Deep into the BLM NEPA process:
During the scoping for the RMP, BLM conducted public input for the Travel and Transportation Management Plan but did not issue the plan as part of the Approved RMP. This plan would cover access to Monument lands, trails, minimizing impacts to wildlife habitat, reducing the introduction and spread of invasive weeds, preventing damage to cultural resources resulting from the expansion of roads and trails on public lands, and other items. It is presumed BLM will conduct future public meetings to obtain public comment on some of the specific implementation measures as there have been changes on Monument lands (such as erosion) since the initial public input gathered in 2015.
A big question is how BLM determines the priority for developing these implementation plans. Will the public and Tribes have input into setting these priorities? BLM could set priorities based upon the expertise of District staff available or the possibility of obtaining grant funding for certain actions. We encourage BLM to ask the public and Tribes and consider their input before establishing priorities for plans.
The BLM website states: Most of the actions the BLM takes to implement its land-use plans are reviewed under the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), either through the production of detailed Environmental Impact Statements, less-complex Environmental Assessments, or other related documents. https://www.blm.gov/programs/planning-and-nepa/what-informs-our-plans/nepa
Some of BLM’s implementation under the RMP requires public input. For other actions BLM does not need to consult the public prior to implementation. In most cases it is BLM itself who determines if public input is or is not required.
The categories for BLM’s environmental assessment are: Listed in order of most public input to no public input
Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). This was completed as part of the RMP process. Do not expect BLM to prepare another EIS for implementation decisions.
Environmental Assessments (EAs). Per the BLM website listed earlier, an EA is a document that identifies environmental effects of a proposed action and determines their significance. If it seems unlikely that a proposed action will have a significant effect on the environment, the BLM will prepare an EA. An EA describes the purpose and need for a proposed action, describe the affected environment, discuss alternatives to a proposed action, and analyzes environmental impacts and ways to mitigate them.
It is BLM who determines whether the proposed action will have a significant impact and whether to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA). For an environmental assessment BLM would conduct public scoping and allow for public comment on the proposed action. Example given by BLM at the February 2023 MAC meeting of a potential EA: Fuels Reduction Plan for Monument lands, the process could take 6 months to 2 years, BLM would conduct public scoping, develop alternatives, present a draft plan, have a 60-day public comment period, analyze the comments, and then BLM issues its Fuels Reduction Plan and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) that allows the Plan to be implemented. Should BLM determine there is significant impact, then an EIS may be needed. But this situation seems highly unlikely unless a basic premise of the Resource Management Plan has changed.
Determinations of NEPA Adequacy (DNAs). Per the BLM website - If a review of existing EISs or EAs show that the BLM has already covered a proposed action, it can rely on an internal Determination of NEPA Adequacy (DNA). These determinations also address conformance with approved land use plans. The BLM documents its DNAs through a worksheet that is kept with the project file.
If BLM determines the action or plan is a minor undertaking and/or has already been reviewed in an EIS or in another environmental assessment, BLM can take action without public input. A possible example of this would be vegetative management. BLM has stated in the RMP that it intends to remove noxious weeds, for instance the invasive non-native blackberry. The RMP allows BLM to use its set of vegetative management tools. BLM could allow use of herbicides on blackberries without public input on that decision. As mentioned earlier, we encourage BLM to ask the public and Tribes before taking such actions especially given the comments made to BLM regarding use of herbicides and pesticides on Monument lands especially within San Juan County.
Categorical Exclusions (CEs). Per the BLM website - Categorical Exclusions are a category of actions the BLM has identified that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment. These include such actions as installing protective grates on abandoned mines or permitting temporary livestock feeding during periods of drought.
At the February 2023 MAC meeting, BLM gave these as examples of Categorical Exclusions (also referred to CATEX) where BLM can take action without any public input or requiring that this has been covered in an earlier EIS or environmental assessment: Maintenance on established trails or issuance of Special Recreational Permits.
The Department of the Interior listed its Existing Categorical Exclusions including additional ones specific to BLM on November 7, 2022. Exceptions to CEs can be granted by a responsible official under extraordinary circumstances. BLM specific CEs include emergency stabilization (but does not allow use of herbicide or pesticide for this), removal of structure or materials of no historic value such as old fences, wildfire risk management unless removal would be prohibited by the Proclamation (herbicides and pesticides can be used for this). Note the term human environment used on the BLM website is broad and includes the natural and physical environment and the relationship of people with that environment.
Other: Issuance of a supplemental rule for the State District can be used to set regulations on BLM land. The existing BLM Oregon/Washington Supplement Rules appear in Appendix C to the RMP. These rules deal with how long one can camp, where one cannot park a vehicle/RV, day use areas and so forth. Given there is a specific section with reference to the Juniper Dunes ATV/OHV Use Area, there exists a possibility that additional regulations applicable to the San Juan Islands National Monument could be included in the State District’s Supplemental Rules.
To be notified by BLM of NEPA considerations for the San Juan Islands National Monument, you must be on BLM’s mailing list. This would include notification for EIS’s and EA’s for the Monument. If BLM desires a transparent relationship with the public it would be in BLM’s interest to notify the public and ask for public and Tribal input even though not technically required in areas of critical concern to the public and Tribes. You could mention that in your request to BLM. Submit an email or written request to the Monument Manager and/or the Spokane District Office. If you have previously submitted a request, we suggest you resubmit to ensure BLM’s current list includes you.
Contact information for BLM Monument Manager, Brie Chartier, email@example.com, 650 Mullis Street Suite 100, Friday Harbor, WA 98250.
Contact information for the BLM Spokane District Office, BLM_OR_SP_Mail@blm.gov, 1103 N. Fancher Road, Spokane Valley, WA 99212, additional contact BLM Spokane District Public Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org