Cottonwood Decision Harms Commonsense Forest Management Projects

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U.S. CONGRESS —U.S. Senators Steve Daines and Jon Tester and U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke 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.”

According to the U.S. Forest Service, 80 vegetation management projects and hundreds of millions of board feet are at risk due to Cottonwood.

“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.”

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.

“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.”

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