Teaching Students to Analyze Agency Actions Via a NEPA Analysis Approach

Article excerpt

Abstract

Future recreation professionals need the ability to analyze the effects of proposed management actions and stakeholder concerns to make good decisions, maintain public support, and comply with state and federal laws. Importantly, when federal funds, lands, permits or licenses are involved, federal law requires consideration of environmental and social effects of proposed actions via the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Many states have similar environmental laws. This paper describes application of a NEPA analysis approach framework as a holistic method for teaching students how to analyze proposed management actions in terms of interested and affected stakeholders' concerns and environmental and social effects. Such a review will allow these future managers to develop recommendations that consider these issues in agency decision-making processes and comply with laws and agency mission.

KEYWORDS: Environment, issue analysis, NEPA, public concern, social values, stakeholder.

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Future recreation professionals need the ability to analyze proposed management actions, environmental and social effects, and stakeholder concerns in order to make good decisions, maintain public support, and comply with relevant state and federal laws. Many public and private agencies are required to analyze proposed actions in site development, agency operations, and resource management to address public concerns, zoning, environmental management systems (EMS), and laws. Additionally, when federal funds (e.g., US Department of Transportation funds) or federal licenses, permits, are involved, or actions occur on federal lands, federal law requires analysis of proposed actions to comply with using the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and other federal laws. Importantly, NEPA, other federal laws, and many state laws allow citizen lawsuits for agency failure to meet procedural requirements or conduct adequate analysis of environmental and social effects and alternatives to the proposed action. Inadequate analysis can result in lost court decisions and preclude implementation of proposed actions. An understanding of the NEPA process and effects analysis has broad application as many laws and requirements at various levels are similar to NEPA.

Foundation and Description of NEPA Analysis Approach Framework

A NEPA analysis approach can be implemented as a holistic methodology in teaching students to analyze proposed management actions and to develop recommendations for agency decision-making processes that comply with relevant laws and agency mission. This approach was developed by the author for use in a split level undergraduate/graduate course on outdoor recreation and environmental issues.

Orientation to Conceptual and Legal Foundations

Students begin the course by learning about the diverse and conflicting views of nature held by stakeholders. Students view a graphic of a tree and list all the values and benefits that come to mind. Student lists of values are combined and the purposes or "end" values identified as human-centered (e.g., timber) or nature-centered (e.g., habitat). Through discussion, students learn that views of nature are social constructions, that many values emerge for a single resource, and that views often conflict regarding how, why and for what purposes resources should be managed. The class reads the Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act (1960) to understand the values that many federal agencies must balance in decision-making and management actions.

The class proceeds to read the National Environmental Policy Act (1969) in order to facilitate an understanding of the act and its relationship to proposed management actions. Students examine key components of NEPA and implementing regulations via a flowchart that describes the NEPA process, categorical exclusion, environmental assessment, Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), environmental impact statement, and key NEPA requirements. …