U.S. CONGRESS —U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke today underscored the urgency in reversing the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service by introducing bipartisan bicameral legislation to do just that.
The bill seeks to codify the Obama administration’s position that federal agencies are not required to consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service at a programmatic level when new critical habitat is designated or a new species is listed.
“Congress needs to take urgent action to reverse the disastrous activist court ruling for the sake of forest health, recreation, and watershed and habitat protection,” Daines stated. “By seeking a simple fix and codifying the Obama administration’s own position into law we can protect Montana jobs and continue with commonsense collaborative forest management projects that have been harmed by this court decision.”
“This bipartisan bill starts the conversation about how to address the Cottonwood decision, and is the first step in ensuring Montana’s outdoor economy isn’t crippled by unnecessary red tape,” said Tester. “The Cottonwood decision could not only handcuff responsible timber projects, but it could also stifle trail maintenance, critical conservation efforts, and efforts to increase public access to our favorite hunting and fishing spots.”
“Our forests are in poor health in part because of activist judges who would rather see them burn to the ground than properly managed,” Zinke stated. “The legislative fix the senators and I are proposing is simple and noncontroversial. I see no reason why we cannot reverse this decision as quickly as possible to protect jobs, recreation, and habitat.”
Currently there are conflicting circuit court interpretations in the Ninth (Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. Forest Service) and Tenth Circuits (Forest Guardians v. Forsgren) on this matter of wide-ranging import, but the Supreme Court denied the Department of Justice’s petition to settle the discrepancy.
Julia Altemus, Montana Wood Products Association: “This disastrous Court ruling could cripple access to wood for Montana’s mills who are already struggling to survive and undermine many collaborative projects that are already in process. Thank you to Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Representative Zinke for working to reverse this job-killing court ruling.”
Mac Minard, Executive Director Montana Outfitters and Guides Association: “Montana’s outfitters and guides rely on Montana’s treasured landscape and the management of that asset. The delegations effort to mitigate process requirements for land managers and allow them to manage and restore our National Forests is vital to the continued success of the many small business across Montana that rely on the great outdoors.”
Errol Rice, Executive Vice President, Montana Stockgrowers: “The implications that the Cottonwood decision could have on not only forest management projects in Montana, but also on efforts to improve grazing or outdoor recreational opportunities are dire. The Montana Stockgrowers Association thanks Sen. Daines, Sen. Tester and Representative Zinke for introducing this bill to reverse this harmful decision and for their efforts on behalf of Montana’s ranchers.”
Ravalli County Commissioner Greg Chilcott, Coalition of Forested Counties, Montana Association of Counties: “The Ninth Circuit Court’s ruling in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center vs. U.S. Forest Service, if left to stand, would drastically increase the regulatory burden on federal agencies and further delay needed forest management. This bipartisan legislation to reverse this unnecessary requirement will allow the Forest Service to continue their important restoration work to increase the health and resiliency of our national forest lands.”
Dale Bosworth, Retired Chief of the United States Forest Service: “With a career dedicated to managing the health of our national forests, I greatly appreciate the delegation’s efforts to reverse a crippling 9th circuit decision that would further reduce the Forest Service’s capacity to carry out their mission. With robust analysis on the ground in every project, the Forest Service is held to high standards in regards to critical habitat and endangered species and additional regulatory burdens courtesy of the 9th Circuit court are unwarranted and unnecessary. This legislation will allow the agency to continue their important work and get more restoration work done across Montana.”
David Allen, President & CEO, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation: “The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation applauds Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Representative Zinke for introducing legislation to reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Cottonwood v. U.S. Forest Service decision. The court’s decision will delay management projects on federal lands that are needed to reduce wildfire risks, improve forest health and wildlife habitat and enhance recreational opportunities. The decision encourages endless litigation to stop projects that have already been evaluated and approved by federal agencies. We need legislation like this to keep frivolous lawsuits from delaying and stopping important federal land management projects.”
Joel Webster, Director, Center for Western Lands, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership: “TRCP and, moreover, America’s sportsmen and women are committed to finding sensible ways of improving our national forests to the point that they support not only thriving populations of fish and wildlife, but also our hunting and fishing opportunities. A variety of factors have slowed the active management of our national forests dramatically, negatively impacting forest health, including wildlife populations. Bipartisan legislation authored by Senator Daines, Senator Tester, and Representative Zinke, which would reverse the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in the case of Cottonwood v. United States Forest Service, addresses one of the challenges to increasing management and restoration of our national forests, and we hope that Congress will act on this reasonable legislation.”
Doug Ferrell, Board Chairman, The Friends Of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness: “The Friends of Scotchman Peaks Wilderness applauds and supports the work of Sen. Daines and Tester and Rep. Zinke on bipartisan legislation to minimize problems and delays from the recent Cottonwood court decision. Based on our extensive participation in forest collaborative groups in both Idaho and Montana, we are aware that forest projects receive rigorous analysis of resource impacts. More layers of analysis are clearly not needed and would only serve to add expense and delay.”
Becky Humphries, Chief Conservation and Operations Officer for the National Wild Turkey Foundation: “The National Wild Turkey Federation strongly supports the efforts of Senator Daines, Senator Tester and Representative Zinke to reverse the ninth Circuit decision pertaining to the Endangered Species Act, Section 7 consultation for an approved National Forest Plan.”
According to the U.S. Forest Service, 80 vegetation management projects and hundreds of millions of board feet are at risk due to Cottonwood.
The text of the bill can be found HERE.