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USFS Land Use Plan Amendment Process (1-FD-d)

The Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974, as amended by the National Forest Management Act of 1976, requires the United States Forest Service (USFS) to develop, revise and amend Land Management Plans (LMPs) for units of the National Forest System (NFS). See 16 U.S.C. 1600 et seq. LMPs provide a framework for managing NFS unit resources and guide project and activity decision making for national forests. See 36 CFR 219.2(b). 36 CFR 219.15(d) requires all projects and activities approved on USFS-managed land to be consistent with the applicable LMP. If a project is not consistent with the applicable LMP, a revision or amendment may be required. If a change to the LMP is necessary in order to accommodate a proposed project, an amendment or revision is initiated. A revision replaces the current LMP for the applicable land unit, while an amendment adds, modifies or removes one or more plan components. As a practical matter, most renewable energy or transmission projects will require an amendment. If a plan has not yet been created in your area or if a revision is required, see Green arrow.PNG 1-(FD)-c: USFS Land Use Planning Process.

USFS Land Use Plan Amendment Process

1-FD-d.1 – Notify Public of Intent to Initiate Plan Amendment

36 CFR 219.16(a)(1) requires formal public notification before the initiation of the LMP amendment process. Public notifications required by 36 CFR 219.16(a)(1) must be published online and in the Federal Register when an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared. For an amendment that does not require an EIS, notice must be published in the applicable newspaper of record.

1-FD-d.2 to 1-FD-d.3 – Conduct Assessment of Existing Information (Optional); Assessment Report (Optional)

An assessment is optional for plan amendments. If the USFS determines that a new assessment is needed for the amendment, the responsible official has the discretion to determine the scope, scale, process, and content, depending on the topic or topics to be addressed. See 36 CFR 219.6(c).

The assessment rapidly evaluates existing information regarding relevant “ecological, economic, and social conditions, trends, and sustainability and their relationship to the land management plan within the context of the broader landscape.” See 36 CFR 219.5. The information may come from governmental or non-governmental studies, assessments, plans, reports, or other sources of relevant information. In addition, the USFS coordinates with other branches of the forest service, governmental agencies, Indian tribes and the public in order to obtain relevant information. See 36 CFR 219.6(a)(2).

The assessment is documented in a report that is made available to the public. The report must document how the best available scientific information (BASI) was used to inform the assessment. The report must also document how BASI was determined. See 36 CFR 219.6(a)(3). The assessment report should contain an analysis of information relevant to the following areas:

  • Terrestrial ecosystems, aquatic ecosystems, and watersheds;
  • Air, soil, and water resources and quality;
  • System drivers, including dominant ecological processes, disturbance regimes, and stressors, such as natural succession, wildland fire, invasive species, and climate change; and the ability of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems on the plan area to adapt to change;
  • Baseline assessment of carbon stocks;
  • Threatened, endangered, proposed and candidate species, and potential species of conservation concern present in the plan area;
  • Social, cultural, and economic conditions;
  • Benefits people obtain from the NFS planning area (ecosystem services);
  • Multiple uses and their contributions to local, regional, and national economies;
  • Recreation settings, opportunities and access, and scenic character;
  • Renewable and nonrenewable energy and mineral resources;
  • Infrastructure, such as recreational facilities and transportation and utility corridors;
  • Areas of tribal importance;
  • Cultural and historic resources and uses;
  • Land status and ownership, use, and access patterns; and
  • Existing designated areas located in the plan area including wilderness and wild and scenic rivers and potential need and opportunity for additional designated areas.

See 36 CFR 219.6(b).

1-FD-d.4 – Preliminary Identification of the Need to Change the Plan

The plan amendment must be based on a preliminary identification of the need to change a plan. The preliminary identification gives focus to the planning process. For a plan amendment, the preliminary identification may be informed by a new assessment, a monitoring report, or other documentation of new information, changed conditions or changed circumstances. In addition, 36 CFR 219.12(b)(1) states that “[w]hen a plan amendment is made together with, and only applies to, a project or activity decision, the analysis prepared for the project or activity may serve as the documentation for the preliminary identification of the need to change the plan.” Thus, analysis of a special use authorization may be used as documentation for the preliminary identification.

1-FD-d.5 to 1-FD-d.6 – Begin Outreach to the Public and Governmental Entities

36 CFR 219.4 requires the USFS to provide opportunities for public participation (in addition to the required public notifications) during the assessment process, the amendment process, and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. The USFS official has wide discretion to determine the nature of the participation. The USFS should encourage Indian tribes, governmental agencies, and the public to participate in the amendment process and provide opportunities for engagement.

36 CFR 219.4 requires the USFS to:

  • Consult with federally recognized Indian tribes regarding the plan amendment;
  • Request information from the tribes regarding native knowledge, land ethics, cultural issues, and sacred and culturally significant sites; and
  • Coordinate with other public planning efforts.

