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RMEF and H.R. 2647

Nameless Range

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I am a member of the RMEF and I think are arguably the most powerful conservation organization in North America.

That said, I am somewhat frustrated by them lately. When supporting an issue, it is important to bring facts of support to the table, for if you bring false reasons in support, your opponents will nail you to the wall on those reasons alone, ignoring the the greater issue as to whether or not what you are supporting is a net-gain.

Here we have a letter from the RMEF:

Resilient.jpg

Notice the third bullet point: "which has encumbered half of the Forest Service's forest management projects".

Senator Tester recently said the same thing, and was sufficiently nailed to the wall for it. Did they not see that, or am I missing something?

I think Tester was referring to Montana. Is there evidence that this is true when we look at the Forest Service nationally?

IMO this bill is going to far. We just had a farm bill that created a CE for collaboratively developed restoration projects up to 3,000 acres in size. This bill would increase that to 15,000 acrres. There's quite a bit more.Additionally, the Bonding Requirements for litigants seems as if it will make it so that only the big money will be able to sue the government. I am not a fan of the perpetual litigators, but throwing the baby out with the bathwater is not the answer.

Additionally, this bill makes it much harder to decomission roads (Section 802), which IMO, is one of the best tools we have for improving elk habitat. Proponents of this bill will also say that it fixes the fire funding problem. The fact is it does nothing to deal with the real issue that fire suppression costs are taking a bigger piece of the overall budget pie every year. In fact, it very well could make it worse. To quote Mike Anderson, an attorney for the Wilderness Society, "the bill could exacerbate the Forest Service’s long-term funding problem by adding costs covered by future disaster funding (on top of regular appropriated funds) to the 10-year average amount that must be appropriated in order for the President to declare a major disaster for wildfire. Consequently, Forest Service appropriations for fire suppression would likely continue to spiral upward, consuming an ever-growing proportion of the agency’s budget and leaving less appropriated funding for all other national forest management activities. "

Perhaps the good in this bill outweighs the bad. It's tough for me to see that.

Read the bill here.

https://agriculture.house.gov/bill/hr-2647-resilient-federal-forests-act-2015
 

RobG

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It wasn't clear where the bill was on that link but I found this, which I think is the latest version of the bill. Also, a summary of the sections.

Regarding section 802:
Sec. 802-Conditions on Road Decommissioning
Subsection (a) requires that if the Forest Service is considering decommissioning a road in a fire-prone area, the Forest Service must consult with the local government and consider alternatives before taking action.
Subsection (b) further requires that the regional forester must sign off on any road closure in a high fire prone area.

I'm not sure how the requirement to post a bond will change lawsuits. I think the RMEF description glosses over some concerns, especially over the categorical exclusions which they cast as a good thing - perhaps in some areas where the forest is heavily overgrown but I think logging beetle kill is just about making money as they are finding once the needles have been dropped it isn't a fire hazard compared to a normal dry forest.
 
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BuzzH

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In my opinion, these types of bills are placing the cart directly in front of the horse.

Its one thing to pass these types of bills, its another to get Congress to FUND them. A bill like this can "loosen" all the requirements it wants, but the work is not going to get done at the current funding levels.

That's just a fact.

IMO, its also pretty hypocritical for Congress to be blaming the backlog of work, projects, road/trail maintenance, etc. on anything other than a lack of funding. They are diverting everyone's attention from the real issue and attempting to place blame on everyone and anything but their lack of financial support of the Land Management Agencies.

Some examples that I can think of that I've ran into just the last couple months.

The trail/recreation crews on the Caribou/Targhee, specifically the Palisades district, have been cut from 9 to 2. The Palisades area has a lot of mechanized and foot traffic only trails and 2 people are trying to keep those trails up, which is all but impossible. Road crews in just about every district/forest barely have enough money to keep the MAIN roads open, let alone trying to catch up on the backlog. There flat isn't funding for things like replacing bridges, that in many cases, have had nothing done to them in 20-30 or more years.

