Editorial: Lawsuits hamper management of public lands


A couple of articles in recent issues of The Bulletin help explain why public lands are in such sad shape. Both deal with attempts by environmental groups to halt actions planned by the U.S. Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management for public lands.

In one case, two groups are suing to halt logging near Diamond Lake. The D-Bug project, which has been in the planning stages since 2007, aims to reduce fire threat caused by a pine beetle infestation killing lodgepole pine in the area. Among the objections is the absurd notion that someone might actually make money on the timber cut in the sale.

In the other, the Oregon Natural Desert Association is suing to halt improvements to 133 miles of existing roads in Eastern Oregon. The roads in question have washed out or become overgrown, and ONDA believes they should be left that way.

In both cases, however, there are solid reasons for going ahead with proposed actions.

The D-Bug sale near Diamond Lake is planned for an area visited by literally thousands of tourists each summer; should a wildfire start in the stands of dead trees left in the pine beetles’ wake, those tourists will have to get out and do so in a hurry. Clearing dead trees will reduce the chance of a catastrophic fire starting in the first place.

As for the Eastern Oregon roads, they lie in some of the most remote territory in Oregon. They’re used by ranchers to manage livestock and in case of wildfires, among other things.

To be fair, it’s not just environmental groups who are lawsuit happy when it comes to public lands. County commissioners in Custer County, Idaho, have sued the BLM over the closure of a road near a local wilderness area.

Americans expect the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to be good stewards of public land, yet one group or another objects, in court, to an alarming number of attempts by the government to be just that. Knowing that, it’s easy to understand why public lands’ problems are as severe as they are.