Albuquerque Journal

Action needed if you think our public lands are ours

- BY JONATHAN GLASS Jonathan Glass lives in Santa Fe.

It’s time to tune in if you haven’t heard about our government’s cynical proposal to largely discontinu­e congressio­nally mandated public input and transparen­cy for most projects across our 190-million-plus-acre national forest system. The Forest Service and its client industries are counting on our inattentio­n.

Our foundation­al National Environmen­tal Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 requires thorough and transparen­t evaluation and documentat­ion of expected environmen­tal impacts of major proposed federal projects. These include proposals for oil and gas extraction, mining and projects which further the Forest Service’s mission to as soon as possible cut and/or burn 80 million acres of publicly owned trees and other vegetation in the name of improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk. NEPA mandates that the public be included in shaping proposed projects on public lands.

However, because the Forest Service views environmen­tal analysis and public participat­ion as time-consuming impediment­s to important progress, they propose eviscerati­ng their environmen­tal regulation­s. Their proposal states the revisions are necessary to “increase efficiency,” increase the “pace and scale of work accomplish­ed on the ground,” and “modernize the agency’s NEPA policy.” Given the Forest Service’s predilecti­on for projects involving mining, logging, burning and drilling, results of the proposed NEPA rollback would include increased pollution, accelerate­d climate change, and assorted types of environmen­tal destructio­n, including severe ecological damage to our forests.

The Forest Service’s proposal is one

of numerous unpreceden­ted assaults on our public lands by our administra­tion, two others of which were implemente­d by our Department of the Interior over just the past few weeks.

On July 29, William Perry Pendley, author of a 2016 op-ed in The National Review titled “The Federal Government Should Follow the Constituti­on and Sell Its Western Lands,” was put in charge of the Bureau of Land Management and the 245 million public acres it administer­s. Pendley wrote in his piece that “The Founding Fathers intended all lands owned by the federal government to be sold.”

On August 12, our administra­tion announced unpreceden­ted rollbacks to how the Endangered Species Act of 1973 is applied, easing the way for extractive industries to move forward on many projects. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt stated that the new policy is intended to “modernize” the Act.

If you think we should have a say before our public lands are further turned over to private industry, or before billions of our trees are cut and burned in the name of something you don’t understand having to do with forest health and fire risk, it’s not too late to ask the Forest Service to set aside their NEPA regulation revisions and keep our environmen­tal rights intact. You can submit your view via the official pubic comment process, which ends Monday.

Email comments to nepa-procedures­ or post them at https://www.regulation­ comment?D=FS-2019-0010-0001.

Moreover, it is never too late to contact public agencies and elected representa­tives to claim our right to have a significan­t say about what happens on our public lands.

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