Just recently, one Western Wyoming Ranger District submitted a grant request to the WGBLC to fund weed control, which was granted. While its a worthwhile expenditure of funds, its pathetic that a Ranger District has to write a grant to fund weed control. That kind of stuff should be funded via congressional appropriations.

Another is an upcoming workday that WYBHA is going to do this weekend. WYBHA adopted an 8 mile section of trail, in one of the most heavily used areas of the Med. Bow NF to maintain, collect trash, inventory signs etc. Again, while WYBHA is happy to do this work, there should be funding available to hire trail crews to do this.

On the same note, WYBHA also helped fund another project with the USFS on the Med. Bow to place informational signs across the forest explaining critical winter range and seasonal road closures. WYBHA is also going to help install the signs as well. Again, I feel this is a good project and worth the expenditure of funds from WYBHA, but, again, there should be funding from Congress for these types of projects.

My question to those pushing these types of bills, Tester, RMEF, etc. would be, are you going to get FUNDING to complete the projects???

From my experience, the issue is NOT the serial litigators, its not that the Agencies don't want to do the work, its just a lack of funding.

Until Congress and the Public get serious about adequately funding the land Management Agencies, these bills are going to accomplish NOTHING. This bill is a complete and total waste of time and will do precisely nothing to address the problems that it intends to "fix".
 

RobG

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Chief of the Forest Service Thomas Tidwell said the same thing about funding - but I can't find his testimony. I did find this in a Missoulian article by undersecretary Bonnie
But both men [Tidwell and Bonnie]emphasized that the biggest problems they face are budgetary. Fires are eating up so much of the agency's budget that it has 39 percent fewer employees than it had nearly two decades ago.

"We're taking people out of the field that put together the projects to reduce fire in the first place," Bonnie said. "So even if you give the Forest Service a bunch of new tools and tool boxes, we don't have enough people on the ground to reach the type of scale we need. So we have to fix the fire budget."
 

Ben Lamb

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Agree with Nameless, Buzz & Rob on the bill, it's not a good way to address forest health issues and it goes too far. The bill was originally written by Representative Tom McClintock of CA and Zinke picked it up. It's strange that a bill as large as this had no public hearings in states affected by it's possible passage.

I also don't think the bonding issue holds up in court. It could easily be argued that bonding violates your first amendment rights and hampers citizen accountability over government.

But I get why RMEF would support it. Folks are tired and frustrated by the lack of action, lawsuits stopping or attempting to stop good projects, etc.

But Buzz nailed it - it's about funding. Pure and simple. The more we starve these agencies and expect them to do more with less, the less we have in terms of forest management where appropriate.

Ultimately, I don't see this bill getting through the Senate. 60 votes is tough to come by.
 

hank4elk

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Funding IS the issue!
$ is allotted in the budget,then stolen by congress for pet projects or UNFUNDED new ones.
Talked to a recently retired USDA-FS hydrologist/geologist and he said 20 yrs ago there was 1500 of them employed by FS when he started.Now there is 15 for the whole Dept........try and get anything done when your staff is cut and the same workload is given to 1000% less workers.
The only thing that has increased is top heavy useless Admin. and costs spent in courts.
The Contracting Out BS is biggest cost there is,and we get facilities and general maint. that is right up there with 3rd world countries. But it costs more than when the Depts did it with full time employees.\

More trickle down ,vodoo economics,with Big business getting $ without preforming the job they were hired to do_OOH ,and paying no taxes,but getting a tax refund.
 
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JLS

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Lots of good comments. The effects of litigation increase exponentially when you are incredibly short staffed. Now, the few people you have to do the work are spending nearly all of their time with litigation revolved tasks, instead of doing work in the field.

I'm sure everything would be solved though, if the states did the management.:rolleyes:
 

1_pointer

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IME/O litigation is part of the funding problem as well. Litigation costs a lot of $$ and hours. One appeal I was a part of had 13 weeks of direct testimony. That's 13 weeks not spent doing on the ground work. That's 13 weeks of payroll for multiple employees spent on just that appeal plus that spent on other witnesses. Sure, some extra funding is granted for these, but they do not come close to covering the total cost. That does not include the work before and after the actual hearing. Lots of time and money...

