NEPA: Help and Hinderance in our National Forests

“This land is your land, this land is my land” turns out to be more true and more complicated than Woodie Guthrie probably ever imagined, and has been realized in the Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest in Northwestern Washington. National Forests are public land, meaning that the land belongs to the people and the federal government invests money into the Forest Service to maintain its integrity. The National Environmental Policy Act, enacted in 1969, both provides accountability for the Forest Service to follow all the federal laws and protections surrounding National Forests and informs the public on any decisions made about their land. Any management action of the Forest, from prescribed burns to restoring wildlife habitat, requires the creation of a detailed NEPA document: a process that can take from 3 to 5 years. The frustration with this process is evident in Forest Service employees John Rohrer, Mike Borowski and Kent Woodruff, who recognize that much more aggressive action is needed in National Forests to assure that they will survive into the coming years of climate change. In the long run, the lengthy processes required by NEPA may be causing more harm than good to the most sensitive species of the forest. The combination of the rigorous decision making process and the decreased budget of the Forest Service both stand in the way of making more significant change, and when asked what is preventing the Forest Service from being more flexible in face of a changing climate, John Rohrer said “bureaucracy”.