Friday, April 18, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

My turn: Litigation and fire impacts

By
From page A4 | October 31, 2012 | 1 Comment

What are the real impacts that are all too often the result of frivolous appeals and litigation on our public lands? One watershed in Northern California, the North Fork of the Feather River paints a pretty clear picture. The majority of this watershed is located in Plumas County with its confluence entering Lake Oroville in Butte County. Since 1999, approximately 250,000 acres of this watershed has burned. Now due to the Chips Fire an additional 75,000 acres has been impacted. So in just over 10 years, one watershed, two counties, several hydro-electric facilities, untold natural resources, and numerous wildlife species are paying the price for environmental groups suing the Forest Service over the well-being of individual species, how they prepare an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement and stopping forest management projects.

At the heart of the debate are two primary pieces of legislation; the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). NEPA was legislated to require all federal agencies follow set policy and direction to assure that “major” federal actions were offered for review and comment to the public. Since NEPA was enacted in 1969, little oversight and updating of this law has occurred. Today, NEPA is used to test whether the agency’s written documents are adequate or fallible to the appeals filed by various environmental groups. Unfortunately, the decisions as to whether a project can move forward and the forest getting treated may center on protecting a single species while the eventual demise of a whole ecosystem as well as the communities and counties takes place.

Environmental groups or individuals have taken little or no responsibility for the ever increasing catastrophic wildfire loses in areas where they appealed projects; rather they are more than eager to blame industry and federal agencies for causing the problem. Today, however most appeals and litigation are on projects where thinning is recommended and trees harvested are in 10 to 16 inches diameter, hardly old growth timber. It is these same thinning projects that need to be implemented if we ever want our ecosystem, watershed and forest health put back into a more historic natural state.

NEPA was intended for “major” federal actions, and local monitoring and research findings show the majority of all thinning projects do not cause harm to species or other resources. NEPA also allows for such projects to be accomplished by Categorical Exclusions (CEs) and need not follow a lengthy and exhaustive review. By using CEs, projects would get completed in a timely manner as well as saving millions of dollars in unnecessary analysis and document writing. Our court system appears to have little compassion for the ecosystem or the human element that is also required to be considered in all NEPA documents.

The second piece of legislation impacting federal forest management is EAJA. In 1980 EAJA was passed to give ordinary citizens the ability to recover attorney fees and costs in cases against the federal government. As the 1980 conference committee report for EAJA explains, the Act’s premise is that individuals and small businesses did not seek review of unreasonable government actions because of the expense involved, which was compounded by the disparity in expertise and resources between the government and the individual or business involved. A prevailing plaintiff under EAJA may recover fees against the government, but if the government prevails, the plaintiff cannot recover their attorney fees.

EAJA was amended in 1985 and again in 1996 to allow non-profit 501(c)(3) organizations to recover fees. Since then, lawsuits by non-profit organizations have proliferated. By June 2004, there were 7,100 environmental lawsuits. A well-intended law has now become the primary fund raiser for many organizations as they regularly sue the government, and prevent projects from moving forward. Between 1980 to the mid 1990′s, the U.S. Treasury paid $34 million in legal fees under EAJA for cases filed against the government. In 1995 Congress and the agencies halted tracking and reporting of payments made through EAJA.

The EAJA sets eligibility limits on recovery. An individual’s net worth must be no more than $2 million and a business must have less than 500 employees and a net worth of no more than $7 million. But 501(c)(3) non-profits are not subject to these income limits and environmental groups who have tens of millions of dollars in assets, can still recover EAJA compensation of legal fees and expenses when they prevail in a lawsuit.

How does all of this fit with the North Fork of the Feather River Watershed and the approximate 300,000 acres burned since 1999? Three of the fires had projects planned and at least one signed decision that were held up by litigation. The first was the Flea Project that started in 2005 with its original scoping and was appealed – then in 2008 the Camp Fire occurred in the planning area and burned over 200 homes with one fatality. The Moonlight Fire was the largest single fire that burned 65,000 acres and had designed projects that were never implemented. Finally, the Creeks Project that was started in 2006, had a signed decision, was litigated, and just had a second signed decision to be approved this month, is now part of the Chips Fire. Instead of having forest health projects that would have been implemented and provided protection to all forest resources as well as providing jobs in our rural county, we now have total devastation covering hundreds of thousands of acres.

Unfortunately, the majority of these acres that are lost to wildfire do not catch the attention of either local or national news because they are not destroying homes and property. In the longer term, they are impacting all of us in more ways through the loss of a sensitive ecosystem, watershed values, recreation opportunity and eventual social and economic impacts to our rural communities and counties.

Bill Wickman is a spokesperson for the Sustainable Forest Action Coalition.

LEAVE A COMMENT

Discussion | 1 comment

  • Ron BriggsOctober 31, 2012 - 11:15 am

    I think the loggers got the message from the 1970's. Its time to let them back into the forest and sensibly work it. The trees will be happier, fires will be less, men and women will go back to work and maybe we can stop arguing. Should be that simple. rb Ron Briggs

    Reply | Report abusive comment
.

