Action item! BLM rule change could limit public input.
BLM Timber Protest and Salvage Announcement 5-28-20
We will need public as soon as we are able. Check back here for the address to comment or follow the links below to find the information.
- 15-day official protests of logging decisions began in 1984
- Elimination would speed logging projects for wildfire
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is considering ending official written protests of forest logging plans in Oregon and California as a way to halt abuse and litigation.
Environmental groups quickly criticized the proposal, announced late Thursday, saying the bureau is cutting out the public’s voice.
Citing a need to cut down forests to reduce the threat of wildfire, BLM officials said they’re planning to end 15-day official citizen protest periods for logging decisions—part of a forest management rule “modernization” effort.
“Rather than streamlining the review process, as was originally envisioned, protest periods have proven to expend agency time and resources with little benefit,” Acting BLM Director William Perry Pendley said in the bureau’s announcement.
A 60-day public comment period on eliminating official protests will begin when the proposal is published in the Federal Register, BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall said Friday.
The bureau hasn’t set a date for publishing the proposed rule, which applies to BLM forests only in California and Oregon.
Separately, the BLM on Thursday announced a proposal to exempt salvage timber sales—the removal of dead or dying trees—from environmental impact reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The proposals come amid a broader Trump administration effort to overhaul NEPA regulations to speed up approvals for oil and gas drilling, mining and logging on most federal lands. While the U.S. Forest Service manages most public forests, the BLM oversees some large forests in the two states.
Under existing NEPA compliance rules, the public can comment on logging proposals before decisions are made. Since 1984, the BLM has added a 15-day official protest period to allow the public to push back on logging decisions once they’re final.
“Protest periods are important opportunities for the public to let BLM know when the agency has failed to adequately address real concerns about the impacts that timber projects can have on recreational opportunities, threatened and endangered species, wildfire risk, and the like,” Elizabeth Klein, an attorney at the State Energy and Environmental Impact Center at the NYU School of Law, said Friday.
Klein is a former Interior associate deputy secretary in the Clinton and Obama administrations.
The BLM protest periods differ from U.S. Forest Service rules for timber sales. The Forest Service gives the public 30 or 45 days to object to a draft timber sale decision before it is finalized, depending on the level of environmental review the service conducted, said Susan Jane Brown, a staff attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center.
Urgent Need to Cut
The BLM cited an urgent need to eliminate public protests, noting a 2018 wildfire destroyed an Oregon forest before the bureau could process protests against auctioning off the timber and cutting the trees.
“Under the proposed regulations, the public comments could have been addressed before the auction was held, allowing the BLM to award the sale and the purchaser to begin thinning operations before the fire took place,” the bureau said in a statement announcing the proposal.
But “abuse of and litigation over protests” has ended up delaying timber sales, threatening public safety as wildfire threatens to burn homes, according to the statement.
The BLM announcement featured endorsements from the Associated California Loggers, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the American Loggers Council and others in favor of ending the protests.
“The BLM’s administrative protest process has been abused by anti-forestry, activist groups to delay and stop needed forest management projects developed by forestry experts,” said John Murphy, CEO of Murphy Company, an Oregon plywood manufacturer.
‘Less of a Say’
Environmental groups blasted the proposal as an effort to muzzle the public’s voice and avoid challenges from those seeking to protect forests.
“The basic message seems to be, ‘We’ll do more cutting and the public will have less of a say,’” said Nada Culver, senior policy counsel at the National Audubon Society. “There are responsible ways to address fire risk and response, but these are public lands and the agencies that manage them should not be cutting out the public.”
But Randi Spivak, public lands program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said eliminating protest periods wouldn’t mean much because they’ve rarely halted a timber sale or reduced its impact.
“Given that the BLM doesn’t act in good faith and largely ignores citizens’ protests, all this means is that we can go to court faster,” Spivak said.
Klein said that if the administration wants to streamline the environmental review process required by NEPA, it should engage with more people interested in logging proposals than just the logging industry.
“Proposed projects don’t get better by eliminating protest periods and pretending that opposition doesn’t exist and isn’t valid,” Klein said.
To contact the reporter on this story: at bmagill@
The proposal: https://www.blm.gov/press-release/blm-proposes-modernizing-forest-management-rules