Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities Supports Bipartisan Action to Fix 'Cottonwood' Case and Protect Multiple Uses of National Forests

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Legislation Protects Jobs, Recreation and Forest Activities

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The [Cottonwood] decision is not about protecting vulnerable wildlife species, it's about blocking the multiple uses of our public lands.

Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities (HFHC) today applauded bipartisan efforts to reverse the ruling of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service case. Unless action is taken, critics of the "Cottonwood" case could continue to halt desperately-needed forest projects while threatening rural jobs, recreation and a variety of forest activities.

According to the U.S. Forest Service, last fall the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the 9th Circuit case that orders the U.S. Forest Service to re-initiate Endangered Species Act (ESA) 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. According to a November, 2016 Congressional memorandum, litigant groups will use the case to push courts to stop all management activity throughout the northern Rockies, even where the project has been given ESA clearance, while this plan-level consultation is redone.

"The decision is not about protecting vulnerable wildlife species, it's about blocking the multiple uses of our public lands," said Nick Smith of Healthy Forests, Healthy Communities. "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 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. Anti-forestry groups are pushing for a costly round of paperwork that has no conservation benefit.”

U.S. Senators Steve Daines (R-Montana) and Jon Tester (D-Montana) introduced legislation today 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).

Forestry associations and wildlife groups are calling for passage of this bipartisan solution. 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 Ninth Circuit has already temporarily blocked a 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.

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