Responsible stewardship on US Forest Service lands is being held back by 'frivolous litigation,' F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber VP tells House committee, says agency spends US$350M/year on environmental analysis instead of forest health projects

KALISPELL, Montana , July 11, 2013 () – Chuck Roady, the vice president and general manager of F.H. Stoltze Land & Lumber Co. near Columbia Falls, testified before a congressional committee in Washington, D.C., Thursday about the need for litigation reforms to clear the way for more active management on national forest lands.

Roady, who was testifying in his capacity as a board member with the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, was welcomed to the House Committee on Natural Resources by U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont.

During the hearing, Daines highlighted the impact of "frivolous litigation" in preventing management U.S. Forest Service lands.

"Responsible stewardship on Forest Service lands by companies like Stoltze continues to be held back by frivolous litigation by environmental groups," Daines said. "It is overwhelmingly evident that reforms are needed to protect the health of our forest, the safety of our communities, our watersheds, and the strength of our timber industry, which is jobs -- it's of great importance to our state's economy."

Roady spoke about the implications of "endless litigation."

"Make no mistake. These serial litigants do not sue the federal government because they have this heartfelt love of the land or a fondness for a specific bird, fish or wildlife. They sue because they've learned how to control, manipulate and profit financially through the court systems," he said.

"The endless litigation is what leads the Forest Service to spend over $350 million annually on their NEPA analysis, rather than designing, implementing and completing badly needed forest health projects. We need some form of legislative litigation relief on our national forests, and we need it to happen quick."

Roady called for a renewed emphasis on active management of national forests to deal with threats to overgrown forests.

"We have been dismayed to see the administration propose reductions in the very programs needed to address these threats: the forest products, hazardous fuels reduction, and capital improvement and maintenance programs of the Forest Service," Roady's written testimony states. "These program reductions, partially due to the sequester -- but proposed again for 2014 -- will lead to a worsening of the forest health and wildfire crisis on our federal lands."

Roady asserted that after nearly three decades of drastically reduced timber harvest, the national forest system is facing "an ecological and managerial crisis" with overstocked stands, drought, climate change, insects and fire threatening to reconfigure the landscape and damage watersheds throughout the West.

Last year, he said, more than $400 million was redirected from forest management programs.

Roady said excessive fuels have created large-scale forest mortality and an increased occurrence of catastrophic wildfires, with 9.3 million acres burning last year, including 2.6 million acres of Forest Service lands.

"Of the 82 million acres at significant risk, the Forest Service has only implemented mechanical treatments on 6.8 million acres since 2001, or less than 10 percent of the acres at risk. Further, by the Forest Service's own accounting, only 25 percent of projects produce any usable wood fiber," said Roady, who also met with Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester earlier in the week to discuss forest management issues.

Reporter Jim Mann may be reached at 758-4407 or by email at jmann@dailyinterlake.com.

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