Oregon’s “Citizen Lawsuit Racket”

Throughout the Northwest, even a small timber sale is rarely completed without first being challenged by a citizen’s lawsuit filed by an environmental organization. These lawsuits, with legal fees from both sides typically paid by taxpayers, have stifled the management of our public lands. Billions of private and tax dollars are spent by private entities and government agencies to defend sound management decisions that may or may not have been tripped up by technical errors or missed deadlines.

Eric Hoffer once said, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and then a racket.” Citizen lawsuits are the critical tool that has allowed the environmental movement to become a racket. According to research done by Budd-Falen Law Offices from 2003-2007, more than $4.7 billion were paid to environmental law firms by federal agencies using our tax dollars.

No recourse exists for private or government agencies that win in court to recoup their costs. The answer to this problem isn’t simply to eliminate citizen lawsuits. The answer is either to eliminate the ability of the plaintiff to recover legal costs or to require the plaintiff to pay impact fees to the private entity or community for delays that resulted due to the lawsuit if they lose. Either way, the plaintiff will have some skin in the game and will think hard about using this shotgun approach to litigation.


Karla Kay Edwards is Rural Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute. She has held positions of leadership in numerous organizations focusing on agricultural and rural industries and issues, including the Fresno (California) Farm Bureau, Washington Cattlemen’s Association and the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in Measure 37 | 61 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Jerry

    Trees are crops and can be cut down without trouble.
    These loons have put a lot of Oregon out of work due to their constant assault on working men and women harvesting a crop.

  • John Fairplay

    Please stop advocating policies that will create or save jobs in Oregon. We don’t want them.

  • Britt Storkson

    The lawyers aren’t interested in winning or changing anything. All they are interested in is costing us money and making them money. Often they don’t go to trial because it is cheaper to “buy off” the lawyers instead of going to trial

    I’m running in the Republican Primary to represent district 59 (The Dalles) and I’m proposing a solution to these “hit and run” lawsuits. If a suit is filed the suit must be discharged either by settlement or court verdict or the defendant gets to do to the plaintiff what the plaintiff wanted to do to the defendant.

    My opponent, John Huffman, has been AWOL and this and many other issues impacting our state so we need change for the better.

  • Jerry

    Right on Britt. Also, loser pays everything for both sides.
    These morons make me sick.

    • Britt Storkson

      Thanks for the thumbs up, Jerry. This is a common sense solution and that’s exactly why it’s not being considered in the legislature. Most of the time the legislature isn’t interested in solutions as things are just fine in their world.

  • Bad Man

    Rest assured that if environmenta groups like the Sierra Club and Friends of the Forest had to actually pay these legal fees out of their own pockets, they would not be filing lawsuits at every turn.

  • Moron Detector

    For every one green job we lose two regular jobs.

  • John in Oregon

    Karla you have raised an important point. There is something more that I think is worth mentioning.

    Britt Storkson I find nothing specific to disagree with your comments about. I think that the problem is even larger than you said.

    Within the law in general and Environmental law in particular environmental organizations are the few groups that I know that have what amounts to an automatic standing to bring litigation. The other side, a timber company, energy company or business must show standing to litigate, environmental organizations don’t.

    The result is that the law has become a political tool in the hands of environmental organizations. An environmental organization can file incorporation on Monday and file litigation on Tuesday.

    Two examples of the results of this situation.

    One of Bill Clinton’s strengths was his ability to get groups to sit down and talk. A northwest example was the Clinton forest initiative. Timber companies and environmentalists sat down and hammered out an agreement. Timber agreed to specific standards and Environmentalists agreed not to sue.

    The ink was hardly dry. Timber moved forward and were greeted by lawsuits. Not by the environmentalists at the table, by newly minted groups. Every step by timber and the Forrest Service faced lawsuits just as before the agreement.

    The second example came after the Biscuit fire. Environmental Groups filed law suits to block the timber salvage. Lars Larson interviewed a spokesman for the environment groups, I believe one of the attorneys in the case.

    The first questions in the interview dealt with why environments thought salvage was bad. Lars then turned to the legal aspects questioning whether the environmentalists had a winnable case.

    The spokesman response said it all. He said simply we don’t have to have a legitimate case. All we have to do is delay until the timer is not worth salvage.

    Over the next few years that is exactly what happened.

