The U.S. Forest Service manages a whopping 193 million acres of public land, including 36 million acres of wildness, across 174 national forests and grasslands. The Service is charged with the unenviable task of reconciling competing demands for use of those lands, using statutory and administrative tools that were unwieldy to begin with and have not improved with age. Most notable among those tools is the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969, 42 U.S.C. §§ 4321–370, enacted during a dark and distant time when Richard Nixon was president, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland had recently caught fire again, and the Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar” topped the pop charts.
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