Lost in the holiday shuffle is a decision just before Christmas by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Donald Molloy requiring three environmental groups to post a $100,000 bond to continue their appeal of a salvage logging sale near Butte.
The Forest Service asked for the bond noting that the federal agency could lose as much as $600,000 if the sale is held up long enough to render the standing dead timber worthless.
It is generally felt that timber must be salvaged within a specific time period of dying to be marketable. In this case the timber is beetle kill and considered a fire hazard within the City of Butte's watershed. The city-county government of Butte-Silver Bow is concerned about the need to construct a water treatment plant if a fire sweeps through the standing dead timber.
The Native Ecosystems Council, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and The Ecology Center are seeking to appeal Molloy's earlier ruling that the sale is in the public's best interest and should proceed. USFS officials are concerned that an appeal to the Ninth District Court of Appeals could take a year or more.
Such delaying tactics are often used by individuals and groups seeking to stop a land management decision, especially involving logging on national forest lands.
A spokesman for one of the environmental groups said that the assets for the three groups do not approach the $100,000 requested by Molloy. And he also pointed out that the groups win a higher percentage of the cases that they appeal than they lose.
Requiring litigants to have a financial stake in lawsuits of this nature has been discussed in Montana for some time. And in this particular case — where the cost could be significant to the local taxpayers, to the Forest Service and yes, to a logging company — in this case R-Y Timber out of Townsend —that seems to constitute a widespread public interest.
Not every appeals case involves the elements in such a 'harmonic convergence' and such hefty bonds should be used careful to avoid eliminating public involvement. The Constitution guarantees Americans their so-called day in court and no where does it say but only if you can afford it.
Without knowing the specifics of the environmental groups' appeal, I wouldn't want to call their appeal frivolous but there's hardly a logging project proposed in this part of the world that one if not all of these groups hasn't stepped in to try to stop.
Judge Molloy should be commended for his latest ruling. It would be far too optimistic at this point in time to think this marked a change in the process that could lead to people discussing and working out differences rather resorting to money- and time-sapping lawsuits.
Hey, it's early in the year and it's nice to dream of collaboration occurring in something. — Roger Morris