Oil, logging, mining, and grazing will be the priorities of national forests and grasslands, with expedited environmental oversight, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told the U.S. Forest Service Friday.
His memo announced a “blueprint for reforms” that refocuses the Forest Service to produce products and services from the 193 million acres of forests, grasslands, and wilderness areas it oversees.
He directed the agency to find new ways to produce energy on national forestland, promote “active management” to support rural communities, and expedite broadband development to provide internet service to rural areas.
Environmental groups on Friday accused Perdue of attempting to fast-track development of national forests that have long been managed for conservation and multiple uses.
Many national forests border national parks and contain wilderness areas that are protected from all forms of development. The largest national forest, Alaska’s Tongass, is the hemisphere’s largest coastal temperate rainforest. The Forest Service has targeted it for new logging projects.
Relief from Regulation
Perdue also directed the Forest Service to focus on grazing and make it easier for ranchers to obtain grazing permits. The Bureau of Land Management is working on a similar effort.
The Forest Service is under a similar directive as the BLM to speed through environmental reviews of projects under the National Environmental Policy Act—part of an administration-wide effort to amend the law’s regulations.
Perdue also announced an effort to expand access to national forests and make it easier for forest users to obtain permits for recreational activities. The memo, which mentions hunting and fishing, didn’t specify how access would be expanded or what permits would be made easier to obtain.
Hunting and fishing licenses are usually issued by states, even for use in national forests.
The reforms will “further provide relief from burdensome regulations, improve customer service and boost the productivity of our National Forests and Grasslands,” Perdue wrote.
Direction From the Top
The Forest Service didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The directive encapsulates efforts already underway at the Forest Service, which is working on revamping its oil, gas, and mining regulations in a way that would promote faster decisions on oil and gas drilling and mining.
The memo appears to implement an executive order that President Donald Trump signed last week, directing federal agencies to use the coronavirus pandemic to expedite infrastructure projects on federal lands, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a trade group representing fossil fuel companies operating on public lands.
“The details and implementation will hopefully follow soon, but the political will to move forward cannot be underestimated,” Sgamma said. “While it’s always difficult for a large bureaucracy to move forward, direction from the top is important.”
Taking Agency ‘Back 50 Years’
Perdue’s memo codifies his own rhetoric about the uses of national forests, which he believes should be focused on production over conservation, said Jim Furnish, a former Forest Service deputy chief in former President Bill Clinton’s administration.
The memo takes “the Forest Service back to where they were 50 years ago when they were just used as a commodity-producing agency,” Furnish said.
The Center for Biological Diversity said the memo represents a “dystopian” vision for forest management amid an extinction crisis and a warming planet.
“This is a roadmap to national forest destruction, and it’s painful to read,” Randi Spivak, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s public lands program, said in a statement.
“This will increase air and water pollution, kill wildlife and increase carbon pollution. It’s the extractive industry’s agenda on steroids,” she said.