  • valley p

    “Throughout the Northwest, even a small timber sale is rarely completed without first being challenged by a citizen’s lawsuit filed by an environmental organization. ”

    This is a completely false statement. Timber is sold and cut every day all over the Northwest with no citizen’s suing. Private forests are rarely if ever sued. Same with State and County forests. There have been a few high profile suits on Federal logging, but over the last number of years there have been very few of these as well.

    • Bennie

      “This is a completely false statement. Timber is sold and cut every day all over the Northwest with no citizen’s suing. Private forests are rarely if ever sued. Same with State and County forests. There have been a few high profile suits on Federal logging, but over the last number of years there have been very few of these as well.”

      This is completely false statement. Every timber sale is challenged with a law suit, using our own money to fund them. Private forests are sued all the time. Same with State and County forests. There are tons of low profile lawsuits and high law suits on Federal logging. Lots of them over the last number of years. Get you head out “valley p” and get down to the court houses to find out what is really going on. Why do you think we have all these depressed logging communities throughout Oregon.

  • Moe

    Every tree that is cut is like a life lost.

    • Bennie

      Oh! The humanity!

      • valley p

        “Every timber sale is challenged with a law suit, using our own money to fund them. ”

        Well Bennie, I don’t know where you get your information, but I work with foresters and forest land owners and the agencies that manage timber on a regular basis. Your information is beyond wrong. I can’t prove a negative to you, but there are very few lawsuits over cutting trees these days.

        “Why do you think we have all these depressed logging communities throughout Oregon. ”

        That could have something to do with the collapse of the housing industry resulting in a lack of demand for wood products. Present prices for saw grade Douglas fir timber are at their lowest level since the early 1990s. You need to get out more.

        • Jerry

          You must not do much work, then, as there are very few foresters left to manage what little timber is cut.
          Housing industry collapse has nothing to do with anything – all the logging stuff happened way before.
          Geez – talk about grabbing at straws.
          This is sad.

          • valley p

            “You must not do much work, then…”

            Enough to make a pretty good living thanks. Forestry is a small piece of the puzzle for me.

            “Housing industry collapse has nothing to do with anything”

            No…nothing at all except market demand. A couple of years ago Doug fir was $700 a thousand board feet. Today it is less than $300/MBF. A price drop of over 2 times is nothing? Know what else? The value of Oregon softwood timber has been pretty steadily declining since 1994. We have been out competed by cheaper timber from overseas and Canada. And logging more won’t make the price go up, I can assure you.

            But once again, don’t let the facts get in the way.

          • Jerry

            If you are doing so well, then give some more to Salem. They need it. Thanks for caring. All I was saying is that the housing has nothing to do with the timber industry going bust in Oregon – it went bust years ago. Well before any drop in housing. Well before.

          • valley p

            Yeah…well I did give more to Salem last year thanks.

            I get what you are saying, but you are simply dead wrong about the timber industry. First, the decline in employment was driven by automation long before there was a decline in federal timber sales. The saying in the woods is that a “Feller Buncher (a logging machine) does more work that a buncha fellers.” Feller bunchers and similar mechanized equipment, mostly manufactured in socialist places like Sweden and Finland, now do most of the work in the woods. Rural areas that depended on timber employment were already sinking by the early 80s and never recovered. Second, the timber industry never did “go bust.” It was quite profitable all through the 90s. Companies like Weyerhaeuser never had much use for Federal timber to begin with. But the industry has now pretty much “gone bust” due to the housing debacle. No market means going bust. And if and when demand returns, the competition from overseas and Canada will drive another nail in the coffin.

            The timber industry is never coming back to its NW glory days. There will always be some logging and milling here, but nothing like in the past. And lawsuits have nothing to do with this. Find something else to complain about.

  • John in Oregon

    Bennie I believe you are correct in what you said about the hostile legal environment found by timber companies. At the same time VP’s comments aren’t totally false, they are however very hedged. Consider this;

    > *Timber is sold and cut every day all over the Northwest with no citizen’s suing. Private forests are rarely if ever sued. Same with State and County forests… but there are very few lawsuits over cutting trees these days.*

    The first thing to notice is that VP includes “private forests” in his totality of timber harvests.

    Since the automatic standing to sue applies only to the Forest Service, BLM, State Forestry, EPA, state and local agencies, then one would expect that lawsuits against private parties, where automatic standing does not exist, would be much lower. Including ‘private forests” will dilute the relative number of apparent law suits. That is the number of law suits per tree harvested appears artificially lower.

