Put a match to frivolous timber lawsuits

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Some people still don’t understand that trees are a renewable resource.

They don’t know — or refuse to believe clear scientific evidence — that strategic timber harvests are actually good for long-term forest health, including wildlife.

You can find these people waving the banners of some of the most rabid environmental groups in America. Their desire to protect the planet is commendable. Their tactics, however, are sometimes misguided, verging on malicious.

As Sunday’s front-page story by Steve Cameron pointed out, taxpayers foot the bill for millions of dollars in frivolous lawsuit expenses brought by just a few environmental groups. It’s not just taxpayers who suffer; a vital American industry is shackled by these lawsuits, depriving consumers of desirable products, the economy of one of its catalysts, and the forests of critically important management.

Going back decades, some environmental organizations have employed a playbook that effectively brings timber harvests to a screeching halt. The objective: Tie up potential harvests with lawsuits. That way, the environmentalists hope to outlast the viability of those harvests.

The madness might be nearing its end, however. Under the Trump Administration, many longstanding but questionable practices are being scrutinized. It’s the hope of this newspaper’s editorial board that frivolous lawsuits become an endangered species.

The Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017 would use arbitration to chop down frivolous lawsuits. Taking an idea first proposed by the Western Governors Association — unlike many Washington bureaucrats, a group of state leaders with intimate understanding of forest issues — the Resilient Federal Forests Act would emulate baseball arbitration.

Understanding that the legislation is likely to undergo changes, binding arbitration is an indispensable element. In baseball salary arbitration cases, a player and his team submit their separate arguments for what they think the player should be paid. The player thinks he’s worth more; the team, less. At that point there’s no more negotiating. The arbitrator studies the arguments and selects the one she or he determines is most fair.

In a timber-environmentalist disagreement, a qualified arbitrator can examine both sides and render a decision in a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost of some lawsuits.

A courtroom is no place to manage federal lands, nor is the American public properly served when its legal system is manipulated for delays, rather than decisions.

The answer? Play ball!

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