New U.S. Forest Service rule could accelerate trail deconstruction
September 13, 2013
The U.S. Forest Service has adopted a new rule that will allow the agency to fast-track the destruction of motorized trails, the American Motorcyclist Association reports.
On Sept. 12, the Forest Service published a final rule in the Federal Register that adds three new "categorical exclusions" to its national Environmental Policy Act regulations "for activities that restore lands negatively impacted by water control structures, natural- and human-caused events, and roads and trails."
Categorical exclusions allow the agency to act without preparing a costly and time-consuming environmental assessment or environmental impact statement to determine the project's impacts.
Among other things, the new rule allows the U.S. Forest Service to obliterate "unneeded and unauthorized roads and trails" without doing an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement. The rule can't be used for recognized National Forest System Roads and National Forest System Trails.
When using the categorical exclusion related to roads and trails, the rule says U.S. Forest Service officials "will conduct appropriate scoping and public involvement assuring that citizen views are taken into account in an appropriate manner given the context of the decisions being made."
The rule also states that "this category will not be used to make access decisions about which roads and trails are to be designated for public use."
When the Forest Service sought public comments on the proposal last year, the AMA expressed concerns that the proposed rule would "allow a categorical exclusion from the current environmental review to accelerate the pace of road and trail deconstruction. In other words, these new categorical exclusions will make it much easier for the Forest Service to reduce the number and mileage of trails."
The AMA also asked why a categorical exclusion wasn't proposed for instances when the Forest Service restores trails for the safety of users.
"Now, more than ever, it's important for all riders to contact their local national forest and get on the contact list to be notified when the local forest plans to take any action on trails," said Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations. "Since the Forest Service can move quickly to destroy trails, we must be prepared to move quickly to voice our concerns as motorized recreation enthusiasts when we can."