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Dedicated to conservation and multiple use of public lands for recreation opportunities.

Edited by: John Stewart

THE PUBLIC PROCESS - GETTING INVOLVED AND MAKING A DIFFERENCE

by Ron Schiller, High Desert Multiple Use Coalition

The purpose of this article is to give you a short overview of how to get involved in the management of your public lands. By no means can everything about public participation be covered in one short article; but you will find what you need here to get started and be effective.

The public process as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, commonly known as NEPA, mandates that all federal agencies solicit and consider public comments during the development of land management actions.

To fully participate in the public process, the first step is to notify the appropriate agency of your interest in becoming involved. This should be in the form of a letter requesting that your name and address be placed on the mailing list for all information regarding the management of public land under that agency's jurisdiction. In most cases, one should specify the extent or range of information desired. In other words, if you are only interested in receiving documents regarding access to public lands for recreational activities (or road closures) and do not care to review grazing allotment plans, mining proposals, timber sales, or other such activities; your letter should state so. Be careful because sometimes timber sales for example, include road closures and re-routes. The following is an example of a letter to request to receive information related to management actions that could result in the loss of motorized access for recreational activities.

Agency Name
Address
City, State, & zip code

Dear sirs:

This letter is to request that my name and address be placed on all mailing lists for any planning activities that could result in closing existing roads or trails. In addition to management plans that focus specifically on motorized use, I am interested in receiving planning documents for other resource management plans that may involve the closure of motorized access as a sub-issue.

Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

Sincerely,
your name
address
phone number

It is very helpful to get on the USFS mailing list to receive the list of proposed actions (all kinds). The document is called the Environmental Analysis Quarterly. You must write and ask to be placed on this list (usually by name). It will give you the full scope of projects under consideration and the point of contact.

STEPS INVOLVED IN THE PUBLIC PROCESS

1. SCOPING

This is the initial step in the public process. The purpose of this step is for the agency to briefly explain to the public what a proposed management action involves and to gather information regarding public concerns. This step usually involves holding a public meeting which is often publicized in the local media. A sign in sheet is always available at the meeting. The purpose of the sign in sheet is for the agency to have the names and addresses of interested parties to allow follow up information to be mailed. If one is interested in participating in the public process, it is very important to sign in and write legibly.

In most cases the agency will have handouts that further describe what is involved in the proposed management action and provide the name and address of the agency's point of contact. In many cases verbal public comments are taken during the meeting but very often the comments are not documented well enough to be interpreted back at the office. It is, therefore, much more effective to provide comments in writing at the end of the meeting or, better yet, by mailing written comments shortly thereafter.

If you cannot attend the scoping meeting you can still participate in the process by contacting the agency and expressing your interest and concerns.

2. DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (DEIS) OR DRAFT ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (DEA)

The second step of the public process is the development of a DEIS or, for management actions of lesser scope, a DEA. If you signed the attendance record at the scoping meeting or otherwise indicated your interest, you should receive this document in the mail.

The DEIS or DEA includes an analysis of issues previously recognized by the agency as well as those identified by public comments received during the scoping phase. The DEIS or DEA will include a range of alternatives and indicate a proposed action based upon the compiled information.

This step also includes the opportunity for further public participation. The DEIS or DEA always involves a public comment period ranging from fifteen to ninety days for interested parties to submit additional written comments to the agency. It is critical to focus closely on the 'Purpose and Need Statement' in the environmental document because a bias can be built in right from the start. Your input may need to rebut the original intent and the way the assessment was approached.

3. FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT (FEIS) OR FINAL ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT (FEA)

After the comment period has expired, the agency will again analyze public input and develop a FEIS/FEA. All participants in the public process will receive a copy of the FEIS/FEA in the mail. By law, the agencies must have responded to all reasonable public comments within the environmental document.

Contained within the final environmental document, is a decision notice which should give an explanation of the procedure for challenging the decision. This could involve an appeal, protest, or other action depending upon the scope and significance of the decision. At this point, the only recourse the public has is to formally challenge the final decision using the procedure defined in the decision notice.

4. APPEALS, PROTESTS, AND OTHER REMEDIES

This step involves filing a formal written appeal or protest to force reconsideration of the final formal decision. Because each agency has different appeal processes, it is best to contact the agency and request a written copy of their appeal procedure. It is important to note that you cannot file an appeal or protest if you have not participated in public process and provided comments.

5. LEGAL ACTION

Although rarely filed by individuals, management decision lawsuits filed by organizations are commonplace. It should be noted that if a party has not participated in the public process, they have no 'standing' in a court of law. Therefore, even if you don't have the resources for litigation, you should at least appeal a bad decision that has adverse effects on your interests. This is because a third party such as a legal foundation or larger national organization could come to your aid if your issue is significant and you have fully participated in the public process.

NOTE: The above explanation of the public process is a basic outline and not intended to be totally comprehensive.

For additional information or clarification, please contact:

Contacts: Related Links:

Ron Schiller
High Desert Multiple Use Coalition
P.O. Box 1167
Ridgecrest, CA 93556
Phone: 760-377-5053
Fax: 760-377-5043
e-mail: schiller@ridgecrest.ca.us