National Environmental Policy Act: Categorical Exclusions for
Soil and Water Restoration Activities
AGENCY: Forest Service, USDA.
ACTION: Final rule.
SUMMARY: The U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, gives
notice of revised procedures for implementing the National
Environmental Policy Act and Council on Environmental Quality
regulations. These final implementing procedures are being issued in
regulations concerning National Environmental Policy Act Compliance,
which describes categorical exclusions. Categorical exclusions (CE) are
categories of actions that normally will not result in individual or
cumulative significant impacts on the quality of the human environment
and, therefore, do not require analysis or documentation in either an
environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.
The revision adds three new categorical exclusions for activities
that restore lands negatively impacted by water control structures,
disturbance events, and roads and trails. Activities that restore lands
occupied by National Forest System Roads and National Forest System
Trails are excluded from this final rule. These 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
and sediment following disturbance events; and restore lands occupied
by roads and trails to natural conditions.
These categorical exclusions will not apply where resource
conditions related to the potential effect of a proposed action
constitute an extraordinary circumstance. Activities conducted under
these categorical exclusions must be consistent with Agency procedures
and applicable land management plans and must comply with all
applicable Federal and State laws for protecting the environment. The road and trail restoration category will be used for restoring
lands impacted by roads and trails that are not
needed, not maintained, and/or where public access is prohibited. This
category will not be used to make access decisions about which roads
and trails are to be designated for public use.
DATES: This rule is effective September 12, 2013.
ADDRESSES: The Forest Service National Environmental Policy Act
procedures, including its list of categorical exclusions, are set out
in Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 220, which is available
electronically via the World Wide Web/Internet at http://www.gpoaccess.gov/cfr/index.html
. Single paper copies are available by
contacting Peter Gaulke, Forest Service, USDA, Ecosystem Management
Coordination Staff (Mail Stop 1104), 1400 Independence Avenue SW.,
Washington, DC 20250-1104. Additional information and analysis can be
found at http://www/fs/fed/us/emc/nepa.
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.
In 2009, Secretary of Agriculture Thomas J. Vilsack called for
restoring forestlands to protect water resources, the climate, and
terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. The Forest Service spends
significant resources on National Environmental Policy Act (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 analysis.
The Forest Service is responsible for managing 192 million acres in
National Forests, National Grasslands, and other areas known
collectively as the National Forest System (NFS). The Chief of the
Forest Service, through an organization of Regional Foresters, Forest
Supervisors, and District Rangers, administers and manages the NFS's
natural resources within the principle of multiple use and sustained
yield. 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 damage resulting from past disturbance
events. The Forest Service has found that under normal circumstances
the environmental effects of certain restoration activities have not
been individually or cumulatively environmentally significant
Forest Service's experience predicting and evaluating the environmental
effects of the category of activities outlined in this rule has led the
Agency to supplement its NEPA regulations by adding three new
categorical exclusions for activities that achieve soil and water
Category 18 allows the restoration of wetlands, streams, and
riparian areas by removing, replacing, or modifying water control
structures such as, but not limited to, dams, levees, dikes, drainage
tiles, ditches, culverts, pipes, valves, gates, and fencing to allow
waters to flow into natural channels and floodplains that restore
natural flow regimes to the extent practicable.
Category 19 allows for the removal of debris and sediment following
disturbance events (such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, mechanical/
engineering failures, etc.) to restore uplands, wetlands, or riparian
systems to pre-disturbance conditions, to the extent practicable, such
that site conditions will not impede or negatively alter natural
processes. Category 20 allows for implementing restoration activities that
restore, rehabilitate, and/or stabilize lands occupied by roads and
trails, excluding National Forest System Roads and National Forest
to a more natural condition by removing, replacing, or
modifying drainage structures and ditches, reestablishing vegetation,
reshaping natural contours and slopes, reestablishing drainage-ways, or
other activities that will restore site productivity and reduce
These three Forest Service categorically excluded actions promote
hydrologic, aquatic, and landscape restoration activities and thereby
sustain natural resource values through more efficient management. All
three CEs involve activities that are intended to maintain or restore
ecological functions and better align the Agency's regulations,
specifically its CEs, with the Agency's current activities and
experiences related to restoration.
Many national forests have unmaintained roads and trails that are
not on the National Forest Transportation System or are unauthorized.
These routes are often found adjacent or in close proximity to NFS
roads and NFS trails. These roads and trails are a major challenge in
many national forests and examples of significant environmental damage
and safety issues.
Restoring lands occupied by roads and trails 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
The Forest Service believes it is appropriate to establish soil and
water restoration CEs based on NEPA implementing regulations at 40 CFR
1500.4(p) and 1500.5(k) that identify a CE as a means to reduce
paperwork and delays in project implementation, and based on the
Agency's abundant information showing that the majority of these
identified restoration actions have no significant impacts.
The Forest Service prepares approximately 2,500 to 3,000 CE
decision memos and 400 environmental assessments (EAs) each year.
Because document preparation and review for CEs takes approximately 6
to 9 months less time than a typical EA that can be hundreds of pages
long, cost savings are significant. By using CEs, the Forest Service
gains efficiencies that allow the Agency to move more efficiently
through the environmental review process while not short-cutting public
involvement or sacrificing environmental protection.
The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) regulations at 40 CFR
1507.3 provide that agency's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
procedures, after notice and comment, may identify categories of
actions that do not have significant impacts on the human environment
and, consequently, do not require preparation of an environmental
assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS). Current
Forest Service procedures for complying with and implementing NEPA are
set out in 36 CFR Part 220. Title 36 CFR 220.6 of the Forest Service
NEPA Regulations lists the categories of actions that do not require
preparation of an EA or an EIS by the Forest Service absent
extraordinary circumstances.To read the full notice.... http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2013-09-12/html/2013-22151.htm