USDA Forest Service Announces Key Changes to NEPA Procedures

Dan Forestry, Industry News Release

forest service

(USDA/FS) — The USDA Forest Service announced the publication of a final rule implementing key changes to its National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The changes include new tools and flexibilities to tackle critical land management challenges as part of a broader agency effort to better serve the American people through timely, high-quality management decisions affecting infrastructure, permitting and restoration of natural resources on their national forests and grasslands.

“These changes will ensure we do the appropriate level of environmental analysis to fit the work, locations and conditions,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “The new categorical exclusions will ultimately improve our ability to maintain and repair the infrastructure people depend on to use and enjoy their national forests – such as roads, trails, campgrounds and other facilities.”

Categorical exclusions are a type of analysis for certain activities that typically do not have significant environmental effects. The rule establishes new or revised categorical exclusions that eliminate redundant efforts, allowing for previous environmental analyses to be used to support new decisions under certain circumstances, among other efficiencies.


The Forest Service finalized the regulations following its review of extensive public engagement and decades of experience complying with NEPA, one of the nation’s foundational environmental laws. The changes will allow Forest Service officials to concentrate resources on projects that are potentially more complex or have greater public interest, while also meeting NEPA requirements and fully honoring the agency’s environmental stewardship and public engagement responsibilities.

The updated regulations will publish tomorrow, Nov. 19 in the Federal Register and will take effect immediately.

Forest Service NEPA Procedures and Guidance

Amendments to the Forest Service’s NEPA regulations are final as of November 19, 2020. The final rule establishes new and revised categorical exclusions and a Determination of NEPA Adequacy provision. The updates will help expedite environmental analysis and decision making through these new tools and flexibility that supports the Forest Service in its mission to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Public comment informed and improved the final rule, which is effective immediately. View comments.

In July 2008, the Forest Service moved its NEPA procedures from directives to regulations to include new provisions that incorporate Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) guidance and to better align Agency NEPA documentation to Agency decision-making processes. Most existing Forest Service NEPA procedures were moved to regulation without substantial change.

National Environmental Policy Act Directives

Understanding the Forest Service Directives System – (508.pdf/12 KB)

FSM 1950, Environmental Policy and Procedures – (508.pdf/284 KB)

FSH 1909.15 – Contents – (.doc/53 KB)

Chief’s direction to suspend use of Category 10 – Hazardous Fuels Reduction – (508.pdf/86 KB)

Federal Register Notice – Proposed NEPA Procedures – (508.pdf/516 KB)

Proposed NEPA Procedures – Summary of Public Comment – (508.pdf/1.42 MB)