The Saratoga Sun -

Increasing NEPA's scope

LaVA paves way for ‘condition-based NEPA’

 


In the past, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) has been focused on site-specific projects in one area with the whole process taking approximately 1 to 2 years before implementation can begin. The Landscape Vegetation Analysis (LaVA) project changes that with the use of what is called “condition-based NEPA.” This is something that Leanne Correll, the NEPA Coordinator for the Saratoga, Encampment and Rawlins Conservation District (SERCD), is excited to be a part of.

“The NEPA process still has to go through its entire analysis,” said Correll, “but it does an analysis on a much larger scale than what traditional NEPA is. It doesn’t encompass the analysis that is being done here.”

As has been reported previously in the Saratoga Sun, the United States Forest Service (USFS) along with several cooperating agencies have analyzed approximately 850,000 acres of the Medicine Bow National Forest (MBNF) with the intention of treating around 360,000 acres using options ranging from commercial harvest to prescribed burns.

“The NEPA analysis itself is, in fact, more rigorous than the site-specific because we have to take so many things into consideration, but once that NEPA is done then it allows the on-the-ground projects to be implemented faster as a result of that NEPA,” Correll said.

Along with the condition-based NEPA, the LaVA project will also be utilizing the Healthy Forests Initiative, also known as the Healthy Forests Restoration Act (HFRA), established by President George W. Bush in 2002. The goal of the HFRA is to reduce hazardous fuels and promote vegetation restoration “while maintaining environmental standards and collaborating with communities and interested publics.”

“We’re trying to restore to what, ecologically, is seen as a healthy forest,” said Correll.

The stated goal of LaVA is one that the SERCD takes to heart, according to Correll, because the people they serve are the members of the public that utilize the forests.

“The importance of the LaVA project is what is stated in the project goals. ‘Providing for human safety,’” Correll said, “because a lot of people use those forested areas, and then reducing the wildfire risk—and we’re talking catastrophic wildfires—to those communities. We have a lot of wildland and urban interface areas.”

It is because of the wildland and urban interface areas that LaVA enlists so many treatment options across several thousand acres and why the condition-based NEPA is so important. Looking at a map and planning a prescribed burn or some other treatment option is one thing, until the cooperating agencies get on the ground and find that structures, landscape or other factors prohibit the original plan.

“In some areas we don’t have that full suite of tools. It will be hand tools and maybe some small prescribed fires,” said Correll.

Correll stressed the importance of public engagement during the 10 to 15 year period that the LaVA project is slated to take place adding that, due to the adaptive nature of the project, both the public and cooperating agencies need to stay involved through the lifetime of the project.

“I would like to stress the implementation piece and the cooperating agencies working with the forest service have put an enormous amount of time into a framework for what that’s going to look like for this 10 to 15 year period of time and there will be public engagement throughout the time. That was one of the things that was very important to us as the conservation district as well as several of the other cooperating agencies, that we have that opportunity,” Correll said.

The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the LaVA project is scheduled to be released this month during which time there will be a 45-day public comment period. Correll encourages anyone who has any questions about the DEIS to visit the SERCD office.

“If any of the public want to come and have a conversation with anybody at the conservation district, then I would be happy to set up a meeting time to help them sort through what’s in there and help them look at that and answer any questions,” said Correll.

 

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