Montanans for Multiple Use file lawsuit to stop shutdown of national forests to public access

Liberty Matters News Service

June 10, 2003

Teusday morning, June 10, Montanans For Multiple Use (MFMU) and 13 coplaintiffs have filed a lawsuit in Washington DC against the US Department of Agriculture, US Forest Service and numerous Federal personnel. The objective of the lawsuit is to stop the incremental shutdown of National Forests to public access and active professional management.

For nearly two decades extremist preservationist groups have abused the no risk litigation rights available to them under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) and other Federal statutes. Under the provisions of EAJA and other federal laws, non-profit corporations are not responsible for the actual cost to the Government if they file a frivolous suit and lose every claim. If they win one claim, then the Government pays them all the outrageous costs they turn in (e.g. "Friends of the Bitterroot" were paid nearly a quarter million dollars to block 90% of the planned timber salvage on only 10% of the burned area).

The effect of this endless stream of preservationist lawsuits has discouraged the USFS from implementing any significant active forest management. The cumulative effect of the extremist actions have reduced the timber supplies, forced the closure of twenty sawmills in Montana, prevented responsible mining, prevented oil and gas extraction, and prevented meaningful agricultural production and recreation in the National Forests. In Montana, as a result, citizens have endured the reduction of their per capita income to the point where they are nearly last in the Nation. At the same time, they have had to shoulder increasing per capita tax burdens as jobs and state tax revenues decline.

Unfortunately, the USFS does not report the costs and effects of obstructionist appeals and litigation to the public or to Congress. Instead the USFS abdictates their management responsibilities to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, activist extremist environmental groups, and the courts. The USFS has made no real efforts to adhere to their statutory responsibilities for protecting and managing the National Forests and to ensure that National Forests contribute to local economic, social, and ecologic sustainability. The USFS has failed to implement existing Forest Plans, illegally revised Forest Plans by piecemeal amendments and site specific actions, failed to disclose the cumulative effects of actions and inactions, failed to revise the Forest Plan as required by law, failed to monitor and evaluate consequences of past management actions, failed to protect existing forests and watersheds, failed to provide a sustainable flow of timber for local and national economic and social sustainability, and failed to collaborate with local communities and tribes.

The suit seeks an injunction to stop any additional implementation of illegal Forest Plan amendment provisions including amendments that call for obliteration of public roads. The injuction will seek to stop any additional amendments to Forest Plans over 10 years old. The suit will seek restoration of illegally obliterated roads, restoration of healthy fire resistant forest stands through active commercial timber management, and to force the USFS to immediately revise existing Forest Plans over 10 years old, make full public disclosure, as required by the National Forest Management Act.

Co-plaintiffs joining Montanans For Multiple Use in this action represent a wide spectrum of forest user groups, business, political and local governments. Coplaintiffs are: Northwest Montana Gold Prospectors Association, Leland's Honda, Leland J. Moore, Montanans For Property Rights, Capital Trail Vehicle Association, Flathead Snowmobile Association, North American Wolf Watch, Owens and Hurst Lumber Co., Senator Jerry O'Niel, Representative George Everett, Flathead County, Sanders County, and Flathead Business and Industry Association.

Montanans For Multiple Use expect this lawsuit to set a precedent for all National Forests, forcing them to obey all the laws that govern their actions. In addition MFMU intends for the suit to encourage citizens who are fed up with a plan which lets our forests burn to band together and file lawsuits through multiple use non-profit corporations to counteract the extreme preservationists. Perhaps Congress will finally realize that the Equal Access to Justice Act and The Endangered Species Act must be reformed if Congress intends for the USFS professionals to manage the National Forests, not the courts.

Submitted by Fred D. Hodgeboom, Vice President, Montanans for Multiple Use.


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