The Forest Service manages over 192 million acres of land, often conducting a variety of vegetation management projects such as thinning trees. Before approving projects that may significantly affect the environment, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) generally requires the Forest Service to prepare an environmental assessment (EA) or an environmental impact statement (EIS). However, the Forest Service can decide not to prepare an EA or EIS if the project involves categories of activities that it previously found to have no significant environmental effect (categorical exclusions). As of 2003, the Forest Service had established one such exclusion affecting vegetation management projects and has since added four new ones. This testimony is based on GAO's report, Forest Service: Use of Categorical Exclusions for Vegetation Management Projects, Calendar Years 2003 through 2005 (GAO-07-99). For vegetation management during these years, GAO determined (1) how many projects the Forest Service approved, including those approved using categorical exclusions; (2) which categorical exclusions it used to approve projects; and (3) if categorical exclusions are not being used in any field offices, why. To answer these questions, GAO surveyed Forest Service officials at all 155 national forests.
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