NEPA Comments

What is a comment period?

When people ask that question most often it references the “public comment” period associated with a roundup plan published by the BLM. (The BLM manages more wild horses and burros than all other jurisdictions combined, so for the purpose of this article we will focus on BLM.)

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) of 1970 “requires federal agencies to assess the environmental effects of their proposed actions prior to making decisions.”

Determining which document BLM will analyze the proposed action is supposed to follow this chart.

Usually, BLM chooses the Environmental Assessment (EA) as the process to analyze the effects of a roundup, the Gather-EA. In recent years, BLM has stopped issuing a Decision of NRPA Adequacy (DNA) after approving “ten-year gather EAs” to schedule roundups. (Possibly illegal, as the DNA is a formal statement that conditions have not changed and no new analysis is needed instead of informally just saying “we can.”)

Chart taken from NEPA handbook

When commenting on an EA the comments must fall into a category the agency defines as “substantive comments,” and numbers of comments do not influence the outcome.

From BLM: Substantive comments often address one or more of the following:

    • New scientific information or data that would have a bearing on the analysis;
    • Errors in the analysis, assumptions, methodology, or conclusions;
    • Misinformation that could affect the outcome of the analysis;
    • Requests for clarification;
    • A substantive new alternative with a mix of allocations that differs from those under any of the proposed alternatives.

It may seem complicated. However, once you start to engage on a regular basis, you will find the process rather simple… simply cumbersome.

What is the purpose?

The public participation process is supposed to fully inform the public of a proposed action on public lands and disclose all underlying proof that the action is necessary. The comment period is to allow the public to provide additional information, point out errors in the rationale or data, provide detailed alternatives that are more appropriate but not considered.

If BLM does not address a substantive comment and/or make appropriate changes to the proposed action, you can file an appeal.

An appeal is a legal process filed with a federal court called “the Interior Board of Land Appeals” (much like federal district court, but a lower court; a decision in the IBLA can be appealed to federal court).  The IBLA or Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) are courts routinely used by public lands/environmental advocacy organizations (like WHE) to attempt to gain resolution. Commenting on the EA is a requirement to file an Appeal and, has been historically, required to file in federal court to demonstrate “exhaustion of avenues for remedy” (a legal standard).

How do I know what is available for comment?

You can contact BLM district offices that manage herd you are interested in and get on the mailing list for any proposed action (livestock, mining, ATV trails, roundups) that will impact the HMA.  You should then receive notices of all active planning documents for that area. You can begin your search for the right office through the state office directory HERE.

You can learn more about the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on the NEPA website Click HERE