One idea that was shared with me as part of the solution would be to streamline the appeal process. One suggestion was to make projects of certain types or sizes to be subject to summary judgment. Another was to have the hearings be less formal and for them to not have to be in front of Administrative Law Judge, which I was informed is allowed for by the rules/regs for Interior. Though I don't think it's fix-all solution, I think this idea has a lot of merit.
 

Ben Lamb

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IME/O litigation is part of the funding problem as well. Litigation costs a lot of $$ and hours. One appeal I was a part of had 13 weeks of direct testimony. That's 13 weeks not spent doing on the ground work. That's 13 weeks of payroll for multiple employees spent on just that appeal plus that spent on other witnesses. Sure, some extra funding is granted for these, but they do not come close to covering the total cost. That does not include the work before and after the actual hearing. Lots of time and money...

One idea that was shared with me as part of the solution would be to streamline the appeal process. One suggestion was to make projects of certain types or sizes to be subject to summary judgment. Another was to have the hearings be less formal and for them to not have to be in front of Administrative Law Judge, which I was informed is allowed for by the rules/regs for Interior. Though I don't think it's fix-all solution, I think this idea has a lot of merit.

That's the thing with focusing only on the ligitation angle: We end up swapping our right to seek redress against our government in favor of expedited projects and cost savings.

There has to be better administrative ways to get around the continual cycle of litigation rather than eliminating our right to sue the gov't, or making it cost prohibitive.
 

RobG

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Ben and others probably know better than me, but I think the lawsuits take advantage of shortcomings in the Forest Service's analysis. They can't cross their t's and dot their i's without staff.

Also, from page 20 http://www.fs.fed.us/aboutus/budget/2014/FY2014ForestServiceBudgetOverview041613.pdf
A growing proportion of the Forest Service budget has been needed for fire-related activities of all kinds. In FY 1991, for example, fire-related activities accounted for about 13 percent of our total budget. In FY 2012, it was 40 percent. That has left a smaller proportion of funding for non-fire purposes (watersheds, wildlife, recreation, and other benefits and services). With increasingly limited funding, we need to approach our work differently.
An interesting history here.

In 2000 congress told them to be a fire fighting agency. The rest of their roles have decreased funding in inflation adjusted dollars.
ai412e14.jpg
 

Ben Lamb

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Yes,

Most of the time the lawsuits rely little on the PR component that the litigators talk about in the press and focus on minutia in terms of dotted i's and crossed t's.

I've seen some lawsuits that had nothing to do with the merit of the project, and entirely about esoteric points of order that were legal technicalities. Both sides do it (Industry and Enviros). The collaboratives help ensure that the projects that are developed can withstand a lot of those hurdles. Two good examples in MT are the Tenmile project & Colt Summit. Both were litigated (in one case, after being developed with Alliance for the Wild Rockies ED Mike Garrity) and both were upheld in court.

Fire borrowing is an awful practise that robs current budgets with the promise that they'll get backfilled tomorrow. Sen. Jed Hinkle from Bozeman & I had a great conversation about this. He's a fisheries technician for USFS and loses his budget yearly because of fire-borrowing. Makes it tough to manage wildlife when you have no funding to do so.

Eliminating the fire borrowing provision and passing the bill that would place fire-fighting funds in the same line item as other natural disasters makes a lot of sense and has broad support.

But since we can't even pass an interior approps bill without attaching all kind of stupid riders like the Poe amendment, or fighting fights over the confederate flag, it's not likely that anything good will happen soon.
 

Big Fin

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A few comments. This bill was brought to the American Wildlife Conservation Partners (AWCP) for input and support. AWCP is an organization of the groups listed below who try to coordinate public policy in DC, as it relates to wildlife and conservation. Each AWCP member is asked for comment on such, with some comments getting through and some not. Groups are also asked to seek support from their membership when bills come forth with AWCP support.