1-FD-d.7 – Develop Proposed Plan Amendment

As stated above, a plan amendment adds, modifies or removes one or more plan components. Plan components form the basis of the LMP. Required plan components include:

  • Desired Conditions;
  • Objectives;
  • Standards;
  • Guidelines; and
  • Suitability of lands.

Another component, goals, is optional. For more information regarding plan components, see 36 CFR 219.7(e)(1).

A plan may be amended at any time, and the responsible USFS official has the discretion to determine whether and how to amend a plan. An amendment is required to add, remove or modify one or more plan components or to change how or where a plan component applies to all or part of the plan area.

Once development of the amendment is complete, public notice is issued to invite comments on the amendment and the NEPA analysis.

1-FD-d.8 – Complete NEPA Process

36 CFR 219.5 requires the USFS to consider the environmental effects of the plan amendment. This is accomplished by conducting a NEPA review in conjunction with the amendment process. In some cases, NEPA compliance requires the USFS to prepare an EIS for the proposed amendment. Unlike plan development or revision, however, a plan amendment may not require an EIS where a Categorical Exclusion (CE) applies or where an Environmental Assessment (EA) and Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) will suffice. An EA and FONSI will suffice when the agency finds that there will be no significant impact on the environment.

An EIS is designed to force federal agencies to analyze the effects of their actions on the environment in accordance with NEPA. See 40 CFR 1502.1. An EIS should contain a discussion of the environmental impacts of the proposed federal action, alternatives to the proposed action, and mitigation measures. An EIS is required when there is a major Federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. See 40 CFR 1502.3. In addition, the EIS will describe the purpose and need for the amendment.

An EA is a concise public document that serves to help the agency determine whether an EIS or FONSI is required. It should include a brief assessment of the amendment and an analysis of the evidence relating to the need for an EIS. It should also include an analysis of the effects of the proposed action and an analysis of the alternatives. See 40 CFR 1508.9. A FONSI is a document prepared by a federal agency that briefly explains why an action will not have a significant effect on the human environment. See 40 CFR 1508.13. Although the NEPA and plan amendment processes are intertwined, and although a NEPA review must be completed before an amendment may be adopted, this section only addresses steps directly related to the amendment of LMPs. NEPA steps are included only if they are performed in conjunction with a step required by the amendment process. Consequently, this section does not include a complete list of NEPA steps required by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and USFS NEPA regulations. For a complete explanation of the USFS NEPA process, see Green arrow.PNG 9-(FD)-d: USFS NEPA Process.

1-FD-d.9 to 1-FD-d.10 – Proposed Plan Amendment / Draft EIS or EA and FONSI; Comment on Proposed Amendment and Draft EIS or EA/FONSI

After conducting a NEPA analysis and developing a proposed amendment, the USFS produces a proposed plan amendment and either a draft EIS or draft EA/FONSI, depending on the environmental impact of the proposal. 36 CFR 220.5(f) requires the draft of an EIS to be filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA publishes a notice of availability (NOA) when the draft EIS is issued and available for public review in the Federal Register. The EPA NOA serves as the public notice required by 36 CFR 219.16(a)(2) and begins the public comment period. See 36 CFR 219.16(3)(3). If the draft is an EA/FONSI, notice is usually published in the newspaper of record. The public comment period for a draft EIS must be at least 90 days, while the comment period for a draft EA/FONSI must be at least 30 days.

During the public comment period, interested parties may submit comments regarding the proposed amendment and draft EIS or draft EA/FONSI. The comments must be assessed, considered, and addressed by the USFS in the final EIS or EA/FONSI.

1-FD-d.11 to 1-FD-d.12 – Respond to Comments; Final EIS or EA/FONSI

The proposed amendment and the final EIS should describe and address comments received during the public comment period. The USFS must either incorporate substantive comments into the final EIS or explain why further response is not warranted. The USFS is required by 40 CFR 1503.4 to respond to comments in the final EIS in one of the following ways:

  1. Modify alternatives, including the proposed plan;
  2. Develop and evaluate alternatives not previously given serious consideration;
  3. Supplement, improve, or modify the analysis;
  4. Make factual corrections; and
  5. Explain why comments do not warrant further response, citing the sources, authorities, or reasons that support the agency’s position, and, if appropriate, indicate those circumstances that would trigger reappraisal or further response.

All substantive comments should be attached to the final EIS. The final EIS should correct errors in the draft EIS identified through the public comment process. 40 CFR 1502.9(c)(1) requires the USFS to prepare a supplement to the final EIS if substantial changes are made to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns or if there is significant new information or change in circumstances that are relevant to environmental concerns.

