Daines, Gianforte Introduce Legislation to Protect Montana Forest Projects from Fringe Environment Extremists

U.S. SENATE —U.S. Senator Steve Daines and Congressman Greg Gianforte today introduced legislation that will cut red tape and protect forest management projects from litigation.   


“Time is of the essence to properly manage our forests,” said Daines. “Fringe environmental extremists have kept solutions at bay and that’s why I’m introducing legislation that will cut excessive red tape and protect forest management projects from getting caught in the litigation process.”   


“The disastrous Cottonwood decision has put Montana timber workers out of work and forced our communities to face more severe wildfires. Cottonwood made it easier for environmental extremists to unnecessarily tie up critical forest projects in litigation,” said Gianforte. “This bill will help cut back on those frivolous lawsuits and get us managing our forests again.”


Summary of the bill:


The bill would cut red tape and protect forest management projects from litigation by clarifying when the Forest Service must consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife after “new information” related to a listed species surfaces.


Currently there are five ongoing lawsuits in Montana from fringe groups—and over 30 lawsuits or Notices of Intent to sue nationwide—that raise “new information” objections and threaten the timely implementation of projects. The five lawsuits in Montana include the North Hebgen Multiple Resource Project in the Custer Gallatin National Forest that is currently under a temporary restraining order. It also includes the Moose Creek Vegetation Project in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest where fringe litigants are challenging the entire authority to expeditiously combat insects and diseases that was provided by the 2014 farm bill.   


The Daines-Gianforte companion bill stipulates that the Forest Service does not need to consult with FWS when new information arises that has previously been considered and if the related Forest plan was completed within the past fifteen years. If the Forest plan is older than fifteen years, the bill provides the Forest Service with five years to complete the consultation in cases where new information has not previously been considered.


The Forest Service consults with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service when completing Forest plans (plan-level) and specific forest projects (project-level). Under the Cottonwood decision, the Forest Service was required to re-consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the plan-level after the listing of a new species, designation of critical habitat, or when “new information” about a listed species surfaced. At the project level, the agencies are already consulting and are required to use the best scientific and commercial data available. The Obama Administration argued that the Cottonwood ruling had the “potential to cripple” federal land management and that the plan-level re-consultation burden created a procedural loop with negligible conservation benefit.


Legislation enacted earlier this year established the 15/5 year policy described above for when a species is listed or critical habitat is designated. It did not, however, address the “new information” component. The Daines-Gianforte bill addresses the threat caused by the new information problem.