News

 
Goodbye LUPPU, hello LRPU

By Chris Daley | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

Past due state taxes bring arrest

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1, 2 Comments

 
Sanford trial: Prosecution, defense rest

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1 | Gallery

 
Woman, dog back from Oso

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A1, 6 Comments | Gallery

 
 
DA candidate to remain on ballot

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A9

Dog talk with Uncle Matty: Benji and the Bickersons

By Matthew Margolis | From Page: A10

 
CPCSD seat unfilled

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A14, 1 Comment

Lew Uhler backs Ranalli

By News Release | From Page: A14, 2 Comments

 
.

Opinion

Something to think about: Teach your children well

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: A6

 
Retain Bill Schultz as Recorder-Clerk

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A6, 6 Comments

 
.

Letters

Evacuation

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7, 3 Comments

 
District 4 candidate

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7, 4 Comments

Open meetings

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7, 5 Comments

 
Volunteers and homeless camps

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7, 9 Comments

Bicycle events and traffic control

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A7, 1 Comment

 
.

Sports

Jennings wins national title

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A11, 1 Comment | Gallery

 
Savannah Stephens can swing the bat

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A11 | Gallery

King of the West roars into Placerville

By Gary Thomas | From Page: A11

 
First and goal: Bunt etiquette

By Mike Bush | From Page: A11

Oak Ridge suffers tough 2-1 setback

By Mike Bush | From Page: A11

 
Roundup: April 17, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A12 | Gallery

.

Prospecting

Plantastic sale this Saturday

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: B1 | Gallery

 
Spring art brightens government center

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B2 | Gallery

Things to do: April 18, 2014

By Democrat Calendar | From Page: B2

 
Time out: A grand time at Grand China

By Earle Camembert | From Page: B3 | Gallery

Temple Kol Shalom hosts Passover Seder

By News Release | From Page: B3

 
Student art featured for Third Saturday

By News Release | From Page: B3

Promenade in high style

By Historic Old Sacramento | From Page: B4

 
Sac State Presents ‘Gypsy’

By California State Unversity, Sacramento | From Page: B4

Friday nights are engaging at the de Young

By Fine Arts | From Page: B5

 
Hats On For the Kids raises money for children

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B6

See what is inside the vault

By Center For Sacramento History | From Page: B6

 
Eggstravaganza

By Fairytale Town | From Page: B6

Gallery tips a hat to Dr. Seuss

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B7

 
Museum presents ‘Diesel Days’

By California State Railroad Museum | From Page: B7

Engagement: Adam Frega and Wednesday Bienusa

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B8

 
Duty: Air Force Airman Brian Polk

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B8

Cal Stage presents a season of challenging productions

By California Stage | From Page: B8

 
Duty: Army Pfc. Kyle W. Beasy

By Democrat Staff | From Page: B8

KVIE calls for artists

By Kvie | From Page: B9

 
A Couple of Blaguards tell tales

By Harris Center for the Arts | From Page: B9

America’s ClayFest II celebrates a rich history

By Blue Line Arts | From Page: B14

 
Fine Arts Museums feature two shows

By Fine Arts | From Page: B15

See wildflowers on train ride

By Railtown | From Page: B15

 
Easter at Northstar is family friendly

By Northstar California | From Page: B15

.

Essentials

Crime Log: March 28-30

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Roy Cluness Chaix

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Frederick Wilbur Heymann

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Arthur W. Cornell

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Frank “Bud” Kraus Jr.

By Contributor | From Page: A2

.

Real Estate

Faster sales with spring staging

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

 
Coldwell Banker outsells the competition

Press Release | From Page: HS7

Handsome Redmond suits modern families

Press Release | From Page: HS11

 
Growing your own

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS14

 
Fraud workshop scheduled

Press Release | From Page: HS21

HCD launches assistance program

Press Release | From Page: HS22, 1 Comment

 
EZ Mortgages Inc. opens Placerville office

By News Release | From Page: HS22, 2 Comments

.

Comics

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A13

 
Sudoku

By Contributor | From Page: A13

Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A13

 
Working It Out

By Contributor | From Page: A13

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A13

 
Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A13

Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A13

 
Horoscope, Friday, April 18, 2104

By Contributor | From Page: A14

New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A14

 
Horoscope, Sunday, April 20, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A14

Horoscope, Saturday, April 19, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A14

 
.

Home Source

Faster sales with spring staging

By Ken Calhoon | From Page: HS4

Coldwell Banker outsells the competition

Press Release | From Page: HS7

Handsome Redmond suits modern families

Press Release | From Page: HS11

Growing your own

By Marni Jameson | From Page: HS14

Fraud workshop scheduled

Press Release | From Page: HS21

HCD launches assistance program

Press Release | From Page: HS22, 1 Comment

EZ Mortgages Inc. opens Placerville office

By News Release | From Page: HS22, 2 Comments