By Beth Lawrence

Residents have one more day to comment on proposed changes to the way the U.S. Forest Service decides which projects will be allowed to take place on public lands.

Friday is the last day to weigh in.

The newly proposed policy changes to the National Environmental Policy Act would allow individual districts to do away with public input on proposed projects and eliminate required environmental impact studies on others taking place on U.S. Forest Service land, according to Mountain True, an advocacy group whose aim is to protect Western North Carolina’s environment. Mountain True states that the following changes could take place:

• A loophole to allow logging up to 4,200 acres at one time, 6.6 square miles, without environmental review or public input. In Nantahala and Pisgah National Forests, that’s the same as five years’ worth of logging at current levels all at once.

• Cutting the public out of decisions to build up to 5 new miles of road at a time and to close roads used by the public to access hunting areas, fishing streams and trails.

• No longer requiring mining projects affecting fewer than 640 acres to have environmental review.

• Allowing multiple Categorical Exclusions – activities the Forest Service has decided generally don’t require environmental review or public input – to apply to the same project. This is currently against the law, and would allow projects like timber sales to be significantly larger and more destructive.

In a frequently asked questions page on U.S. Department of Agriculture website, the Forest Service said that the changes were being made because it “is trying to better serve the American people by doing everything it can to improve the health and resilience of forests, create jobs and provide economic benefits.”

The post added that the Forest Service faced the decisions as a result of reduced funding and large expenditures on wildfires. The page states that the proposed changes were made after input from experts and stakeholders in 2018. The page did not detail who the stakeholders were. The FAQ page can be found at www.fs.fed.us/emc/nepa/revisions/index.shtml#howtocomment.

Concerned residents can leave comments on the Mountain True advocacy page which will be directed to the U.S. Forest Service https://secure.everyaction.com/GFjECU-pHkOfDn-ZgswoJA2 or visit the regulations.gov dedicated to public comment on the NEPA changes: www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FS-2019-0010.