Mont. lawmakers urge Biden to keep Trump species rule

Montana lawmakers are urging the Biden administration to adopt a rule change — filed in the days before the White House changed hands last month — that aims to eliminate a potential hurdle for forest management projects when endangered species might be affected.

Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Matt Rosendale, both Republicans, outlined their support in a letter yesterday to top officials at the Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service and the Commerce Department’s NOAA Fisheries.

“The proposed rule will allow land managers and wildlife biologists to follow the best-available science for consultation. It will remove an ambiguity in current regulations that have led to more lawsuits than conservation work,” the lawmakers wrote to FWS Assistant Director for Endangered Species Gary Frazer and NOAA Fisheries Deputy Assistant Administration for Regulatory Programs Samuel Rauch.

The letter continued: “This rule is critical to improve the health of Montana’s forest, advance wildlife and restoration projects, reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires, and support Montana timber jobs.”

The proposed rule, published last month, aims to scale back environmental discussions now required between federal agencies when land management plans in national forests affect endangered species (E&E News PM, Jan. 12).

The measure would address fallout from a 2015 case decided in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Forest Service v. Cottonwood Environmental Law Center.

In that lawsuit, the court ruled that the Forest Service should have reinitiated consultation with FWS when the forest agency designated critical habitat for the Canada lynx.

Following the ruling, both FWS and the Commerce Department agency must now reconsult with the Forest Service whenever new information about endangered species becomes available. By contrast, land management plans are typically revised every 15 years in national forests.

Daines has been a vocal opponent of the court’s ruling — often highlighting objections from the Obama administration to the decision — and has sought to overturn the outcome via legislation, including a bill he co-authored with California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) last cycle (E&E Daily, June 24, 2020).