National Environmental Policy Act: Categorical Exclusions for
Soil and Water Restoration Activities
AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.
ACTION: Notice of proposed rule; request for public comment.
SUMMARY: The United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service,
is proposing to supplement its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
regulations (36 CFR Part 220) with three new categorical exclusions for
activities that restore lands negatively impacted by water control
structures, natural and human caused events, and roads and trails.
These categorical exclusions will allow the Forest Service to more
efficiently analyze and document the potential environmental effects of
soil and water restoration projects that are intended to restore the
flow of waters into natural channels and floodplains by removing water
control structures, such as dikes, ditches, culverts and pipes; restore
lands and habitat to pre-disturbance conditions, to the extent
practicable, by removing debris, sediment, and hazardous conditions
following natural or human-caused events; and restore lands occupied by
roads and trails to natural conditions.
The proposed road and trail restoration category would be used for
restoring lands impacted by non-system roads and trails that are no
longer needed and no longer maintained. This category would not be used
to make access decisions about which roads and trails are to be
designated for public use.
DATES: Comments must be received in writing on or before August 13,
ADDRESSES: Submit comments online at http://www.regulations.gov
written comments by addressing them to Restoration CE Comments, P.O.
Box 4208, Logan, UT 84323, or by facsimile to (801) 397-1605. Please
identify your written comments by including ``Categorical Exclusions''
on the cover sheet or the first page. Electronic comments are
preferred. For comments sent via U.S. Postal Service, please do not
submit duplicate electronic or facsimile comments. Please confine
comments to the proposed rule on Categorical Exclusion for Restoration
All comments, including names and addresses, when provided, will be
placed in the record and will be available for public inspection and
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Peter Gaulke, Ecosystem Management
Coordination Staff, (202) 205-1521. Individuals who use
telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD) may call the Federal
Information Relay Service (FIRS) at (800) 877-8339 between 8:00 a.m.
and 8:00 p.m. eastern standard time, Monday through Friday.
Background and Need for the Proposed Rule
In 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called for restoring
forestlands to protect water resources, the climate, and terrestrial
and aquatic ecosystems. The Forest Service spends significant resources
on NEPA analyses and documentation for a variety of land management
projects. The Agency believes that it is possible to improve the
efficiency of the NEPA process to speed the pace of forest and
watershed restoration, while not sacrificing sound environmental
For decades, the Forest Service has implemented terrestrial and
aquatic restoration projects. Some of these projects encompassed
actions that promoted restoration activities related to floodplains,
wetlands and watersheds, or past natural or human-caused damage. The
Forest Service has found that under normal circumstances the
environmental effects of some restoration activities have not been
individually or cumulatively significant. The Forest Service's
experience predicting and evaluating the environmental effects of the
category of activities outlined in this proposed rule has led the
Agency to propose supplementing its NEPA regulations by adding three
new categorical exclusions for activities that achieve soil and water
The Forest Service's proposed categorically excluded actions
promote hydrologic, aquatic, and landscape restoration activities. All
three categorical exclusions involve activities that are intended to
maintain or restore ecological functions and better align the Agency's
regulations, specifically its categorical exclusions, with the Agency's
current activities and experiences related to restoration.
The restoration of lands occupied by unmaintained non-system roads
and trails (National Forest System Roads and Trails are defined at 36
CFR 212.1) is important to promote hydrologic, aquatic, and watershed
restoration. Activities that restore lands occupied by a road or trail
may include reestablishing former drainage patterns, stabilizing
slopes, restoring vegetation, blocking the entrance to the road,
installing waterbars, removing culverts, removing unstable fills,
pulling back road shoulders, and completely eliminating the road bed by
restoring natural contours and slopes. The Forest Service experience is
that the majority of issues associated with road and trail
decommissioning arise from the initial decision whether to close a road
or trail to public use rather than from implementing individual
restoration projects.For the full notice check... http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2012-06-13/html/2012-14284.htm