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In 1215, King John of England signed the Magna Carta that was a turning point and background in protection of human rights. In 1969, Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). President Nixon signed it Jan. 1, 1970. It assures all branches of government give proper consideration to the environment prior to undertaking any major federal action that significantly affects the environment.

By 1970, the people had experienced major environmental disasters, many by government agencies themselves or private entities under federal government supervision. Off the coast of Santa Barbara, California in January and February of 1969 an off-shore well spewed 3 million gallons of crude that lined the coast. At that time it was the largest spill to affect the U.S. And the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland — polluted from decades of industrial waste — caught fire on a Sunday morning in June 1969. The best seller, Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson published in 1962, raised awareness of nature’s dilemmas our actions were causing. Enough was enough.

NEPA wasn’t a spur of the moment action by Congress. The attitude of citizens toward the natural world had been changing throughout the twentieth century. Theodore Roosevelt, John Muir, Aldo Leopold and other forerunners changed American values for nature. But it took the leadership in Congress of Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson and some of his congressional allies to sell the idea of NEPA. The bill passed the Senate with a vote of 80 to 0 on March 24, 1969 and the House on March 25 with a vote of 358 to 0. NEPA established a Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). With NEPA as the backup, soon after came strengthening of the Clean Air Act (1970), the Clean Water Act (1972), and the Endangered Species Act (1973). To date, more than 100 nations around the world have enacted national environmental policies modeled after NEPA.

NEPA requirements are invoked when airports, military complexes, highways, large disturbances of natural lands and other federal activities are proposed. Enforcement of the act is accomplished by the requirement that federal agencies prepare Environmental Assessments (EAs) or Environmental Impact Statements (EISs) for large projects. These reports state the potential environmental effects of proposed actions. EISs and EAs have strengthened our democracy by becoming the jaws and the teeth of public control of our environment.

Essentials to an Environmental Impact Statement include: purpose and need, proposed action, affected environment, expected impacts, and especially, alternative actions. It is this last essential, “alternatives,” that give the citizens control of the action. All EISs must have the alternative of “No Action.” This tells the agency we do not want this plan. Alternatives can override or change unscrupulous and/or unpopular bureaucratic actions.

Sonny Perdue is Secretary of Agriculture and heads the U.S. Forest Service. With a speech in June of 2017 at Boise State University he responded to a question about the Forest Service. He said, “Regarding the U.S. Forest Service and our public lands, I think it is time we started looking at forests as crops, as agriculture…….”

Secretary Perdue was the governor of Georgia before being picked to head agriculture and the Forest Service. Georgia is heavily forested. Only 8% is public forest, 58% is private individual owned, and 22% is corporate owned. Nearly all logging is on private land. Trees grow all over Georgia because they get enough moisture. It only takes thirty years to grow a commercially valuable pine, whereas in the Rockies it takes one hundred years or more. In the West, forests grow where the mountains push them to elevations where they receive enough moisture. The mountains have steep canyons and mesa tops. Forests lace the edges of snow-capped peaks and draw the world for recreation vacations.

Following Perdue’s philosophy and vision, 51.2% of Wyoming’s Medicine Bow National Forest is up for harvest around the Snowy Range Mountains. According to the Medicine Bow Landscape Vegetation Analysis (LaVA) plan, the forest is to be “managed/treated.” Being called “Mechanical Treatment Areas,” 561,414 acres are proposed for logging. The whole forest is only 1,096,891 acres.

The vast beetle kill of pine trees that essentially ended in 2008 was a natural phenomenon, by a native species, because conditions were perfect, a perfect storm. LaVA calls for 10 miles of permanent new road to access 600 miles of temporary logging roads. Six hundred miles is from Laramie, across Wyoming, Utah and to Elko, Nevada. The LaVA project is the largest operation ever on the Medicine Bow Forest. Officials of the plan were to notify the public of the August 8, 2017 public scoping meeting and the August 21, 2017 deadline for comments required by law. They failed to notify Albany County, through any main media, where most of the population lives that adjoins the Bow forest. Fewer than 20 residents attended. None of Wyoming’s many environmental organizations were notified.

But we citizens have the NEPA and the draft EIS meeting will be in early January. You will be notified of the date, time and place.

Star-Tribune contributing columnist Duane Keown is a professor emeritus in science education at the University of Wyoming.


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