Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Consolidation for NEPA Studies May Not Best Serve Forest Service

The US Forest Service is considering centralizing services and realigning National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) positions into service centers, rather than having each forest conduct its own studies.

In July 2007, a letter from Chief Abigail Kimball states, "Recommendations to consolidate these services will also contribute to the Agency’s efforts toward sustainable operations and a decreased environmental footprint."

But the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) characterizes the idea as "Massive Consolidation of NEPA Functions Will Take Thousands Out of Forests."

PEER says that the resulting reorganization will affect one in four agency jobs, shrink its on-the-ground firefighting militia and rigidify resource planning.

The plan would consolidate virtually all work performed under NEPA, the basic planning law that shapes significant agency resource management actions. Altogether, nearly 8,000 employees out of the agency's 30,000 person workforce now perform NEPA-related work. Almost all of this work is done at the forest level.

Under the plan, all of these functions would be moved into six "eco-based Service Centers" where forest planning would be standardized.

PEER believes that is would result in agency-wide displacement removing thousands of employees with fire-fighting responsibilities from national forests and relocating them in far-away service centers. Nearly half (3,564) of all Forest Service employees doing NEPA work have collateral all-hazard duties. Another result would likely be job cuts, as a main objective of the plan is to combine work now done on 155 national forests and 20 national grasslands. The agency’s Feasibility Study, dated August 1, 2007, projects a nearly 20% reduction in environmental positions.

The NEPA Feasibility Study notes that "The vast majority of Forest Service projects require familiarity with conditions on the ground where the activities take place," yet the plan it recommends would remove virtually all of the agency experts from the places they know.

from NEPA Feasibility Study Findings, Sep 21, 2007
and a news release of PEER, Jan 14, 2008
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