7 CFR § 650.6 - Categorical exclusions.
(a) Some NRCS programs or parts of programs do not normally create significant individual or cumulative impacts on the human environment. Therefore, an EA or EIS is not needed. These are data gathering and interpretation programs and include:
(1) Soil Survey - 7 CFR part 611;
(2) Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasts - 7 CFR part 612;
(3) Plant Materials for Conservation - 7 CFR part 613;
(4) Inventory and Monitoring - Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance - 10.908; and
(5) River Basin Studies under section 6 of Pub. L. 83-566 as amended - 7 CFR part 621.
(b) When any new action is planned under the programs identified in paragraph (a) of this section, the EE performed by the RFO is to identify extraordinary circumstances that might lead to significant individual or cumulative impacts. Actions that have potential for significant impacts on the human environment are not categorically excluded.
(1) The NRCS restoration and conservation actions and activities identified in paragraph (d) of this section are eligible for categorical exclusion and require the RFO to document a determination that a categorical exclusion applies. Agency personnel will use the EE review process detailed in § 650.5 to evaluate proposed activities for extraordinary circumstances and document the determination that the categorical exclusion applies. The extraordinary circumstances address the significance criteria provided in 40 CFR 1508.27.
(2) The extraordinary circumstances identified in paragraph (c)(1) of this section include:
(i) The proposed action cannot cause significant effects on public health or safety.
(ii) The proposed action cannot significantly affect unique characteristics of the geographic area such as proximity to historic properties or cultural resources, park lands, prime farmlands, floodplains, wetlands, wild and scenic rivers, or ecologically critical areas.
(iii) The effects of the proposed action on the quality of the human environment cannot be highly controversial.
(iv) The proposed action cannot have highly uncertain effects, including potential unique or unknown risks on the human environment.
(v) The proposed action cannot include activities or conservation practices that establish a potential precedent for future actions with significant impacts.
(vi) The proposed action is known to have or reasonably cannot be expected to have potentially significant environment impacts to the quality of the human environment either individually or cumulatively over time.
(vii) The proposed action cannot cause or promote the introduction of invasive species or have a significant adverse effect on any of the following special environmental concerns not previously identified in paragraph (c)(2)(B) of this section, such as: endangered and threatened species, environmental justice communities as defined in Executive Order 12898, wetlands, other waters of the United States, wild and scenic rivers, air quality, migratory birds, and bald and golden eagles.
(viii) The proposed action will not violate Federal or other applicable law and requirements for the protection of the environment.
(3) In the absence of any extraordinary circumstances as determined through NRCS' EE review process, the activities will be able to proceed without preparation of an EA or EIS. Where extraordinary circumstances are determined to exist, the categorical exclusion will not apply, and the appropriate documentation for compliance with NEPA will be prepared. Prior to determining that a proposed action is categorically excluded under paragraph (d) of this section, the proposed action must:
(i) Be designed to mitigate soil erosion, sedimentation, and downstream flooding;
(ii) Require disturbed areas to be vegetated with adapted species that are neither invasive nor noxious;
(iii) Be based on current Federal principals of natural stream dynamics and processes, such as those presented in the Federal Interagency Stream Corridor Restoration Working Group document, “Stream Corridor Restoration, Principles, Processes, and Practices;”
(iv) Incorporate the applicable NRCS conservation practice standards as found in the Field Office Technical Guide;
(v) Not require substantial dredging, excavation, or placement of fill; and
(vi) Not involve a significant risk of exposure to toxic or hazardous substances.
