Since our founding in 2001, Crag’s attorneys have been using our environmental laws, including the Northwest Forest Plan, to protect our old-growth forests, clean water, and wild places. Before that, other environmental pioneers and advocates forged the path towards strengthening our environmental laws and holding agencies accountable for protecting our natural heritage.
Litigation and the role of the third branch of government are often targeted as a scapegoat by a variety of special interests. As reported in Capital Press this week, a new study from the State University of New York shows that while timber sales have decreased, litigation has continued. The study also found, however, that the Forest Service is settling more of those cases, rather than carrying litigation through to a ruling from the courts. Industry representatives say that environmentalists are “ganging up” on remaining timber sales. Our own Ralph Bloemers explained that study’s conclusion that the Forest Service loses one quarter of cases points to the agency’s management shortcomings. Courts are supposed to defer to the agency’s judgment. “They get a lot of discretion and they’re still losing a lot of cases.”
There is always more to the story, and these simple numbers rarely paint a complete picture. Is it unreasonable for citizens to continue to hold the Forest Service accountable for the preservation of forest resources for future generations, even if the overall timber sales numbers are declining? Do the numbers of lawsuits and numbers of timber sales present a complete picture of what it means to participate in the judicial system and stand up for the places we love?
We work with our clients to develop creative strategies for restoring and protecting forests. And we continue to believe that litigation is a valuable tool for achieving important conservation objectives. Despite the new study’s findings that litigation continues, there remain far more timber sales each year than can possibly be contested. Conservation groups, constantly starved for resources, must continually make triage decisions about what projects are most harmful, or what areas are most vulnerable. Perhaps a more revealing study would include information about what other methods citizens are using to engage their governments, and how often those non-litigation efforts have resulted in changes to Forest Service timber sale plans.