June 01, 2015

iNEPA, the iPhone of Environmental Impact Review, Makes NEPA More User-Friendly

Jessica Clement and Michele Straube

In the 1990s, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife agency and local residents noticed reduced numbers of mule deer on the Uncompahgre Plateau in western Colorado. They soon started discussions around this subject and formed a more formal collaboration called the Public Land Partnership (now part of the Western Colorado Landscape Collaborative) to tackle the issue. Eventually, through work by the state wildlife department, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and many others, it was determined that the forest conditions on the Plateau were inhibiting mule deer numbers. The lack of fire since humans had moved into the area in larger numbers beginning in the 1880s had allowed some forests to become so dense that sunlight could not reach the forest floor, decreasing mule deer browse and habitat conditions generally. The collaborative effort evolved into the Uncompahgre Plateau Project, where different stakeholders with diverse values and opinions worked over time through an Environmental Assessment (EA) process to iteratively and cooperatively create an alternative that was founded on place-based science, met the objectives for mule deer habitat, and allowed local biomass and wood products producers to do the work and create jobs. At every step in the EA process, the preferred alternative was adjusted to take into consideration the research and well-informed input the USFS was receiving. Although the time to do research and deliberate the results took two years, the actual EA work took six months, and the final Record of Decision was unchallenged in court.

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