April 23rd, 2013 by

Now, before you skip this post based on the title, ask yourself this: How does the U.S. Forest Service decide what paint to use to mark trees? Ever been hiking through your favorite forest and think, who decides where to put those trail blazes and why did they choose white or blue or orange? Lucky for you, there is a place you can go to find out not only these answers, but more information than perhaps you ever wondered about our national forests: the Federal Register.

Old Rag Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Old Rag Mountain Trail in Shenandoah National Park, Virginia. Credit: David Fulmer

As a public policy attorney, I rely on the Federal Register to tell me what is going on in the executive branch. It is a daily schedule of, among other activities, the planned meetings, proposed rules, proposed collection of information and procurement activities of the agencies, sub-agencies and the White House, and perhaps most importantly, final rules. And the best part is, it is available to anyone with internet access or a library card. It is a transparent view behind the curtain that is our government. Established by statute in 1935, the Federal Register is updated every weekday morning and published online and in print. I get an email alert with all the day’s entries, and it can make for some interesting reading.

For example, last Friday:

  • The Commodity Futures Trading Commission and the Securities Exchange Commission issued final rules and guidelines to require regulated financial institutions to create programs that address the risk of identity theft (seems like a good idea);
  • The EPA published a series of proposed rules to address air quality in Indiana;
  • And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a 90-day finding on a petition to delist the wood bison under the Endangered Species Act (spoiler alert: there was not enough evidence to delist).
Wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Wood bison at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Credit: Larry Ewing

You want to know about your government? Set up an alert from the agencies you’re interested in following on the Federal Register website or set up your own RSS feed for your favorite statutes. Oh, you don’t have one? Might I recommend the Wilderness Act of 1964? It has been termed “one of the most idealistic pieces of federal legislation ever enacted,” and in our current political climate, that sounds pretty amazing.

So what has the Forest Service been up to? Well, if the intro paragraph didn’t give it away, the National Tree-Marking Paint Committee is having a meeting in South Carolina in May — for three days! Did you even know we had a Tree-Marking Paint Committee? But that’s not all the Forest Service is up to. Many of our national forests are submitting environmental impacts statements to undertake various work within the forest boundaries. For instance, Ochoco National Forest in Oregon needs some vegetation and fuel management while Arizona’s Tonto National Forest has extended its public comment period on its vegetation management.

The Federal Register is a daily look at the men and women behind the curtain of your federal government with opportunities for comments and participation on activities of various agencies and the White House. And by the way, if you’re interested, there is a public section of the National Tree-Marking Paint Committee meeting — you just need to provide your own transportation to South Carolina.

The Federal Register: your kaleidoscope of federal government activities.