The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is landmark environmental protection legislation establishing as a goal for federal decision-making a balance between use and preservation of natural and cultural resources. NEPA requires all federal agencies to: (1) prepare in-depth studies of the impacts of and alternatives to proposed major federal actions; (2) use the information contained in such studies in deciding whether to proceeds with the actions; and (3) diligently attempt to involve the interested and affected public before any decision affecting the environment is made.
An Environmental Assessment (EA) is a planning tool that is used to explore alternatives and determine whether those alternatives will have significant impacts. EAs are made available to the public for review and comment. If the EA reveals that the proposed action will have a significant impact, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) must be prepared (see next section). If the EA reveals that there will not be significant impacts, a decision document is prepared and signed (see below).
Environmental Impact Statements
NEPA requires the preparation of an EIS whenever park management proposes an action whose impacts on the natural and/or human environment may be significant. An EIS will include a range of alternatives that will be evaluated for potential impacts. EISs are made available for public review and comment. Park managers may proceed with a decision document (see below) following the public review process.
If an EA reveals that there will be no significant impacts, a preferred alternative is selected, and a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) will be prepared. A FONSI is an explanation of why the selected action will have no significant effects on the natural or human environment. It is based on the EA and the comments of agencies and the public. The FONSI is signed by the Regional Director of the National Park Service.
At the conclusion of an EIS, a Record of Decision (ROD) must be signed. The ROD describes the ultimate choice of an alternative, mitigation measures to reduce impacts, and the decision rationale. The ROD is signed by the Regional Director of the National Park Service.
Development Concept Plans
A DCP is used for larger development proposals within the park (i.e., a new visitor center), or where planning for the future of the park encompasses a large area. A DCP explores alternatives and lays out a conceptual framework for park managers to follow in the future. DCPs frequently include an EA so that the impacts of the alternative concepts can be evaluated. DCPs are made available for public review and comment.
Management Plans provide guidance to park managers on various topics and are available at the Visitor Center on request.