Policy Update – April 2023

In this month’s policy update, we share our take on the Idaho Panhandle Kaniksu OSV travel plan, an update on NEPA, and more.

Photo Credit: Ming Poon(@ming.t.poon)

From Hilary Eisen, WWA Policy Director (4/26/2023)

The tide is slowly turning on winter, with reports of green grass and bare ground coming in from grassroots partners around the country. Even in Mammoth Lakes, after 700 inches of snow, our Executive Director David Page is seeing signs of spring. Here’s hoping for a nice slow melt and a good corn season for everybody!

Winter Travel Planning: Idaho

Tomorrow (4/27/2023) marks the end of a 30-day comment period for the Idaho Panhandle National Forests’ draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for the Kaniksu Over-Snow Vehicle (OSV) Travel Plan.

In reviewing the EA, it was good to see the Idaho Panhandle following the template established by forests in California for winter travel planning. One of our goals as we’ve worked on the “early adopter” OSV plans in California was to have those plans serve as a model for OSV planning elsewhere, rather than having the Forest Service re-invent the wheel (and repeat mistakes) with each winter travel planning process.

There are of course many differences between different travel plans, but the Idaho Panhandle used a similar method as the Stanislaus and Lassen for documenting their application of the minimization criteria. [refresher – the OSV Rule requires that OSV designations be located in a manner that minimizes: 1) Damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, and other forest resources; 2) Harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats; 3) Conflicts between motor vehicle use and existing or proposed recreational uses of National Forest System lands or neighboring federal lands; and 4) Conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses of National Forest System lands or neighboring federal lands].

Basically, the approach is to develop a set of screening questions to identify the forest resources related to the minimization criteria, apply the questions to each of the designated areas and routes in each alternative, and document all of this in the project record. It’s not rocket science, and it makes it easy to understand how, or if, the Forest Service considered and applied the minimization criteria.

In the case of the Kaniksu EA, we had some suggestions to improve their screening questions and some disagreement over their conclusions from the minimization screening exercise, but appreciate the clear manner in which the Forest Service communicated its analysis and we’re glad that our hopes for the California plans serving as a template for OSV planning across the Forest Service system are panning out.

NEPA Update

And, just like with most months, I’ve been keeping an ear to the ground on Capitol Hill, as the battle over NEPA continues.

On one hand, the Council on Environmental Quality should be publishing it’s “Phase Two” NEPA Rule soon and we’re looking forward to seeing what’s in the Rule, with expectations that it will build upon last year’s Phase One Rule to ensure federal decision-making processes are informed, transparent, and equitable.

On the other hand, many members of Congress are talking about rolling back NEPA, and the House Republicans have several bills that would render the law fairly meaningless (along with overturning major parts of last year’s huge climate bill).

I’m not sure what will happen once the House bills reach the Senate, but we’ll definitely be staying vigilant! If you want to send a friendly reminder to your Congress members to encourage them to stand up for NEPA, you can do that here.

Our 10th Biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference

Finally, I wanted to share a heads up about our 10th biennial Grassroots Advocacy Conference, which will be at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Mountain Research Station in Nederland, CO September 14-17. Save the date and stay tuned for more details!