RMEF is one of the AWCP partners. No group gets all they want out of a bill. At times, a group finds it necessary to not support a proposal. And at times, they will occasionally oppose a proposal when the majority of the partners are in favor. The goal is to get the best possible outcome, given the situation, for as many of the AWCP memberships as possible. A lot of bills get shot down by AWCP and you don't read about that, as it happens without much fanfare. If you saw the number of terrible wildlife bills AWCP gets killed before they reach a Committee, you would be very pleased.

I did a lot of research on this bill. It is not perfect. Until Congress gets serious about adequately funding many of these issues and not trying to starve the agencies, the problems will not have long-term solutions.

I've previously posted my thoughts about the level of litigation that occurs in Federal land management policy. Some here will disagree and have told me they disagree, but I feel there is a need to start reeling in the impacts caused by litigation and the threats of potential litigation. When agency chiefs come to AWCP and state how litigation, the threats of litigation, and the mine field one must cross to not get sued, are huge issues in them being able to carry out their mission, I have a tendency to believe them. These are some very smart and very reasonable folks.

Unfortunately, some resist any litigation changes. When the political tides come against them, they will probably wonder how they got washed out to sea. Though this is not a perfect solution for litigation reform, it starts the discussion as it relates to Forest policy. Those opposed to this level of reform might want to brace for a rough road ahead, in the event the Republicans gain control of Congress and the White House. If that happens in 2016, those opposed to litigation reform will think this bill was a great deal as compared to what will be in store under that circumstance.

From a bigger picture, none of this happens in a vacuum. There are always many other competing bills, alternative proposals, many that you hope pass and many you hope get killed. What happens in one bill often reflects some compromise that helps pass/kill competing bills that might be higher priority. It is easy for me to give my personal opinions about the benefits or detriments of an individual bill. But, I try to look at it from the bigger policy direction of all issues affecting conservation, habitat, and access. If I was King for a day, this bill would have somethings changed, some things kept the same, somethings omitted, and some things added.

Part of leading, as is required by the AWCP groups, is to look at the longer horizon and decided if they are doing what is necessary to provide benefit to conservation, even if they know perfection will never be achieved, especially in the current political climate. They must do what they think is best, when considering all factors. They take their lumps from critics and must stay the course with what they think is best for the long-term.

With the Sportsman's Act, LWCF reauthorization, agency budget approval, State Transfer of Federal lands, and a host of other discussions going on simultaneously, this bill as proposed is not the only bill that will be affecting hunters, anglers, and public land users over the next two years. As much as some may not like a few features, it got my vote as an acceptable attempt to change a few things, defeat a few others behind the scenes, and do so in spite of a Congress that really has shown little concern for our issues, unless they can use our issues to repay some political favors.

Here is a list of AWCP partners. Many signed in support of this bill.


Archery Trade Association
Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies
Bear Trust International
Boone and Crockett Club
Buckmasters American Deer Foundation
Camp Fire Club of America
Catch a Dream Foundation
Congressional Sportsmens Foundation
Conservation Force
Dallas Safari Club
Delta Waterfowl Foundation
Ducks Unlimited
Houston Safari Club
International Hunting Education Association
Izaak Walton League of America
Masters of Foxhounds Association
Mule Deer Foundation
National Assembly of Sportsmen's Caucuses
National Association of Forest Service Retirees
National Rifle Association
National Shooting Sports Foundation
National Trappers Association
National Wild Turkey Federation
North American Bear Foundation
North American Grouse Partnership
Orion - The Hunter's Institute
Pheasants Forever
Pope and Young Club
Public Lands Foundation
Quail Forever
Quail Unlimited
Quality Deer Management Association
Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation
Ruffed Grouse Society
Safari Club International
Sand County Foundation
Shikar Safari Club
Texas Wildlife Association
The Wildlife Society
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
TreadLightly!
US Sportsmen's Alliance
Whitetails Unlimited
Wild Sheep Foundation
Wildlife Forever
Wildlife Habitat Council
Wildlife Management Institute
 

Ben Lamb

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Like I said Randy, I can see why folks are supporting this bill, warts and all.

