A new rule published by the U.S. government legalizes oil and gas drilling within forested land. This action threatens forest ecosystems, reversing decades of work to protect forested areas. For over 50 years, a public participation system has helped protect critical ecosystems and other natural resources. The U.S. has over 193 million acres of forested land spanning 47 states. Stakeholders with a strong interest in forest resources have helped defend this land. The stakeholders’ environmental review process challenges fossil fuel companies attempting to set up operations in protected ecosystems. Consequently, thousands of species remain safe from potential harm caused by fossil fuel mining activities. 

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Despite this, a new rule by the U.S. federal government seeks to exclude public participation when deciding on land use in forested areas. With public input kept out of key decisions, fossil fuel companies may gain more access to forested land. Traditionally, regulations have restricted the presence of fossil fuel activities in the national forest land. To date, only 2.7% of the entire forest acreage has been leased to fossil fuel companies. 

The main concern about the rule is that it eliminates critical environmental review steps, which entirely sidelines public participation. Further, the rule eliminates the U.S Forest Service’s oversight role. Consequently, fossil fuel companies seeking to operate in forested land will no longer be required to undergo a thorough environmental review. 

This new rule comes amid worldwide concerns about global warming’s effects. An increase in forest fires has led to the destruction of forested lands, depleting the best-known carbon sinks. With more fossil fuel companies allowed to operate in forests, the number of forest fires may continue to spike, consequently leading to an increase in carbon emissions.

As the Forest Service said in a statement, this rule is just one among many irresponsible land management policies put in place by the Trump Administration. The service now warns that if actions are not taken to stop the federal government from making such laws, the country risks losing precious natural resources.

+ Natural Resources Defense Council

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