If a final EA is prepared instead of an EIS, 36 CFR 220.7(b) requires it to include:

  • The need for the proposal;
  • The proposed action and alternative(s);
  • The environmental impacts of the proposed action and alternative(s); and
  • Agencies and persons consulted.

If a draft EA was issued for public comment, an analysis of the substantive comments should be included in the final EA.

1-FD-d.13 to 1-FD-d.15 – Begin Objection Filing Period with Public Notice; File Objections; Respond to Objections, If Necessary

Section B of 36 CFR 219 establishes a pre-decisional administrative review process, also known as an objection, for LMP amendments. Only individuals or entities who have submitted substantive formal comments during comment periods may object. See 36 CFR 219.53. The objection must be filed with the reviewing officer for the plan, and it must include the following:

  • The objector's name and address, along with a telephone number or email address if available;
  • Signature or other verification of authorship upon request (a scanned signature for electronic mail may be filed with the objection);
  • Identification of the lead objector, when multiple names are listed on an objection. Verification of the identity of the lead objector if requested;
  • The name of the plan amendment being objected to, and the name and title of the responsible official;
  • A statement of the issues and/or the parts of the plan amendment to which the objection applies;
  • A concise statement explaining the objection and suggesting how the proposed plan decision may be improved. If applicable, the objector should identify how the objector believes that the plan amendment is inconsistent with law, regulation, or policy; and
  • A statement that demonstrates the link between prior substantive formal comments attributed to the objector and the content of the objection, unless the objection concerns an issue that arose after the opportunities for formal comment.

See 36 CFR 219.54(c).

The USFS publishes a public notice to begin the objection period, unless no substantive comments were received during the comment periods, in which case no objection period is necessary. Written objections must be filed within 60 days following the publication date of the public notice. See 36 CFR 219.56(a). The USFS must publish a notice of all objections within 10 days after the close of the objection period.

The USFS issues a written response to all objections within 90 days, unless that time period has been extended under 36 CFR 219.56(f). The response must set forth the reasons for the decision. The review and response to the objection is limited to the issues and concerns contained in the objection. The written response constitutes a final agency decision. The USFS official and the objector may meet before the written response is issued, at the request of either party, to discuss issues raised and possible solutions. Other interested parties must be allowed to participate and the meetings are open to observation by the public. See 36 CFR 219.57.

1-FD-d.16 to 1-FD-d.17 – Record of Decision or Decision Notice

36 CFR 219.16(a)(4) requires the USFS to notify the public when an amendment is approved. 36 CFR 219.14(a) requires the USFS to record approval of the amendment in the decision document prepared according the USFS NEPA procedures. If an EIS is prepared, the decision document will be a Record of Decision (ROD). The ROD must include:

  • The rationale for approval;
  • An explanation of how the plan components meet the sustainability requirements of 36 CFR 219.8, the diversity requirements of 36 CFR 219.9, the multiple use requirements of 36 CFR 219.10, and the timber requirements of 36 CFR 219.11;
  • A statement of how the plan amendment applies to approved projects and activities (36 CFR 219.15);
  • The documentation of how the best available scientific information was used to inform planning, the plan components, and other plan content, including the plan monitoring program (36 CFR 219.3);
  • The concurrence by the appropriate research station director with any part of the plan applicable to any experimental forests or experimental ranges 36 CFR 219.29b)(4); and
  • The effective date of the plan amendment.

In addition, 40 CFR 1505.2 requires the ROD to identify and discuss all alternatives considered by the USFS during the NEPA process and state whether all practicable means to avoid or minimize environmental harm were adopted, and if not, why not.

If an EA/FONSI is prepared instead of an EIS, the decision document will be the decision notice. The decision notice must meet all of the requirements of 36 CFR 219.14(a), listed above. In addition, 36 CFR 220.7(c) requires the decision notice “document the conclusions drawn and the decision(s) made based on the supporting record, including the EA and FONSI.” 36 CFR 220.7(c)(1)-(9) requires the decision document include:

  • A heading, which identifies the:
    • Title of document;
    • Agency and administrative unit;
    • Title of the project; and
    • Location of the action, including county and State.
  • Decision and rationale;
  • Brief summary of public involvement;
  • A statement incorporating by reference the EA and FONSI if not combined with the decision notice;
  • Findings required by other laws and regulations applicable to the decision at the time of decision;
  • Expected implementation date;
  • Administrative review or appeal opportunities and, when such opportunities exist, a citation to the applicable regulations and directions on when and where to file a request for review or an appeal;
  • Contact information, including the name, address, and phone number of a contact person who can supply additional information; and
  • Responsible Official's signature, and the date the notice is signed.

The amendment becomes effective on the date specified in the ROD or decision notice. In addition, 36 CFR 219.14(a) requires the USFS to notify the public when an amendment is approved.

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