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 First-Ever Study Shows Complete Picture of Forest Service Litigation
Washington, DC (June 13, 2006) – The first comprehensive study of US Forest Service land management litigation was published this week in the Journal of Forestry, an award-winning, scientific publication of the Society of American Foresters
(SAF). The study examines all 729 legal challenges to Forest Service land management filed in federal court from 1989-2002. Previous studies only examined cases where a judicial decision was published – about 30% of all cases during this time.
The study was conducted by four researchers; three from the State University of New York, College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY ESF) and one from the USDA, Forest Service.
“The Forest Service enjoys an excellent success rate – winning 57% of all cases and 73% of the cases decided by a judge or panel of judges – especially when one considers that the Forest Service is the defendant in all of these cases and the plaintiffs get to choose the basis and venues for their lawsuits,” says Dr. Robert Malmsheimer, lead researcher and Associate Professor of Forest Policy and Law at SUNY ESF. “It’s interesting to note however, that the Forest Service settles more than one in every six cases – almost as many land management cases as it loses. Clearly both the Forest Service and litigants view settlements as an important dispute-resolution tool.”
Findings: The study examined all Forest Service land management cases filed in federal court between 1989 and 2002 and found:

* A total of 729 completed legal challenges were identified. The Forest Service won 420 (57.6%) of these cases; lost 155 (21.3%); settled 128 (17.6%); and 26 (3.6%) of the cases were withdrawn before judges made decisions on the cases’ merits. Of the 575 cases where the final outcome was decided by a judge or panel of judges (i.e., cases not settled or withdrawn), the Forest Service won 73.0%.

* Most litigants (75.1%) sued the Forest Service for less resource use. The Forest Service won a majority of these cases – 275 (53.54%); lost 123
(23.94%), and settled 98 (19.1%). Almost 25% of litigants sued the Forest Service for greater resource use. The Forest Service won 117 (68.89%) of these cases, lost 28 (16.57%), and settled 21 (12.4%).

* Logging, planning, and salvage accounted for almost half of all challenges. Three statutes dominated the cases: National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), which was involved in 68.6% of all cases; the National Forest Management Act of 1976
(NFMA) – 43.5% of all cases; and the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) – 17.9% of all cases.

The study’s authors also note that plaintiffs win less than one of every four cases. This suggests that plaintiffs may receive indirect benefits from litigation, such as publicity, delay of action, and the chance of establishing new legal precedents. These benefits may be as important to some litigants as the direct benefits of winning lawsuits.
“This groundbreaking study will no doubt provide policy makers, land managers, stakeholders, and interest groups with valuable insights and accurate data to use in making policy decisions,” Michael Goergen, Executive Vice-President of the Society of American Foresters.
To view the complete study and summary fact sheet, visit the SAF web site at

About the Society of American Foresters. The Society of American Foresters (SAF), founded in 1900, is the oldest and largest non-profit forestry association dedicated to promoting forest stewardship through science and education. The Society’s award winning publications – The Journal of Forestry and Forest Science – cover the most significant developments in forest management and science. The Society encourages professional growth through conferences, certification, working groups, and peer-reviewed publications. The SAF membership comprises more than
15,000 forestry professionals involved in conserving forests across all forestry sectors: colleges and universities, local, state and federal government, private industry, and as consultants. For more information about SAF, visit us on the web at
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