A bipartisan group of federal lawmakers have introduced legislation to address the so-called “Cottonwood” case, which is bringing desperately-needed forest projects to a halt. If it’s not fixed, the decision will threaten jobs, recreation and a variety of forest activities.
Forestry associations and wildlife groups are calling for action. Here’s why, and here’s how you can help.
Last fall the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 9th Circuit case that effectively ordered the U.S. Forest Service to re-initiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) at the programmatic (plan) level following the 2009 designation of critical habitat for the Canada lynx. The case stems from a lawsuit against a forest project intended to protect a watershed in Southwest Montana. Copycat litigation is now threatening projects across the country.
The decision is not about protecting vulnerable wildlife species, it’s about blocking the multiple uses of our public lands. It could allow anti-forestry groups to secure injunctions anywhere there is a listed species or critical habitat designation, and force the Forest Service and U.S Fish and Wildlife Service to engage in the lengthy, costly process of ESA “consultation.” This consultation would not be about specific projects, but rather about the underlying forest plan, even if that plan is a decade old or more. The 9th Circuit alone has 11 pending lawsuits and 26 pending “Notices of Intent to Sue” over Endangered Species Act consultations.
Click here to help us send a message to Congress to fix this problem before more forest projects and activities are affected.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, 80 vegetation management projects and hundreds of millions of board feet are at risk due to Cottonwood. A federal District Court in Montana has already blocked another collaborative forest project based on the Cottonwood decision. Litigation has also been filed seeking to apply Cottonwood to forest management activities on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota.
Congressional action is needed to statutorily reverse the decision by amending federal law. U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) have introduced legislation to codify the position previously held by the Obama administration, stipulating 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. Companion legislation has also been introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) and Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota).