Now that we’ve gone through a completely intimdating and overwhelming amount of information, we’ve still somehow got to find the energy to actually do something.
Going back to the Trails Management Handbook, there is actually a section that details how to start the change; through applicable NEPA procedures.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was signed into law on January 1, 1970. The Act establishes national environmental policy and goals for the protection, maintenance, and enhancement of the environment and provides a process for implementing these goals within the federal agencies.
What NEPA means for us is that whenever the USFS needs to make a decision, it needs to go through the NEPA process. Long term, this means the decisions of our government take into account the needs of our earth.
A proposed agency action falls into one of three general categories relevant to NEPA.
- Categorical Exclusion (CE): relatively simple
- Environmental Assessment (EA): complex
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS): very very complex
A CE is a category of actions that the agency has determined does not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the quality of the human environment. Examples include issuing administrative personnel procedures, making minor facility renovations (such as installing energy efficient lighting), and reconstruction of hiking trails on public lands.
Locally, a Decision Memo was issued by the District Ranger which let the Skyline Trail be built underneath a Categorical Exclusion. Want to see more details on what a CE can be? Go back to the beginning with CFR laws, and you’ll find all of the details.
Another CE example is that of the local ski resort asking to build a trail on lease land. The District Ranger can allow this under a CE given that the trail surface area is less than five contiguous acres of land. Again, you can find this deep down on this page of CFR laws.
Environmental Assessment (EA)
The purpose of an EA is to determine the significance of the environmental effects and to look at alternative means to achieve the agency’s objectives. The EA is intended to be a concise document that (1) briefly provides sufficient evidence and analysis for determining whether to prepare an EIS; (2) aids an agency’s compliance with NEPA when no environmental impact statement is necessary; and (3) facilitates preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement when
one is necessary.
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
A Federal agency must prepare an EIS if it is proposing a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. The regulatory requirements for an EIS are more detailed than the requirements for an EA or a categorical exclusion.
So what do we do if we want to design and build a Non-Motorized Recreational Trail Network Plan for Big Bear? We’re going to have to use the NEPA process, most likely using an Environmental Analysis (EA). While something smaller could be written underneath a CE, because several of these have been done recently in the area it makes more sense to take a bigger picture look at the issue.
Focused USFS NEPA Information
The USFS has some good background information on the NEPA process right here, including Categorical Exclusions on restoring trails to their natural state because of the risk to the watershed.
PLEASE NOTE: Much of the above has been directly copied from referenced sources publicly available on the internet. Subjective opinion and interpretation can be found in color-hilited text boxes.