U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke introduced legislation this week that would require litigants who challenge Forest Service timber sales to post cash bonds along with their lawsuits, while also reducing the amount of requisite timber-sale analysis.
Zinke, a freshman Republican congressman from Whitefish, said the forest management reform measure is needed to prevent unnecessary lawsuits that derail timber projects, or “predatory litigation,” and will also improve forest health and prevent wildfires.
Dubbed the “National Forest Collaboration Incentive Act,” or H.R. 2644, which Zinke introduced June 3 in the U.S. House of Representatives, the bill would require environmental groups and other litigants to post a bond before initiating legal challenges, simplify collaborative forest projects to yes-or-no analyses and allow state governments to fund national forest wildfire prevention work.
“The National Forest Collaboration Incentive Act of 2015, will help address the two leading threats against our forests, predatory litigation and wildfires, without adding new regulations to communities and loggers or adding costs to taxpayers,” Zinke said in a written statement. “By implementing common sense reforms to encourage collaboration on projects and discourage out of state special interests from waging war on Montana foresting communities, I am confident Montana can rebuild our timber industry and conserve our forests for generations to come.”
In a press release announcing the measure, Zinke said the reform bill is supported by industry and wildlife organizations alike, citing the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Montana Loggers Association.
“Responsible forest stewardship in Montana is too important to leave to judicial digression,” Montana Logging Association executive director Keith Olson said in a statement. “Congressman Zinke’s bill includes common-sense reforms that strengthen collaborative projects against out-of-state litigants and helps protect our forests from wildfires.”
Zinke said the bill allows the state to contribute to a revolving fund that the Forest Service can use to reduce wildfire threats.
But Alliance for the Wild Rockies director Michael Garrity, whose group is responsible for many of the lawsuits Zinke takes aim at, said the bill is anathema to the spirit of the checks and balances Congress built into land management acts.
“When Congress enacted these laws like the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, they put in a citizen enforcement division knowing that there are no police to enforce federal law. What Zinke is essentially saying is we are going to make it a lot easier for the government to break the law,” Garrity said. “I’d also like to remind people that the First Amendment gives every American the right to challenge government decisions. So if you require people to post a bond, that mans only rich people can sue.”
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