    Second notice the caveat “very few lawsuits over cutting trees.” In other words the individual parcel sale.

    The actual hot bed of litigation is in the government agency planning and regulation arena. Here government institutes restrictions and road blocks for harvests on both public and private lands. This is long before an actual parcel is offered for sale or planed for harvest. In this case one would expect fewer lawsuits of individual parcels just as VP claimed. More can be blocked at the planning / regulation stage.

    Finally consider > * A couple of years ago Doug fir was $700 a thousand board feet. Today it is less than $300/MBF.*

    Several statements like this tend to make one think the health of the forest industry is unrelated to litigation. It’s only the housing market to blame. Artificial restrictions of supply drives up the cost of any commodity. Timber regulation cost increases are one contributor to the run up in housing prices. Of course lumber costs are not the only contributor to housing prices but they are significant.

    When Oregon saw mills import logs you get the idea that something is out of kilter.

    • valley p

      John, with due respect you don’t seem to know what you are writing about. Anyone can sue anyone in this country if they are harmed by an action. Private forest operators have been sued under the endangered species and clean water acts, which they are just as subject to as are federal, state, and county forest managers. But these suits are very rare.

      On federal lands, there is a process of administrative appeals that precedes suits over timber sales. Essentially the agencies try to solve whatever the problem is way before it ever comes to a lawsuit, and over 90% of the time this is the case.

      State forestry? I’m not familiar with any suits over timber sales. There have been efforts to change management plans for state forests, but I don’t think any of these ever were dealt with in court. County forests? Never heard of a single lawsuit there.

      Go back and read the original post. It does not distinguish at all between private, federal, state, or other forests. My response was to that post. I did not attempt to “dilute” anything.

      “The actual hot bed of litigation is in the government agency planning and regulation arena. ”

      True enough, and if the original post was about this then my response would have been as well. Since these forests belong to all the people, then al the people get to participate in how they are managed.

      “Artificial restrictions of supply drives up the cost of any commodity.”

      Well then given all these lawsuits, the price of Doug fir ought to be well over $1000/MBF. Why is that not the case?

      “Timber regulation cost increases are one contributor to the run up in housing prices.”

      Utter nonsense. You have zero data to support that. The cost of framing lumber in a typical house is about 6% of the total price, and that percent has gone steadily DOWN over the past 30 years. Land values were the driving factor in house inflation, and land values were driven up by speculation, not a supply shortage.

      “When Oregon saw mills import logs you get the idea that something is out of kilter. ”

      Its called free trade. Siberian fir and radiata pine are cheaper. Long story behind this, but it has to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the development of radiata pine as a fast growing commercial species(in areas that stay above freezing) by forest researchers. Our hybrid poplar is a competitor, but this is true “tree farming,” not forestry.

      • Bennie

        valley p – must be think he is writing for the Death Valley Gazette. Sounds like the kind of timber environment he is mostly familiar with.

  • John in Oregon

    With regard to private forest lawsuits VP said > *Anyone can sue anyone in this country if they are harmed by an action.*

    That’s exactly my point. The operative part is they can sue IF they are harmed by an action. This is called standing. Which is automatic for enviros suing government and not for private parties.

    With regard to The actual hot bed of litigation is in the government agency planning and regulation arena. VP said > *Since these forests belong to all the people, then al the people get to participate in how they are managed.*

    Sorry the people don’t get standing, only environmental organizations have that.

    With regard to timber regulation cost increases are one contributor to the run up in housing prices. VP said > *Utter nonsense.. Land values were the driving factor in house inflation, and land values were driven up by speculation, not a supply shortage.*

    True lumber costs are smaller, real but smaller. Good to see you admit that land use restriction are a major reason for the housing price run up.

    • valley p

      “Sorry the people don’t get standing, only environmental organizations have that.”

      Total BS John. Environmental organizations have hundreds of thousands of members. They have been “people” since long before there there was a tea party.

      “Good to see you admit that land use restriction are a major reason for the housing price run up. ”

      I admitted nothing of the sort. Many states like Nevada and Arizona have few or no restrictions on sprawl yet led the housing price speculation party and crashed the hardest. Oregon, with the most restrictive land use laws in the nation, experienced minor price increases compared with these other areas.

      What we had was an over building frenzy fueled by speculation. There were no land shortages stopping this. There probably should have been.

      But I’m glad to see you admit that lumber prices had nothing to do with it, meaning environmental restrictions on federal forest cutting had nothing to do with it, which was my point.

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