36 CFR § 220.6 - Categorical exclusions.
(a) General. A proposed action may be categorically excluded from further analysis and documentation in an EIS or EA only if there are no extraordinary circumstances related to the proposed action and if:
(1) The proposed action is within one of the categories established by the Secretary at 7 CFR part 1b.3; or
(2) The proposed action is within a category listed in § 220.6(d) and (e).
(b) Resource conditions.
(1) Resource conditions that should be considered in determining whether extraordinary circumstances related to a proposed action warrant further analysis and documentation in an EA or an EIS are:
(i) Federally listed threatened or endangered species or designated critical habitat, species proposed for Federal listing or proposed critical habitat, or Forest Service sensitive species;
(ii) Flood plains, wetlands, or municipal watersheds;
(iii) Congressionally designated areas, such as wilderness, wilderness study areas, or national recreation areas;
(iv) Inventoried roadless area or potential wilderness area;
(v) Research natural areas;
(vi) American Indians and Alaska Native religious or cultural sites; and
(vii) Archaeological sites, or historic properties or areas.
(2) The mere presence of one or more of these resource conditions does not preclude use of a categorical exclusion (CE). It is the existence of a cause-effect relationship between a proposed action and the potential effect on these resource conditions, and if such a relationship exists, the degree of the potential effect of a proposed action on these resource conditions that determines whether extraordinary circumstances exist.
(c) Scoping. If the responsible official determines, based on scoping, that it is uncertain whether the proposed action may have a significant effect on the environment, prepare an EA. If the responsible official determines, based on scoping, that the proposed action may have a significant environmental effect, prepare an EIS.
(d) Categories of actions for which a project or case file and decision memo are not required. A supporting record and a decision memo are not required, but at the discretion of the responsible official, may be prepared for the following categories:
(1) Orders issued pursuant to 36 CFR part 261 - Prohibitions to provide short-term resource protection or to protect public health and safety. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Closing a road to protect bighorn sheep during lambing season, and
(ii) Closing an area during a period of extreme fire danger.
(2) Rules, regulations, or policies to establish servicewide administrative procedures, program processes, or instructions. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Adjusting special use or recreation fees using an existing formula;
(ii) Proposing a technical or scientific method or procedure for screening effects of emissions on air quality related values in Class I wildernesses;
(iii) Proposing a policy to defer payments on certain permits or contracts to reduce the risk of default;
(iv) Proposing changes in contract terms and conditions or terms and conditions of special use authorizations;
(v) Establishing a servicewide process for responding to offers to exchange land and for agreeing on land values; and
(vi) Establishing procedures for amending or revising forest land and resource management plans.
(3) Repair and maintenance of administrative sites. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Mowing lawns at a district office;
(ii) Replacing a roof or storage shed;
(iii) Painting a building; and
(iv) Applying registered pesticides for rodent or vegetation control.
(4) Repair and maintenance of roads, trails, and landline boundaries. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Authorizing a user to grade, resurface, and clean the culverts of an established NFS road;
(ii) Grading a road and clearing the roadside of brush without the use of herbicides;
(iii) Resurfacing a road to its original condition;
(iv) Pruning vegetation and cleaning culverts along a trail and grooming the surface of the trail; and
(v) Surveying, painting, and posting landline boundaries.
(5) Repair and maintenance of recreation sites and facilities. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Applying registered herbicides to control poison ivy on infested sites in a campground;
(ii) Applying registered insecticides by compressed air sprayer to control insects at a recreation site complex;
(iii) Repaving a parking lot; and
(iv) Applying registered pesticides for rodent or vegetation control.
(6) Acquisition of land or interest in land. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Accepting the donation of lands or interests in land to the NFS, and
(ii) Purchasing fee, conservation easement, reserved interest deed, or other interests in lands.
(7) Sale or exchange of land or interest in land and resources where resulting land uses remain essentially the same. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Selling or exchanging land pursuant to the Small Tracts Act;
(ii) Exchanging NFS lands or interests with a State agency, local government, or other non-Federal party (individual or organization) with similar resource management objectives and practices;
(iii) Authorizing the Bureau of Land Management to issue leases on producing wells when mineral rights revert to the United States from private ownership and there is no change in activity; and
(iv) Exchange of administrative sites involving other than NFS lands.
