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March 1999

Land Use


By Ron Schiller, High Desert Multiple Use Coalition; with some notes by Del Albright, Moderator, Land Use Network

The purpose of this article is to give you a shortcut overview of how to get involved in the management of your public lands. It will also tell you how to have "standing" in legal actions and be a key participant in what happens to your favorite recreation area. By no means can everything about public input be covered in one short article; but you'll find most everything you need here to get started and be effective.

Remember: public lands are your lands. You have the right to be included in the actions taken to manage your land.

The public process as mandated by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, and other laws require all federal agencies to solicit and consider public input during the development of management plans, programs, regulations and other actions.

To fully participate in the public process, the first step is to notify the appropriate agency of your interest in becoming involved. This should be in the form of a letter requesting that your name and address be place on the mailing list for all information regarding the management of public land under that agency's jurisdiction. In most cases, one should specify the extent or range of information desired. In other words, if you are only interested in receiving documents that relate to access to public lands for recreational activities (or road closures) and do not care to review cattle grazing allotment plans, mining proposals, timber sales, or other such activities; your letter should state so. But be careful here as sometimes timber sales, for example, include road closures and re-routes.

The following is an example of a letter to request to receive generic information related to management actions that could result in the loss of motorized access for recreational activities.


(Name/Title of Specific Person if you have one)
Agency Name
(District/Area if you know it)
City, State, & zip code

Dear (Name of person or agency):

I request that my name and address be place on all mailing lists for any planning activities/actions/decisions/analyses that could result in closing existing roads or trails. In addition to management plans that focus specifically on motorized use, I am interested in receiving planning documents for other resource management plans that may involve the closure of motorized access as a sub-issue.

Thank you for your valuable time and consideration.

your name
phone number

It can be very helpful to get on the USFS specific mailing list of Proposed Actions (all kinds) in the document they call the Environmental Analysis Quarterly. You must write and ask to be placed on this list (usually by name). The Forest Supervisor is a good place to write for this document. The Environmental Analysis Quarterly will give you the full scope of projects and the name of the project coordinator. This document typically applies to an entire National Forest so you can see all the projects (briefly) and the area they effect.


This is the initial step in the public process. The purpose of Scoping is for the agency to briefly explain to the public what a proposed management action involves and to gather information regarding public concerns. This step usually involves holding a public meeting that is often publicized in the local media.

A sign in sheet is always available at the meeting. The purpose of the sign in sheet is for the agency to record the names and addresses of interested parties to allow follow up information to be mailed. If you are interested in participating in the public process, it is very important to sign in and write legibly. In most cases the agency will have handouts that further describe what is involved in the proposed management action and provide the name and address of the agency's point of contact.

In many cases agency personnel, during the meeting, take verbal public comments but very often the comments are not documented well enough to be interpreted back at the office. It is, therefore, much more effective for an interested member of the public to provide comments in writing at the end of the meeting or by mailing in comments shortly thereafter.

If you cannot attend the Scoping meeting you can still participate in the process by contacting the agency and expressing your interest.

The second step of the public process is the development of a draft environmental impact statement or, for management actions of lesser scope, a draft environmental assessment. If you signed the attendance record at the Scoping meeting or otherwise indicated your interest, you should receive this document in the mail. The DEIS or DEA includes an analysis of issues previously known by the agency and those identified by the public comments received during the public scoping process. The DEIS or DEA will include a range of alternatives and indicate a proposed action based upon the compiled information.

This step also includes the opportunity for further public participation. The DEIS or DEA always involves a public comment period ranging from fifteen to ninety days for interested parties to submit additional written comments to the agency.

You will find a variety of approaches to EA's and EIS documents. On one hand, the agency may approach the assessment from a perspective of "how can we improve recreational opportunities." On the other hand, they may take the approach that sounds more like "things are broken; how can we mitigate them?" Obviously, the way the Purpose and Needs statements are worded determines the approach and the outcome of the document. A bias can be built in from the start. So it is critical for you to focus closely on the Purpose and Needs statements. Your input may be based on rebutting the original intent and the way the assessment was tackled from the beginning.


After the public comment period has expired, the agency will again analyze public comments and develop a final environmental impact statement or final environmental assessment. All participants in the public process will receive a copy of the FEIS/FEA in the mail. By law, the agencies must have responded to all reasonable public comments within the FEIS/FEA.

Within the final environmental document, is a decision notice which should give an explanation of the procedure for challenging the decision. This could involve an appeal, protest, or other action depending upon the scope and significance of the decision. At this point the only recourse the public has it to formally challenge the final decision using the procedure defined in the decision notice.

This step involves filing a formal written appeal or protest to force reconsideration of the final formal decision. Because each agency has different appeal processes, it is best to contact the agency and request a written copy of their appeal procedure. It is important to note that you cannot file an appeal or protest if you have not participated in public process and provided comments.


Lawsuits are rarely filed by individuals. However, it is very common for organizations to file lawsuits. It should be noted that if a party has not participated in the public process, they would have no "standing" for a lawsuit in a court of law.

Even if you don't have the resources for litigation, you should at least appeal a bad decision that has adverse effects on your interests. This is because a third party such as a legal foundation or larger national organization could come to your aid if your issue is significant and you have fully participated in the public process.

Hopefully, before you ever get to legal action, you have done such things as participated in agency field trips in your area of interest; gotten to know your local agency personnel (and maybe even "adopted a Ranger"); and spent the time and energy it takes to express your opinion to your elected officials.

NOTE: The above explanation of the public process is a basic outline and not intended to be totally comprehensive. For additional information or clarification, please contact:

Ron Schiller
High Desert Multiple Use Coalition
P.O. Box 1167
Ridgecrest, CA 93555
Phone: 760-377-5053
Fax: 760-377-5043

or Del Albright
8024 S. Main
Mokelumne Hill, CA 95245