest Service is splitting the proposal into multiple smaller projects in order to keep each project area under 250 acres, thereby purportedly allowing the use of a categorical exclusion for each project.
The Forest Service cannot do an end run around the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA prohibits the Forest Service from splitting larger projects into multiple smaller actions. See 40 CFR 1508.25(a). In addition, the Forest Service must consider cumulative impacts and there will be significant cumulative impacts on Big Mill Creek since the Brush Hollow Salvage Project and Forest Roads 185/458 Salvage Project are located directly adjacent to each other on either side of Big Mill Creek.
In addition, the Forest Service cannot use Category 13 if there are extraordinary circumstances present the preclude the use of a CE. Here, the Forest Service acknowledges that the Brush Hollow and Forest Roads Salvage Projects are located within a municipal watershed. I am also concerned about the potential impacts to wetlands in and adjacent to the projects areas. The direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts of salvage logging on these resource areas precludes the use of Category 13.
Finally, the Forest Service must consider alternatives that do not involve the use of salvage logging, including the no action alternative. Windstorms such as the one that occurred in May 2017 are natural events and standing dead and windthrown trees provide important habitat and nutrients for future regrowth. The Forest Service acknowledges that there are no ecological reasons for these projects when it states that the purpose of all three projects is to "recover the economic value" of the trees that would otherwise be lost if they are not salvaged. Simply put, there is no ecological justification for this logging and the Forest Service should let nature take its course. But if the Forest Service insists on moving forward, then it must prepare an EA or EIS for the entire project rather than splitting it into multiple smaller projects.
Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Allegheny Defense Project
ACTION ALERT - MAY 2017 WINDSTORM $ALVAGE PROJECT
In May 2017, a windstorm blew down trees in the Allegheny National Forest in Elk and Forest counties. Such events are a natural part of forest succession. Standing dead and windthrown trees provide important habitat for a variety of species and should not be viewed as a problem that needs to be "cleaned up." The Forest Service, however, is proposing to log nearly 500 acres (and possibly more) in at least three separate salvage logging projects. Instead of preparing a single environmental analysis, however, the Forest Service is splitting the project into multiple smaller projects in an obvious attempt to limit public participation and avoid any detailed environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
NEPA requires federal agencies, like the Forest Service, to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) for major federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the environment. If a federal agency is unsure about whether a proposed action will have a significant environmental impact, it prepares an environmental assessment (EA). If the agency determines that, based upon the EA, there will be a significant impact, it must prepare an EIS before the project can be approved. If it determines there will not be a significant impact, then it will issue a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) and likely approve the project.
In some instances, federal agencies have created categories of actions for which neither an EA nor an EIS are required. These are called "categorical exclusions" (CEs) and refer to actions for which the agency has pre-determined that there will be no significant individual or cumulative impacts. The idea behind CEs is that it is a waste of time and resources for the agency to prepare voluminous documentation for a project that common sense tells you will not significantly impact the environment. Unfortunately, the Forest Service has established CEs for projects that should be considered in an EA or EIS. Moreover, the Forest Service can manipulate these CEs in such a way that the agency can take what is really one large project and break it down into multiple smaller projects as a way to avoid the requirement for an EA or EIS. That is precisely what the Forest Service is doing here.
As stated above, the Forest Service is proposing nearly 500 acres of salvage logging in response to the May 2017 windstorm. Instead of preparing a single EA or EIS for this proposal, the Forest Service announced three separate projects and is proposing to categorically exclude each project from further environmental review. The Forest Service claims it can categorically exclude these projects under its regulation at 36 CFR 220.6(e)(13) ("Category 13").
Under Category 13, the Forest Service can exclude salvage logging projects from an EA or EIS if they do not exceed 250 acres and do not require more than 1/2 mile of road construction. Here, if the Forest Service considered the entire 500 acres of proposed salvage logging, it could not use Category 13 because it would exceed the acreage limitation. By breaking the project into three smaller projects, however, the Forest Service keeps each one under 250 acres, thereby purportedly allowing it to use Category 13. This abuses the regulatory process.
CEs are not supposed to be used to split one large project into multiple smaller projects. Otherwise, the agency could approve actions that have obvious significant environmental impacts without any detailed environmental analysis. That is precisely what is occurring here. Below are the project maps for two of the salvage logging projects, the
Brush Hollow Salvage Project (BHSP) and Forest Roads 185/458 Salvage Project (FRSP).
The BHSP (top map) begins on the north side of State Route 948 and continues northeast to the western slopes of Big Mill Creek. The FRSP (bottom map) then begins on the eastern slopes of Big Mill Creek and continues to the northeast to the southern boundary of the Kane Experimental Forest. We overlaid these maps in Google Earth so you can see how close the two project areas are to each other.