Michael Hoyt

Tom Partin, the Montana representative for the trade association, American Forest Resource Council, attempted to resurrect that old, worn-out, dishonest claim that environmentalists get rich by taking the Forest Service to court.

He continues his ad hominem attack (i.e., criticize the organization rather than addressing its argument) by stating that environmentalists’ claims of Forest Service wrongdoing are nothing but camouflage for pursuing a payday in court.

He conveniently neglects to reveal that what he calls a “payday” is the recovery of legal fees expended by the environmentalists during litigation.  Those fees are only recoverable if the Forest Service has been found to have acted illegally.  When the Forest Service has performed as directed by laws and regulations, no fees are recoverable.

Interestingly, when environmentalists take the Agency to court in Region 1, the Forest Service wins about 20% of the time.  To increase that percentage, the obvious solution is for the Agency to follow the law.

Courts determine what is legal.  If Forest Service projects follow laws and regulations, courts decide in their favor.  It is only when the Agency ignores the law that environmentalists win in court and recover their already expended legal fees.  Partin’s claim that “recovered money” makes an organization rich or allows them to “hit the jackpot” is a lie.

Patin asserts that public land managers (i.e., the Forest Service) have years of training “like medical doctors” and they prescribe “treatments” for unhealthy forests, based upon the best available science, that are beneficial for clean water, wildlife, and sawlogs.  He carefully avoids indicating that, in its determination to provide tax-subsidized sawlogs to the timber industry (Patin’s employers), the Agency typically relies on old, disproven research that long ago may have been considered “the best available science.”

The definition of science is “the never-ending, self-correcting, rigorous pursuit of knowledge.”  However, much of the Forest Service’s ill-chosen “best available science” is contradicted by the latest scientific research.  The fact that scrupulously conducted scientific research often invalidates old assumptions is how science works, a reality the Agency refuses to acknowledge.

It is a sad fact that because the Forest Service is understaffed and continuously underfunded by Congress, the Agency outsources much of its workload.  The result is that organizations and consultants, funded (often secretly) by members of the American Forest Resource Council and other timber industry organizations, prepare much of the documentation for the same Forest Service projects that end up being rejected by courts.

Patin’s October 7th Missoulian “Guest View” failed to include that information, possibly because it is those same non-governmental organizations who produce documentation for Forest Service projects that are frequently to blame for Region 1’s poor win-loss record in court.

That $1.5 million that Partin says has been paid by the Forest Service for environmentalists’ legal fees are your tax dollars.  The Forest Service has frittered away that money because courts regularly find the Agency acts illegally and does not follow the best available science.  Even when courts find against the Forest Service, projects are only delayed until the Agency follows the law, not “shut down” as Partin claims.

If there is a plague in our forests, as Partin suggests, it is not environmentalists.  It is the Forest Service attempting to satisfy the timber-industry that demolished the once-forested land they own and manage.  Now the timber barons so desperately want tax-subsidized sawlogs, they are reduced to using propaganda and fear to convince the public that only logging will save public forests.

Missing from their arguments are (1) the reality that standard timber-industry practices are what destroyed the private sector’s commercial forests and (2) any proof that public forests are not healthy and resilient.  They must take us for ignorant, ill-informed fools to expect the public to trust them while our publicly owned forests are sacrificed for timber industry profit.

Michael Hoyt is an independent environmental researcher and the author of guidebooks for the Bitterroot Mountains.