I'm certainly not criticizing any organization who sees merit in it, just not sure we're headed in the right direction. Litigation is a big problem, and one that needs to be solved but I don't believe limiting the rights of people to seek redress against their government is the best way to do that.

The bill passed the House today. Rumor I'm hearing is that it's DOA in the Senate.

Hopefully the Senate can pick the good out of it and put together a bill that will survive the process and make it through a conference committee report.
 

BuzzH

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After thinking about this bill and what it intends to do, I set up a scenario.

Lets say that a fire, I&D outbreak, whatever hits an area.

1. The assigned RAC, working group, whatever gets involved (BTW, just for conversation, who decides who is on this RAC?). I would have some questions about who is on the RAC and who is not...more importantly who is even qualified to be there?

2. The RAC decides to treat/log 15,000 acres under the CE and the recommendation of the RAC. Keep in mind that's over 23 sections, or 23 square miles...we're talking watershed/drainage size acreage.

3. Now we move to log it, and given the terrain features, what kind of road density are we going to need to even make the salvage possible? In any kind of terrain over 30-40% slope, I would guess road densities of 3-5 miles of road per section, minimum to recover the wood. Anybody know what it costs to build a mile of logging road? To add to that, there is also a requirement under the bill that the roads must also be obliterated. Which is in conflict with other language in the bill that says before any road is decommissioned it must be approved by the county commission or another advisory group. But, for argument sake, lets assume the roads are obliterated...anybody know what it costs to decommission a road?

4. Assuming the action/treatment happens, now under the language of the bill, the Agency has 5 years to reforest 23 square miles. Anyone know where you find crews, trees, etc. to restock 23 square miles? Anybody know how much it costs to grow seedlings? How about the cost of getting those seedlings in the ground?

5. Now, its 5 years down the road, and guess what, not much of a surprise to anyone that has the first clue about foresty, there are many areas in that 23 square miles that aren't forested yet. Lets just say, as a wild guess and for fun, that the funding for the road obliteration and reforestation amazingly dries up (hard to believe that would ever happen, given Congresses last 20 years of starving the Agencies).

6. Now the public has 23 miles of slicked off trees, road densities through the roof, and reforestation isn't happening. The county commission is raising hell because the local atv club, that has now gotten used to the increased roads, don't want them shut down.

7. A few local sportsmen want to hold the Agencies feet to the fire because that drainage they used to hunt, is now clearcut with ATV's running wild, and 6 years later, the area isn't restocked. They'd like to take the Agency to court, but under this bill, they cant because its a CE.

Sounds like a good deal to me...

Oh, and BTW, who is going to be willing to pay for all this??? Who in Congress is going to increase funding to make it happen?

Assuming adequate funding FIRST, limiting to 5K acres (which is manageable), and an avenue to hold the Agencies responsible for the language of the bill, I could agree to it.

Right now, no way....

This bill is much like the Transfer of Public lands idea...it only makes sense if you don't think about it.
 
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Nameless Range

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I'd like to highlight what Buzz just wrote here:

23 sections, or 23 square miles...we're talking watershed/drainage size acreage

We recently passed a Farm Bill with its own CE of 5,000 acres, that is 7 sections, which IMO is pretty big itself to exclude from the typical oversight process.

Do they really need larger CEs? Is the current 7-section CE not enough to get their management done?

I don't know. I grew up and still spend time in one of the litigated forests of Montana - in the Ten Mile Project. It desperately needed work done - the whole area does due to it's proximity to Helena and the fact that Helena's drinking water is sourced there. I definitely sympathize with frustration in terms of litigation. Certain groups litigated this project despite the fact that people's drinking water was on the line. Some of the Ten Mile Project occurred in Inventoried Roadless, and I understand that was necessary.

Part of the Red Mountain Flume that collects Helena's drinking water

flumetrees.JPG

Flume.JPG



The city of Helena ran a fire model a while back regarding what would happen over the course of 8 hrs on a 90 degree day with a 10 mph wind if the fire started up near the Tenmile Project high country. It is eye opening, and this model proved quite accurate when Colorado Springs burned a few years ago.

