National Environmental Policy Act
Approved 1969, enacted January 1, 1970
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the culmination of over 100 years of science, research and advocacy. Passed by the U.S. Congress in 1969 and signed into law in January 1970 by President Nixon, it established a national environmental policy and a requirement to “include in every recommendation or report on proposals for legislation and other major Federal actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment, a detailed statement.” Further, it created the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) in the Executive Office of the President.
NEPA’s most significant and notable impact was the requirement that all executive federal agencies prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) and Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for all activities implemented on federally owned lands. These NEPA reports analyze and assess potential environmental effects of proposed federal agency actions. Interestingly, adherence to NEPA guidelines does not apply to the President, Congress, or the federal courts.
Because the law applies directly to lands, the agencies dealing directly with these requirements include the US Department of Agriculture – Forest Service (USFS), the US Department of Interior – Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the US Department of Interior – Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), and military bases located in the USA and abroad.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) spans a wide range of potential impacts effected on lands, river systems, air quality, and the habitat of animals supported on those lands. Every federal agency with a land or wildlife management mandate must adhere to NEPA rules and regulations. So-called levels of NEPA analysis, include:
- Categorical Exclusion (CatEx);
- Environmental Assessment (EA); with a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or,
- Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
Many times, agencies, organizations, and other landowners propose integrated land management plans with seemingly low impact to lands, wildlife, air quality, or people accustomed to using the resource. While this may seem obvious to those who develop the management plans, further examination of of the proposed actions need to be made by other specialists, and even by experts from outside the proposing agency.
This has brought environmental consulting firms, like D&D Larix, LLC, into the analysis of proposed activities.
NEPA compliance activities have become an integral part of all federal agencies seeking to develop land management activities: it is more than due diligence. Multidisciplinary teams are formed to develop and analyze projects, and then to create the NEPA compliance documents needed before any land management activities can begin. In the US Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, NEPA analysis teams can take two or more years to develop a programmatic plan, and then an equal amount of time, or more, to conduct the NEPA analysis of the proposed actions.
In some Executive Branch actions, Categorical Exclusions have been made for some specific activities, such as wildfire mitigation activities addressed by President George W. Bush, in 2002. The Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) was part of the effort to bolster hazardous fuels reduction projects, and to achieve results in a timely manner. It included both administrative reforms to reduce procedural delays in implementing fuels reduction projects and legislative action to streamline and prioritize forest health projects. Categorical Exclusions literally take an Action by Congress to streamline NEPA requirements.
Environmental consultants have been requested to work with federal agencies at various levels of involvement in land management activities. Sometimes this involvement is in the form of wildfire fighting contract-crews, field data collection or environmental sampling professionals. It can include the development of specific projects to achieve desired results, and then to prepare the NEPA compliance documents needed for project implementation.
When these environmental assessments are analyzed, a broad range of outreach activities must be brought together:
- Public participation,
- Multi-jurisdictional planning and coordination,
- Consultation with federal and state agencies,
- Analysis of the environment:
- Geologic setting
- Soil Resources
- Water Resources
- Air Quality
- Living Resources
- Vegetative Plant Communities
- Cultural Resources
- Socioeconomic Conditions
- Resource Use Patterns
- Development of Alternatives:
- Preferred alternative
- Alternative 1
- Alternative 2
- Alternative 3
- Environmental Consequenses
As an environmental consulting firm, our personnel have been involved with federal agencies to both develop specific projects for federal agencies, and to prepare the NEPA compliance documentation for those actions. In some cases, we have been asked to analyze and prepare only the programmatic project design, or NEPA compliance documentation, but not necessarily both.
Some of these activities have included wildfire risk assessments, development of mitigation measures, then the preparation of the NEPA materials. Others have addressed road and bridge layout and design crossing through sensitive soils, landslide prone landscapes, and sensitive river systems supporting native salmon spawning areas. Each project is unique and the analytics applied in each situation are specific.
These projects integrate a wide range of specialties, such as resource analysis, forest management, transportation infrastructure development, geospatial analysis, soils and geology, fisheries, wildlife management, and a host of related issues we bring. When we need additional expertise, we bring others into the process.
Salmon Habitat Ideas and Actions
Blueback Salmon Habitat Recovery
Quinault River, Washington
A project led by Dr. Schlosser in 2011, was for the Quinault Indian Nation, a federally recognized Indian tribe for a project on their Reservation. While it is on the tribal reservation, it is still considered federal lands: NEPA Compliance is required. Project activities included actions on lands managed by other federal agencies who were under obligation to support the Treaty of Olympia (1855).
While some agency representatives participating in the planning process were skeptical of the schedule of implementation for this effort, the entire NEPA compliance process from initiation, to the federal Finding of No Significant Impact was met within a four (4) month window. The federal agency certifying the FONSI was the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Planning efforts engaged agency and organization participation by 60 representatives. All participants endorsed the programmatic Environmental Assessment.
Tribal Reservations are considered Federal Lands
“Ownership boundaries and land use designations are not considered viable boundaries for treatment areas as the river itself knows no property boundaries.”
The Environmental Assessment for Blueback Salmon habitat restoration considered alternatives to achieve restored river functioning. These potential actions were aimed to return large wood debris, stream-side forest structure, sediment deposition, and application of silviculture reforestation techniques necessary to provide improved salmon habitat.
The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969 process requires an evaluation of relevant environmental effects of a project or action (on federal lands or using federal dollars), including consideration of a series of pertinent alternatives. The NEPA process for the Upper Quinault River Restoration effort began when the Quinault Indian Nation developed a proposal to address a need to take an action. Once a determination was made that the proposed action required initiating the NEPA process, three alternative levels of analysis were evaluated for applicability and compliance with the law.
These three levels included: 1) preparation of a Categorical Exclusion (CE), 2) preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), or 3) preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). In review of the supporting documents the Nation identified preparation of an EA and FONSI as the appropriate level of analysis and documentation.
Implementation of the elements evaluated in the Environmental Assessment would “promote the conservation of salmonid and wildlife population life history diversity and habitat in the short-term while implementing science based restoration of natural habitat forming processes that support recovery of landscape scale ecosystem function and fisheries resources over the long-term.”
By applying the restoration approach that includes carrying out incremental actions (projects) over the next 20-30 years to provide positive cumulative benefits to the natural environment rather than cumulative negative impacts, the desired long term goals of the Quinault Indian Nation may be achieved. Benefits derived from implementation of plan elements would accrue over time and, while some objectives such as restoration of mature floodplain forests may require up to 100 years to materialize, others such as conserving existing salmon habitat and reducing risks to life and property should become apparent on a much shorter time scale.
Engineered Log Jams (ELJs)
Re-establishing anadromous fish habitat
Take a look!
We work with your local experts to make our synergistic parts work together. Together, we accomplish more than we could alone.
NEPA Protocols Have a Broad Scope
In other examples we have provided NEPA Compliance documentation for wildfire mitigation efforts, river restoration associated with levee removal, and several forest management related activities involving federal funding. The tools we use to make the process streamlined include interactive planning committee website information transfer including interactive maps, committee access-limited FTP sites for data transfer, online meeting protocols, with just plain diligent and hard work. When we join your effort, we make a commitment to making the results meaningful.
We get the job done!