(8) Approval, modification, or continuation of minor, short-term (1 year or less) special uses of NFS lands. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Approving, on an annual basis, the intermittent use and occupancy by a State-licensed outfitter or guide;
(ii) Approving the use of NFS land for apiaries; and
(iii) Approving the gathering of forest products for personal use.
(9) Issuance of a new permit for up to the maximum tenure allowable under the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 (16 U.S.C. 497b) for an existing ski area when such issuance is a purely ministerial action to account for administrative changes, such as a change in ownership of ski area improvements, expiration of the current permit, or a change in the statutory authority applicable to the current permit. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Issuing a permit to a new owner of ski area improvements within an existing ski area with no changes to the master development plan, including no changes to the facilities or activities for that ski area;
(ii) Upon expiration of a ski area permit, issuing a new permit to the holder of the previous permit where the holder is not requesting any changes to the master development plan, including changes to the facilities or activities; and
(iii) Issuing a new permit under the National Forest Ski Area Permit Act of 1986 to the holder of a permit issued under the Term Permit and Organic Acts, where there are no changes in the type or scope of activities authorized and no other changes in the master development plan.
(11) Issuance of a new special use authorization to replace an existing or expired special use authorization, when such issuance is to account only for administrative changes, such as a change in ownership of authorized improvements or expiration of the current authorization, and where there are no changes to the authorized facilities or increases in the scope or magnitude of authorized activities. The applicant or holder must be in compliance with all the terms and conditions of the existing or expired special use authorization. Subject to the foregoing conditions, examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Issuing a new authorization to replace a powerline facility authorization that is at the end of its term;
(ii) Issuing a new permit to replace an expired permit for a road that continues to be used as access to non-NFS lands; and
(iii) Converting a transitional priority use outfitting and guiding permit to a priority use outfitting and guiding permit.
(12) Issuance of a new authorization or amendment of an existing authorization for recreation special uses that occur on existing roads or trails, in existing facilities, in existing recreation sites, or in areas where such activities are allowed. Subject to the foregoing condition, examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Issuance of an outfitting and guiding permit for mountain biking on NFS trails that are not closed to mountain biking;
(ii) Issuance of a permit to host a competitive motorcycle event;
(iii) Issuance of an outfitting and guiding permit for backcountry skiing;
(iv) Issuance of a permit for a one-time use of existing facilities for other recreational events; and
(v) Issuance of a campground concession permit for an existing campground that has previously been operated by the Forest Service.
(e) Categories of actions for which a project or case file and decision memo are required. A supporting record is required and the decision to proceed must be documented in a decision memo for the categories of action in paragraphs (e)(1) through (25) of this section. As a minimum, the project or case file should include any records prepared, such as: The names of interested and affected people, groups, and agencies contacted; the determination that no extraordinary circumstances exist; a copy of the decision memo; and a list of the people notified of the decision. If the proposed action is approval of a land management plan, plan amendment, or plan revision, the plan approval document required by 36 CFR part 219 satisfies the decision memo requirements of this section.
(1) Construction and reconstruction of trails. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Constructing or reconstructing a trail to a scenic overlook, and
(ii) Reconstructing an existing trail to allow use by handicapped individuals.
(2) Additional construction or reconstruction of existing telephone or utility lines in a designated corridor. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Replacing an underground cable trunk and adding additional phone lines, and
(ii) Reconstructing a power line by replacing poles and wires.
(3) Approval, modification, or continuation of special uses that require less than 20 acres of NFS lands. Subject to the preceding condition, examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Approving the construction of a meteorological sampling site;
(ii) Approving the use of land for a one-time group event;
(iii) Approving the construction of temporary facilities for filming of staged or natural events or studies of natural or cultural history;
(iv) Approving the use of land for a utility corridor that crosses a national forest;
(v) Approving the installation of a driveway or other facilities incidental to use of a private residence; and
(vi) Approving new or additional communication facilities, associated improvements, or communication uses at a site already identified as available for these purposes.
(5) Regeneration of an area to native tree species, including site preparation that does not involve the use of herbicides or result in vegetation type conversion. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Planting seedlings of superior trees in a progeny test site to evaluate genetic worth, and
(ii) Planting trees or mechanical seed dispersal of native tree species following a fire, flood, or landslide.
