A new study published in the Journal of Forestryhas found that the U.S. Forest Service paid $6.1 million in legal fees to groups that have successfully sued it from 1999 to 2005. Michael Mortimer, director of Natural Resources Programs in the National Capital Region, conducted the study along with Robert Malmsheimer of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Their report emphasizes the controversy behind the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), which requires the federal government to pay attorneys fees when it loses a case.

The researchers found that $3.2 million of the $6.1 million went to environmental groups; the most frequent litigators included the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Biological Diversity, and Earthjustice. The study suggests the EAJA is a “positive incentive” for litigation since it can “alter litigation risks among potential plaintiffs.” However, they caution against concluding that the EAJA is an outright driver of litigation, arguing that some groups “are quite well financed and therefore not the class of plaintiffs for which the law was designed to provide access to the expensive federal litigation system.” The vast majority of litigation parties were only involved in one lawsuit. “The study should help inform the current congressional efforts to amend and reform the EAJA reporting process,” Mortimer said.