Scott Brennan

Scott Brennan

Science and public participation are two of the key tools available to federal land agencies to help them steward our national forests and other public lands.

So, it’s disappointing, but not surprising, that the Trump administration is trying to do away with both.

In June, the U.S. Forest Service proposed to limit public access to public land management decisions and sideline science in most management decisions for the 193 million acres of national forest lands across the U.S.

For the thousands of residents in Southwest Montana who have commented on the ongoing Custer-Gallatin National Forest plan revision, this should concern you. For anyone with strong opinions about public access to the Crazy Mountains, this should concern you.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is a law enacted during the Nixon administration that protects the right of the general public to know about and participate in decisions that affect federal public lands. Now, under the guise of “modernizing” and “streamlining” this bedrock law, the Trump administration is proposing to undermine NEPA and limit public access to public land management decisions.

The specific changes proposed by the Forest Service would open enormous loopholes in the law to increase the scale and the speed of resource extraction such as logging and mining while eliminating public notice and input on up to 93 percent of projects.

The rule proposes new “categorical exclusions” that would allow the Forest Service to hide project planning by cutting the public from the decision-making process and eliminating science-based review of impacts to water, wildlife and recreation.

There are many good reasons why the administration should abandon these ill-advised changes to NEPA. Here are four:

• They would deny the public their rightful participation in decisions about public lands. This bad policy would tip the scale to benefit extractive industries over other uses of our public lands. The owners of our national forests, of course, are the American people, and we must always have a voice in how our shared public lands are used.

• The rule would reduce access to public lands targeted for development. Our national forests are treasured for hiking, camping, fishing and other outdoor recreation. These outdoor traditions should be preserved for future generations.

• Accelerated and hastily approved logging and road building would endanger wildlife, sensitive forests and the backcountry. Wildlife need large protected areas to survive, especially in an era of climate disruptions and continuing habitat fragmentation.

• The rule puts clean drinking water at risk. Many communities in Montana and throughout the nation depend on clean water that originates on our national forests, which serve as natural purifiers. Bozeman is a perfect example of this with 80 percent of our drinking water coming from Hyalite. Logging, mining, road building and related activities degrade streams and waterways and pollute water.

For all these reasons, the public needs to tell the Forest Service to reject this proposed change.

Montanans are camping, hiking and packing through our state’s public forests this Labor Day weekend.

Hunting season is upon us, and Montanans participating in this time-honored tradition will track wildlife through prairies and valleys on public lands. These landscapes look and feel the way they to today because of the laws that protect them. Over the past two years, we have witnessed numerous efforts by the White House to roll back, time-tested conservation laws and policies that protect our treasured public lands. This list includes the Roadless Rule, the Antiquities Act, the role of scientific study and the ban on drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — and now the National Environmental Policy Act, which has been described as the Magna Carta of conservation law.

I’d like to commend those Montanans who have spoken out against these proposed changes, including the Missoula County Commission and the four University of Montana scientists who signed the national letter of concerned scientists. We’re counting on all Montanans and our delegation in the Senate and House to stand up for careful conservation of our public lands, which are vital to current and future generations of the Treasure State.

Scott Brennan is Montana state director at The Wilderness Society.