The Bush administration closed out 2006 with a gift to industries seeking to evade regulatory scrutiny from the US Forest Service. As reported previously by TNS, the White House announced a major rule change that would exempt long-term forest plans from the review process under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). These plans typically act as a 15-year blueprint for managing federal forest lands, which cover some 200 million acres across the country. The rule change allows forest-management authorities to develop long-term plans without submitting to NEPAâ€™s extensive mandates for environmental-impact studies and consideration of possibly less harmful alternatives to certain agency actions.
As the administration seeks to shrink public oversight under NEPA, Defenders of Wildlife is turning to the courts to keep the review process as transparent as possible. The group filed a lawsuit this week challenging the exemption and demanding that federal forest managers be held fully accountable to the public when mapping out the future of the countryâ€™s forests. Our reporting resources are unfortunately stretched too thin at the moment to delve into this latest development, but expect continued coverage from us as the legal battle heats up.