The DOI’s Order to Streamline NEPA Reviews Will be Bad for Climbing

09/13/2017

Earlier this month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issued an order to streamline National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews in order to fast track infrastructure projects on public lands.

The order mandates that Environmental Impact Statements (EIS)—the fundamental planning tool required by NEPA to evaluate the effects of a proposed project on the environment or the American public—must be completed within 15 months and not exceed 150 pages. The order also gives land management agencies 30 days to provide recommendations on ways to increase the efficiency of the NEPA process in order to remove “impediments” to infrastructure projects.


A forest planning meeting in Bishop, CA on the Sierra-Inyo-Sequoia Forest Plan revision in 2014. Part of NEPA process includes planning meetings like these, that are open to public stakeholders.

Zinke’s Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said, "The purpose of NEPA's requirement is not the generation of paperwork, but the adoption of sound decisions based on an informed understanding of environmental consequences." However, depending on the project, 15 months may not be sufficient for agencies to compile, analyze, and assimilate stakeholder input to make an informed decision on public land projects. An arbitrary EIS page limit is likely to discourage public land managers from examining and addressing “lower-priority” activities like rock climbing.

The EIS process provides a critical opportunity for the public to comment on proposed projects. These public comment periods are when Access Fund’s advocacy work is done—when we voice our concerns for how proposed projects or changes could impact climbing areas. While other public land resources—like endangered species—have laws that protect them, climbers and other recreationists have no such legislative safeguards that land managers must consider. NEPA and its associated processes is the best thing climbers have to ensure our access and protect the landscapes that are important to us.

"Recreation and environmental policy should be science-based. This order aims to suppress the scientific process and undermine the critical roles of NEPA to give public land stakeholders a voice and guide informed decision-making," said Erik Murdock, Access Fund Policy Director. A comprehensive NEPA review helps protect climbing access and the climbing environment by giving climbers an opportunity to weigh in during public comment periods. A thoughtful EIS is directed by the social, environmental, and economic elements of a proposed project and should not be influenced by infrastructure project timelines.

Access Fund plans to meet with Department of Interior and Agriculture administrators later this month to explain how this new Secretarial Order will impact the climbing community and climbing areas located on public lands. Stay tuned for updates.