(6) Timber stand and/or wildlife habitat improvement activities that do not include the use of herbicides or do not require more than 1 mile of low standard road construction. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Girdling trees to create snags;
(ii) Thinning or brush control to improve growth or to reduce fire hazard including the opening of an existing road to a dense timber stand;
(iii) Prescribed burning to control understory hardwoods in stands of southern pine; and
(iv) Prescribed burning to reduce natural fuel build-up and improve plant vigor.
(7) Modification or maintenance of stream or lake aquatic habitat improvement structures using native materials or normal practices. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Reconstructing a gabion with stone from a nearby source;
(ii) Adding brush to lake fish beds; and
(iii) Cleaning and resurfacing a fish ladder at a hydroelectric dam.
(8) Short-term (1 year or less) mineral, energy, or geophysical investigations and their incidental support activities that may require cross-country travel by vehicles and equipment, construction of less than 1 mile of low standard road, or use and minor repair of existing roads. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Authorizing geophysical investigations which use existing roads that may require incidental repair to reach sites for drilling core holes, temperature gradient holes, or seismic shot holes;
(ii) Gathering geophysical data using shot hole, vibroseis, or surface charge methods;
(iii) Trenching to obtain evidence of mineralization;
(iv) Clearing vegetation for sight paths or from areas used for investigation or support facilities;
(v) Redesigning or rearranging surface facilities within an approved site;
(vi) Approving interim and final site restoration measures; and
(vii) Approving a plan for exploration which authorizes repair of an existing road and the construction of 1/3 mile of temporary road; clearing vegetation from an acre of land for trenches, drill pads, or support facilities.
(9) Implementation or modification of minor management practices to improve allotment condition or animal distribution when an allotment management plan is not yet in place. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Rebuilding a fence to improve animal distribution;
(ii) Adding a stock watering facility to an existing water line; and
(iii) Spot seeding native species of grass or applying lime to maintain forage condition.
(11) Post-fire rehabilitation activities, not to exceed 4,200 acres (such as tree planting, fence replacement, habitat restoration, heritage site restoration, repair of roads and trails, and repair of damage to minor facilities such as campgrounds), to repair or improve lands unlikely to recover to a management approved condition from wildland fire damage, or to repair or replace minor facilities damaged by fire. Such activities:
(i) Shall be conducted consistent with Agency and Departmental procedures and applicable land and resource management plans;
(ii) Shall not include the use of herbicides or pesticides or the construction of new permanent roads or other new permanent infrastructure; and
(iii) Shall be completed within 3 years following a wildland fire.
(12) Harvest of live trees not to exceed 70 acres, requiring no more than 1/2 mile of temporary road construction. Do not use this category for even-aged regeneration harvest or vegetation type conversion. The proposed action may include incidental removal of trees for landings, skid trails, and road clearing. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Removal of individual trees for sawlogs, specialty products, or fuelwood, and
(ii) Commercial thinning of overstocked stands to achieve the desired stocking level to increase health and vigor.
(13) Salvage of dead and/or dying trees not to exceed 250 acres, requiring no more than 1/2 mile of temporary road construction. The proposed action may include incidental removal of live or dead trees for landings, skid trails, and road clearing. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Harvest of a portion of a stand damaged by a wind or ice event and construction of a short temporary road to access the damaged trees, and
(ii) Harvest of fire-damaged trees.
(14) Commercial and non-commercial sanitation harvest of trees to control insects or disease not to exceed 250 acres, requiring no more than 1/2 mile of temporary road construction, including removal of infested/infected trees and adjacent live uninfested/uninfected trees as determined necessary to control the spread of insects or disease. The proposed action may include incidental removal of live or dead trees for landings, skid trails, and road clearing. Examples include, but are not limited to:
(i) Felling and harvest of trees infested with southern pine beetles and immediately adjacent uninfested trees to control expanding spot infestations, and
(ii) Removal and/or destruction of infested trees affected by a new exotic insect or disease, such as emerald ash borer, Asian long horned beetle, and sudden oak death pathogen.
