The Trump administration is proposing to fast track logging on public lands, introducing two proposals Thursday that would limit the environmental review of new projects.
The proposals from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) would eliminate a 15-day protest period afforded to the public to comment on timber sales and other forest management decisions.
BLM said the comment period they are proposing to cut is repetitive, as people can already submit their thoughts when a project is undergoing review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
“In too many cases today, individuals and organizations that are unsatisfied with the final forest management decision are using the protest process to delay implementation by filing lengthy protests with the same comments that were previously raised and addressed,” the agency wrote in its release.
But some say the move risks further cutting the public out of what can be controversial decisions in local communities.
“I do support active forest management on public lands to help reduce the threat of wildland fire to communities," said Steve Ellis, who retired from the highest-level career role at BLM in 2016. "It’s important that the public, communities and tribes be involved in whatever treatment the agency is prescribing on public lands."
Another proposal would exclude timber salvage projects from federal environmental review, allowing companies to clear land that have been hit by wildfires or insect infestation without an analysis of its environmental impacts.
Environmental groups would likely challenge anything that excludes timber sales from a robust NEPA process.
But even if the proposal were finalized, the faster process could also run the risk of landing the agency in court.
“I'm all about streamlining NEPA, but there are still things you can't skip over or a federal court will remind you of that,” Ellis said. “You still have to review all the environmental impacts, make sure you’re following the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Water Act and make sure there’s public input.”
BLM argued the proposal is necessary to battle wildfires.
“We have to give our land managers the tools they need to reduce fuel loads and the threat of catastrophic wildfires in an environmentally sustainable manner," acting BLM director William Perry Pendley said in a release. "This proposal will allow us to increase the health and resilience of the landscape for both wildlife and people."