(d) The use of the following categorical exclusions for a proposed action does not waive NRCS compliance with any applicable legal requirement including, but not limited to, the National Historical Preservation Act or the Endangered Species Act. The following categorical exclusions are available for application to proposed actions provided the conditions described in paragraph (c) of this section are met:
(1) Planting appropriate herbaceous and woody vegetation, which does not include noxious weeds or invasive plants, on disturbed sites to restore and maintain the sites ecological functions and services;
(2) Removing dikes and associated appurtenances (such as culverts, pipes, valves, gates, and fencing) to allow waters to access floodplains to the extent that existed prior to the installation of such dikes and associated appurtenances;
(3) Plugging and filling excavated drainage ditches to allow hydrologic conditions to return to pre-drainage conditions to the extent practicable;
(4) Replacing and repairing existing culverts, grade stabilization, and water control structures and other small structures that were damaged by natural disasters where there is no new depth required and only minimal dredging, excavation, or placement of fill is required;
(5) Restoring the natural topographic features of agricultural fields that were altered by farming and ranching activities for the purpose of restoring ecological processes;
(6) Removing or relocating residential, commercial, and other public and private buildings and associated structures constructed in the 100-year floodplain or within the breach inundation area of an existing dam or other flood control structure in order to restore natural hydrologic conditions of inundation or saturation, vegetation, or reduce hazards posed to public safety;
(7) Removing storm debris and sediment following a natural disaster where there is a continuing and eminent threat to public health or safety, property, and natural and cultural resources and removal is necessary to restore lands to pre-disaster conditions to the extent practicable. Excavation will not exceed the pre-disaster condition;
(8) Stabilizing stream banks and associated structures to reduce erosion through bioengineering techniques following a natural disaster to restore pre-disaster conditions to the extent practicable, e.g., utilization of living and nonliving plant materials in combination with natural and synthetic support materials, such as rocks, rip-rap, 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);
(9) Repairing or maintenance of existing small structures or improvements (including structures and improvements utilized to restore disturbed or altered wetland, riparian, in stream, or native habitat conditions). Examples of such activities include the repair or stabilization of existing stream crossings for livestock or human passage, levees, culverts, berms, dikes, and associated appurtenances;
(10) Constructing small structures or improvements for the restoration of wetland, riparian, in stream, or native habitats. Examples of activities include installation of fences and construction of small berms, dikes, and associated water control structures;
(11) Restoring an ecosystem, fish and wildlife habitat, biotic community, or population of living resources to a determinable pre-impact condition;
(12) Repairing or maintenance of existing constructed fish passageways, such as fish ladders or spawning areas impacted by natural disasters or human alteration;
(13) Repairing, maintaining, or installing fish screens to existing structures;
(14) Repairing or maintaining principal spillways and appurtenances associated with existing serviceable dams, originally constructed to NRCS standards, in order to meet current safety standards. Work will be confined to the existing footprint of the dam, and no major change in reservoir or downstream operations will result;
(15) Repairing or improving (deepening/widening/armoring) existing auxiliary/emergency spillways associated with dams, originally constructed to NRCS standards, in order to meet current safety standards. Work will be confined to the dam or abutment areas, and no major change in reservoir or downstream operation will result;
(16) Repairing embankment slope failures on structures, originally built to NRCS standards, where the work is confined to the embankment or abutment areas;
(17) Increasing the freeboard (which is the height from the auxiliary (emergency) spillway crest to the top of embankment) of an existing dam or dike, originally built to NRCS standards, by raising the top elevation in order to meet current safety and performance standards. The purpose of the safety standard and associated work is to ensure that during extreme rainfall events, flows are confined to the auxiliary/emergency spillway so that the existing structure is not overtopped which may result in a catastrophic failure. Elevating the top of the dam will not result in an increase to lake or stream levels. Work will be confined to the existing dam and abutment areas, and no major change in reservoir operations will result. Examples of work may include the addition of fill material such as earth or gravel or placement of parapet walls;
(18) Modifying existing residential, commercial, and other public and private buildings to prevent flood damages, such as elevating structures or sealing basements to comply with current State safety standards and Federal performance standards;
(19) Undertaking minor agricultural practices to maintain and restore ecological conditions in floodplains after a natural disaster or on lands impacted by human alteration. Examples of these practices include: mowing, haying, grazing, fencing, off-stream watering facilities, and invasive species control which are undertaken when fish and wildlife are not breeding, nesting, rearing young, or during other sensitive timeframes;
(20) Implementing soil control measures on existing agricultural lands, such as grade stabilization structures (pipe drops), sediment basins, terraces, grassed waterways, filter strips, riparian forest buffer, and critical area planting; and
(21) Implementing water conservation activities on existing agricultural lands, such as minor irrigation land leveling, irrigation water conveyance (pipelines), irrigation water control structures, and various management practices.