The United States Forest Service (USFS) is the federal agency responsible for overseeing all national forests and grasslands. The agency’s forest management duties rest on a careful balancing of interests. On numerous occasions, this balance has tipped in favor of the agency’s timber harvesting goals while moving further away from environmental protection. The agency’s decision making, under the framework of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), captures this development in several cases. NEPA calls for the agency to conduct objective and detailed environmental reviews of any major actions that it proposes. Fulfilling this responsibility has been compromised by financial incentives that arise from the agency’s budget structure.
Such incentives prompt an inquiry into whether the agency can approach NEPA reviews on logging projects as a neutral decision maker. This inquiry becomes especially pertinent as environmental concerns increase and forest management grows more contentious. Are financial incentives so entrenched in the agency’s timber harvesting and sale activities that it should bear no responsibility at all for conducting environmental reviews of these activities? This Note argues for transferring the duty to conduct such NEPA reviews to another agency entirely, the Environmental Protection Agency. After describing the USFS’s relationship to logging and NEPA, this Note provides and evaluates a proposal for reassigning NEPA duties, with the goal of ensuring more objective and transparent environmental reviews.