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Lawsuits filed to stop projects on federal lands have become as common as down days for the Dow. Last week, we noted with interest that timber producers under siege by environmental groups were proposing that a "loser pays" approach to lawsuits might put a halt to some of the frivolous litigation and get more Americans back to work.
The newsletter prompted a lot of feedback. Many felt a "loser pays" approach was right on target. And just as many said it would never work. The "loser pays" concept, which carries its own set of unintended consequences, is certainly worthy of thoughtful review and perhaps some tailoring. But in a lawsuit-crazed culture, trying to settle on which set of rules is most likely to reduce frivolous litigation can also be like playing an endless game of "whack a mole."
And it should not detract from the real issue: how best to responsibly and efficiently manage federal land resources. Too much is at stake. It is no consolation for those who lost homes and businesses to the massive fires in Colorado to know that the timber industry there had recommended for years a more aggressive approach to diverse forest regeneration to mitigate the problems of wildfires and pine beetle kill-off. And yet, through the 1990s and beyond, they got pushback at every turn from environmentalists and little support from the U.S. Forest Service. Today, professional foresters would tell you the same volatile mix of fire risk and environmental pushback is at play in Montana.
The volume of feedback from our last message underscores the concern Montanans have across the State that our natural resources are being wasted by obstructionist lawsuits ultimately paid for with their tax dollars. Our forests are burning when they could be salvaged. Montanans are without jobs or under employed while needed forest projects are halted.
These lawsuits don't just affect the timber industry. They hurt oil and gas developers, miners, ranchers and others who put federal lands to responsible use. These industries provide jobs for our families, give our children employment opportunities at home and provide royalties and taxes to fund schools and government. But too often, responsible land use plans, even after they have acquired all of the required regulatory approvals, still are undermined by eleventh hour litigation.
One third of the State of Montana is owned and managed by the federal government. A quarter of those lands are permanently off limits now, but the rest are intended to accommodate multiple uses. The time for better, more litigation-resistant solutions is now. We need to put our federal lands, and our people, back to work —and not let our future go up in flames.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103