Enough forest litigation; let’s try arbitration
Enough forest litigation; let's try arbitration Daily Inter Lake
Bad Juju in the U.S. Federal Courthouse: Forest Restoration Projects Rejected
August 17, 2021
Two forest restoration projects on the Kootenai National Forest have been rejected by the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Missoula. These rulings by Judge Donald Malloy and Judge Dana Christensen have halted the Black Ram Project and the Ripley Project, respectively. These decisions have significant implications for the sustainable development goals (SDGs) related to forest conservation and wildfire prevention.
Lincoln County and the State of Montana have an agreement with the U.S Forest Service to restore designated wildland urban interface areas, encompassing up to 10,000 acres per year. This restoration involves thinning and prescribed burning to protect homes and forests from catastrophic wildfires. However, the success of these restoration efforts relies on the presence of a manufacturing facility capable of processing removed wood fiber.
Forest planning in this economically depressed area has included plans for a small log mill, which offered hope for the future. Unfortunately, these plans have been disrupted by the recent court rulings.
The Impact of Litigation
The rejection of the Black Ram and Ripley projects highlights ongoing forest planning challenges that demand resolution. The 1980 Equal Access to Justice Act was never intended to be used as a tool for lawyers seeking to undermine the relationship between national forests and timber economies in rural areas. However, over the past three decades, anti-forestry groups and their lawyers have utilized this act to hinder forest management efforts.
In a 1988 workshop, Andy Stahl, a resource analyst with the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund (now Earthjustice), explained the rationale behind serial litigation. Stahl emphasized the importance of presenting judges with compelling stories about the destruction of land. Unfortunately, this approach has been employed in the Black Ram and Ripley cases, where lawyers hired by organizations such as the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Center for Biological Diversity, and WildEarth Guardians focused on grizzly bears and old growth forests rather than the factual story of increasing wildfire risks in the Kootenai National Forest.
Quantifying the Wildfire Risk
Through collaboration with the Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis staff in Ogden, Utah, we were able to quantify the wildfire risk in the Kootenai National Forest. Of the 863.6 million board feet that grow annually, 363.4 million feet are killed by insects and root diseases. This equates to approximately 266,556,163 gallons of gasoline or 4,846,457 fifty-five gallon drums.
The Proposed Solutions
The Black Ram Project aimed to address the wildfire risk through thinning and prescribed burning, following historic natural burn patterns. Similarly, the Ripley Project sought to protect the 1,600 homes within its federally designated Wildland Urban Interface using a similar approach. Without these projects, these homes are at high risk of being incinerated by wind-driven wildfires within a matter of hours.
The Way Forward
The court rulings have sent Forest Service planners back to the drawing board, which will result in a lengthy process and likely invite further litigation. To address this issue, Congress should consider severing the connection between anti-forestry groups and the Equal Access to Justice Act. Taxpayers should not be burdened with funding legal fees for eco-terrorists who raise billions of dollars annually from their donors.
Instead of relying on litigation, an alternative approach could be baseball-style arbitration. This would involve bringing forth various ideas for protecting forests, and three qualified arbitration judges would determine the most effective strategies aligned with the Forest Service’s decadal forest planning documents. By adopting this approach, we can eliminate the negative energy surrounding these court battles and focus on achieving the SDGs related to forest conservation and wildfire prevention.
Jim Petersen is the founder and president of the nonprofit Evergreen Foundation.
SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
SDG 15: Life on Land
- Target 15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests, and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.
- Indicator: The article discusses forest restoration projects and the need for a manufacturing facility to process removed wood fiber, indicating efforts towards sustainable forest management and restoration.
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities
- Target 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.
- Indicator: The article mentions the need to protect homes and forests from catastrophic wildfire in designated wildland urban interface areas, highlighting efforts to safeguard natural heritage.
Table: SDGs, Targets, and Indicators
|SDG 15: Life on Land||Target 15.2: By 2020, promote the implementation of sustainable management of all types of forests, halt deforestation, restore degraded forests, and substantially increase afforestation and reforestation globally.||The article discusses forest restoration projects and the need for a manufacturing facility to process removed wood fiber, indicating efforts towards sustainable forest management and restoration.|
|SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities||Target 11.4: Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world’s cultural and natural heritage.||The article mentions the need to protect homes and forests from catastrophic wildfire in designated wildland urban interface areas, highlighting efforts to safeguard natural heritage.|
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