In 8 hours houses are burning down around the Capitol Building.

8hrs.jpg

But then, in reviewing the maps of Priority Landscapes designated by Governor Bullock for the last Farm Bill I see CEs being proposed in the Mile Creek area of the Henry's Lake Range, and other islands of wild land. Far from any urban populations or even houses.

Why in the name of all that is holy would you propose to punch a road into this?

theproperty.jpg

I certainly get Randy's point that this bill may look pretty vanilla compared to what could come given Republican control of Congress and the White House. But then again, I could see the same argument being made about the transfer of public lands. The transfer of public lands would look quite favorable in comparison to a GOP proposal to flat out sell off our public lands, but that is no reason to support the transfer. Maybe for those with more knowledge of the politcal world than myself this is a practical bill that deserves support for strategic reasons.

I don't know. I've said it before and I still feel this way. Our public lands are not in that bad of shape, much of this outcry over "mismangement" seems like a hammer looking for a nail, and nothing short of large scale fire will achieve the results many desire for public lands anyway. Very few conservation orgs are willing to accept and support that fact.

Interesting comments and I appreciate the input.
 

JLS

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much of this outcry over "mismangement" seems like a hammer looking for a nail, and nothing short of large scale fire will achieve the results many desire for public lands anyway. Very few conservation orgs are willing to accept and support that fact.

I think that is a VERY accurate statement, all the way around.
 

Ben Lamb

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Well said Nameless.

But I do think that the litigation issue is one that needs to be dealt with not only for increased management in areas that really need it like Tenmile, but for budgets as well.

As I mentioned earlier, I don't see a path for this bill in the Senate. They have to get to 60 and the votes aren't there.

Here's another project that is needed and has been traditionally held up in courts: http://helenair.com/news/opinion/re...cle_d7cb42d4-8a09-11e2-9f8f-0019bb2963f4.html

The Benchmark fuels project would occur in inventoried roadless areas as well, but only within 1/4 mile of the existing roads (Benchmark, Beaver/Willow). It was being held up because of issues related to grizzly bears and secure habitat. Nevermind the subdivision up on Beaver/Willow or the scores of cabins on benchmark. Never mind the elk migration that happens yards from the road or bears using both roads as paths of least resistance. The litigants sued not so much on the merits of the project, but on the esoteric minutia that the FS didn't have the manpower to quarduple check.
 
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RobG

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I sure in the original version of the bill there was a limitation to the road density but I can't find it now. That's the problem with these bills and the supporters get so much invested in them that they have trouble dropping support as it changes.

I don't know if there is a fix for the lawsuits, but let me give you an example of the problems of stopping them. (This happened a long time ago so details may be wrong). In Pocatello the emissions from an outdated phosphorus plant routinely violated the clean air act (the company name escapes me, but it wasn't Simplot). The industries influence on the EPA prevented them from clamping down on the polluters. An EPA person told a friend of mine he would have to sue to give them the justifications to follow their own guidelines, which he did.

Another: the BLM was under too much local pressure to do anything about Bundy. It took a lawsuit for them to justify action. As you may know Bundy is still using that land but the BLM is making a case against him, lest they get sued again.

If it wasn't for Kat being so dogged (mostly on her own dime) someone would probably have to sue the BLM about the Durfee land theft. You still might have to do it as they seem not to be freely cooperating.

It would be nice to figure out a cure for the serial litigators (like Ben's examples) and I don't understand what sort of financial barriers this law would put in place (or even how it works now), but I believe they only get reimbursed for reasonable costs if they win the case; therefore there is an opportunity cost for taking on frivolous cases. If it prevents the little guy from forcing the agencies to follow their own laws the local industrial/extractive influences on the agencies would trump all our toothless whining.

I do not know if a R dominated Congress would result in this going away. They have been screaming about this, the ESA, and "tort reform" for decades and it hasn't happened even when they are in control. In fact, the morons in charge are now suing the president. They like it as much as anyone else.
 

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