Deep within a forest of acronyms and departmental jargon, there is a set of regulations that mandates protocols under which the United States Forest Service and other federal agencies must deal with local governments.
Known as “Coordination,” the laws outline under what circumstances and in what manner the forest service, for example, must consider local entities and issues when planning construction or other projects on federal land that may impact other jurisdictions.
Along with the acronyms comes a caveat that certain requirements are governed under the auspices of the Secretary of the Interior while others are within the purview of the Secretary of Agriculture. The “Federal Acts Requiring Coordination with Local Governments” runs the gamut of issues and concerns from fish and wildlife and water quality through recreation and historic preservation.
The Secretary of Agriculture oversees the National Forest Management Act, while the Secretary of the Interior is responsible for the Federal Land Policy Management Act. Specific issues are addressed by one or the other or both departments.
Eldorado National Forest Public Information Officer Frank Mosbacher provided the Mountain Democrat with a copy of a letter that details and summarizes both the concept and the practice of “Coordination.” Vilsack’s letter was written to California Congressman Wally Herger responding to Herger’s request for information late last year.
Vilsack’s letter notes that the “Forest Service’s primary responsibilities to coordinate with counties are found in the National Forest Management Act (NFMA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) … This coordination allows the Forest Service to take into account and consider the State or county’s proposed management for lands under their jurisdiction and vice-versa.”
In the next paragraph, Vilsack clearly points out that, the “Forest Service’s NFMA obligation … does not in any way subordinate Federal authority to counties.”
The forest service has the authority to designate a state or county as a “joint lead agency” in order to coordinate (for example) “the preparation of a joint Environmental Impact Statement (EIS is the federal terminology for Environmental Impact Report) that will be used by each agency in making (a) decision” regarding separate proposals.
A “cooperating agency” is status conferred by the forest service upon a “State or county whose role would be to assist the Forest Service in preparing an EIS for a project on National Forest System lands,” Vilsack’s letter continues.
No matter the “Coordination” status of the local agency, it “has no authority to impose specific provisions of county ordinances in forest plans or to require that the Forest Service comply with its procedural obligations,” the letter states.
El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting described “Coordination” as “definitely not to preempt federal law but rather to engage us earlier” when there are issues of concern or potential conflict.
Tuesday, the board of supervisors authorized an effort to create an advisory committee that could be beneficial in the county’s future relationship with the forest service and could inform its role in future “Coordination” efforts with that and other federal agencies.