PUBLIC LANDS -- At first, it sounds as though we should be outraged:
Three conservation groups in Montana have been involved in more than 200 court cases nationwide against federal agencies, primarily the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service.
In the last five fiscal years, $617,058.40 in attorney fees has been awarded to the three groups and their co-plaintiffs in lawsuits against the Forest Service alone.
- Details are out this week in the story, "Obstruction or obligation?," by Tom Kuglin in the Helena Independent Record.
The groups in the story -- the Alliance for the Wild Rockies, the Montana Ecosystems Defense Council and the Native Ecosystems Council -- are just three three groups in Montana, with many more in the nation following suit, so to speak, on issues such as timber sales and the Endangered Species Act. The ecosystems groups are so small they don't even have websites.
Opponents of the lawsuits cite the Equal Access to Justice Act, which they say is unfairly rewarding lawyers of environmental groups by often awarding attorney fees paid for with tax dollars.
Environmental groups say the law holds the federal government accountable, and that attorney fees play a critical role in their efforts to protect wildlife and habitat.
“We could never afford to pay that (attorney fees) on our own,” said Mike Garrity, executive director for the alliance. “I’m not going to apologize for successfully suing the government. How come no one is asking why the Forest Service has such a big problem following the law?”