Subcommittee Examines Costs Associated with Lawsuits Filed Against the U.S. Forest Service

Mar 26, 2014

Tamara Hinton, 202.225.0184

WASHINGTON – Today, Rep. Glenn 'GT' Thompson, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and Forestry, held a public hearing to review the impact of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and related legislation on the U.S. Forest Service.

The ESA was signed into law in 1973 in order to preserve, protect, and recover key domestic species. Since its enactment, more than 1,500 domestic species have been classified as either threatened or endangered under the Act, with only 28 of those species having been delisted as of September 2012. The Forest Service must comply with ESA before engaging in any type of management activity designed to ensure forest health.   

However, the ESA contains a citizen suit provision, which allows private citizens to sue federal agencies and private landowners for allegedly failing to fully comply with the Act. A recent study in the Journal of Forestry examined 1,125 management cases filed against the Forest Service in federal court between 1989-2008. Though the costs borne by taxpayers responding to these lawsuits is likely significant, federal agencies do not track these costs, nor are any of these costs recouped particularly in cases where the federal agency prevails.

Today, the subcommittee members examined the direct and indirect costs associated with the lawsuits, particularly those against the Forest Service, and how those lawsuits have diverted budgetary resources away from healthy forest management and interfered with the underlying mission of preserving, protecting, and recovering threatened and endangered species.   

"This is not the first time we have received testimony with regard to frivolous lawsuits that have delayed or ultimately prevented the Forest Service and private industries from implementing timely and effective management decisions. These abusive activities are a significant threat to the health of forests and pose an equal threat to the economic well-being of our local communities. It is important to understand the negative economic effects litigation has on our farmers and foresters, and ultimately the species we are aiming to protect. I am optimistic this hearing will provide a roadmap for a bipartisan and comprehensive effort to review, reform, and strengthen the underlying Act, said Chairman Glenn 'GT' Thompson (R-PA-5).

Written testimony provided by the witnesses is linked below.

Witness List:

Panel I

Mr. Jim Peña, Associate Deputy Chief, U.S. Forest Service, Washington, D.C.

Ms. Eileen Larence, Director, Homeland Security and Justice, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, D.C.

Mr. Alva J. "Joe" Hopkins III, President, Forest Landowners Association, Folkston, Georgia

Dr. Greg Schildwachter, President, Watershed Results, Arlington, Virginia.