(16) Land management plans, plan amendments, and plan revisions developed in accordance with 36 CFR part 219 et seq. that provide broad guidance and information for project and activity decisionmaking in a NFS unit. Proposals for actions that approve projects and activities, or that command anyone to refrain from undertaking projects and activities, or that grant, withhold or modify contracts, permits or other formal legal instruments, are outside the scope of this category and shall be considered separately under Forest Service NEPA procedures.
(17) Approval of a Surface Use Plan of Operations for oil and natural gas exploration and initial development activities, associated with or adjacent to a new oil and/or gas field or area, so long as the approval will not authorize activities in excess of any of the following:
(i) One mile of new road construction;
(ii) One mile of road reconstruction;
(iii) Three miles of individual or co-located pipelines and/or utilities disturbance; or
(iv) Four drill sites.
(18) Restoring wetlands, streams, riparian areas or other water bodies by removing, replacing, or modifying water control structures such as, but not limited to, dams, levees, dikes, ditches, culverts, pipes, drainage tiles, valves, gates, and fencing, to allow waters to flow into natural channels and floodplains and restore natural flow regimes to the extent practicable where valid existing rights or special use authorizations are not unilaterally altered or canceled. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Repairing an existing water control structure that is no longer functioning properly with minimal dredging, excavation, or placement of fill, and does not involve releasing hazardous substances;
(ii) Installing a newly-designed structure that replaces an existing culvert to improve aquatic organism passage and prevent resource and property damage where the road or trail maintenance level does not change;
(iii) Removing a culvert and installing a bridge to improve aquatic and/or terrestrial organism passage or prevent resource or property damage where the road or trail maintenance level does not change; and
(iv) Removing a small earthen and rock fill dam with a low hazard potential classification that is no longer needed.
(19) Removing and/or relocating debris and sediment following disturbance events (such as floods, hurricanes, tornados, mechanical/engineering failures, etc.) to restore uplands, wetlands, or riparian systems to pre-disturbance conditions, to the extent practicable, such that site conditions will not impede or negatively alter natural processes. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Removing an unstable debris jam on a river following a flood event and relocating it back in the floodplain and stream channel to restore water flow and local bank stability;
(ii) Clean-up and removal of infrastructure flood debris, such as, benches, tables, outhouses, concrete, culverts, and asphalt following a hurricane from a stream reach and adjacent wetland area; and
(iii) Stabilizing stream banks and associated stabilization structures to reduce erosion through bioengineering techniques following a flood event, including the use of living and nonliving plant materials in combination with natural and synthetic support materials, such as rocks, riprap, geo-textiles, for slope stabilization, erosion reduction, and vegetative establishment and establishment of appropriate plant communities (bank shaping and planting, brush mattresses, log, root wad, and boulder stabilization methods).
(20) Activities that restore, rehabilitate, or stabilize lands occupied by roads and trails, including unauthorized roads and trails and National Forest System roads and National Forest System trails, to a more natural condition that may include removing, replacing, or modifying drainage structures and ditches, reestablishing vegetation, reshaping natural contours and slopes, reestablishing drainage-ways, or other activities that would restore site productivity and reduce environmental impacts. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Decommissioning a road to a more natural state by restoring natural contours and removing construction fills, loosening compacted soils, revegetating the roadbed and removing ditches and culverts to reestablish natural drainage patterns;
(ii) Restoring a trail to a natural state by reestablishing natural drainage patterns, stabilizing slopes, reestablishing vegetation, and installing water bars; and
(iii) Installing boulders, logs, and berms on a road segment to promote naturally regenerated grass, shrub, and tree growth.
(21) Construction, reconstruction, decommissioning, relocation, or disposal of buildings, infrastructure, or other improvements at an existing administrative site, as that term is defined in section 502(1) of Public Law 109-54 (119 Stat. 559; 16 U.S.C. 580d note). Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Relocating an administrative facility to another existing administrative site;
(ii) Construction, reconstruction, or expansion of an office, a warehouse, a lab, a greenhouse, or a fire-fighting facility;
(iii) Surface or underground installation or decommissioning of water or waste disposal system infrastructure;
(iv) Disposal of an administrative building; and
(v) Construction or reconstruction of communications infrastructure.
(22) Construction, reconstruction, decommissioning, or disposal of buildings, infrastructure, or improvements at an existing recreation site, including infrastructure or improvements that are adjacent or connected to an existing recreation site and provide access or utilities for that site. Recreation sites include but are not limited to campgrounds and camping areas, picnic areas, day use areas, fishing sites, interpretive sites, visitor centers, trailheads, ski areas, and observation sites. Activities within this category are intended to apply to facilities located at recreation sites managed by the Forest Service and those managed by concessioners under a special use authorization. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Constructing, reconstructing, or expanding a toilet or shower facility;
(ii) Constructing or reconstructing a fishing pier, wildlife viewing platform, dock, or other constructed feature at a recreation site;
(iii) Installing or reconstructing a water or waste disposal system;
(iv) Constructing or reconstructing campsites;
(v) Disposal of facilities at a recreation site;
(vi) Constructing or reconstructing a boat landing;
(vii) Replacing a chair lift at a ski area;
(viii) Constructing or reconstructing a parking area or trailhead; and
(ix) Reconstructing or expanding a recreation rental cabin.
(23) Road management activities on up to 8 miles of NFS roads and associated parking areas. Activities under this category cannot include construction or realignment. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Rehabilitating an NFS road or parking area where management activities go beyond repair and maintenance;
(ii) Shoulder-widening or other safety improvements within the right-of-way for an NFS road; and
(iii) Replacing a bridge along an NFS road.
(24) Construction and realignment of up to 2 miles of NFS roads and associated parking areas. Examples include but are not limited to:
(i) Constructing an NFS road to improve access to a trailhead or parking area;
(ii) Rerouting an NFS road to minimize resource impacts; and
(iii) Improving or upgrading the surface of an NFS road to expand its capacity.
(25) Forest and grassland management activities with a primary purpose of meeting restoration objectives or increasing resilience. Activities to improve ecosystem health, resilience, and other watershed and habitat conditions may not exceed 2,800 acres.
(i) Activities to meet restoration and resilience objectives may include, but are not limited to:
(A) Stream restoration, aquatic organism passage rehabilitation, or erosion control;
(B) Invasive species control and reestablishment of native species;
(C) Prescribed burning;
(E) Road and/or trail decommissioning (system and non-system);
(G) Vegetation thinning; and
(H) Timber harvesting.
(ii) The following requirements or limitations apply to this category:
(A) Projects shall be developed or refined through a collaborative process that includes multiple interested persons representing diverse interests;
(B) Vegetation thinning or timber harvesting activities shall be designed to achieve ecological restoration objectives, but shall not include salvage harvesting as defined in Agency policy; and
(C) Construction and reconstruction of permanent roads is limited to 0.5 miles. Construction of temporary roads is limited to 2.5 miles, and all temporary roads shall be decommissioned no later than 3 years after the date the project is completed. Projects may include repair and maintenance of NFS roads and trails to prevent or address resource impacts; repair and maintenance of NFS roads and trails is not subject to the above mileage limits.
(f) Decision memos. The responsible official shall notify interested or affected parties of the availability of the decision memo as soon as practical after signing. While sections may be combined or rearranged in the interest of clarity and brevity, decision memos must include the following content:
(1) A heading, which must identify:
(i) Title of document: Decision Memo;
(ii) Agency and administrative unit;
(iii) Title of the proposed action; and
(iv) Location of the proposed action, including administrative unit, county, and State.
(2) Decision to be implemented and the reasons for categorically excluding the proposed action including:
(i) The category of the proposed action;
(ii) The rationale for using the category and, if more than one category could have been used, why the specific category was chosen;
(iii) A finding that no extraordinary circumstances exist;
(3) Any interested and affected agencies, organizations, and persons contacted;
(4) Findings required by other laws such as, but not limited to findings of consistency with the forest land and resource management plan as required by the National Forest Management Act; or a public interest determination (36 CFR 254.3(c));
(5) The date when the responsible official intends to implement the decision and any conditions related to implementation;
(6) Whether the decision is subject to review or appeal, the applicable regulations, and when and where to file a request for review or appeal;
(7) Name, address, and phone number of a contact person who can supply further information about the decision; and
(8) The responsible official's signature and date when the decision is made.
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