WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the House Committee on Natural Resources held a hearing on Congressman Matt Rosendale’s (MT-02) H.R. 200, the Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act. This legislation would amend federal requirements to allow the U.S. Forest Service to incorporate new ESA information into its Public Lands Management projects, ending delays caused by unnecessary re-initiation of consultation.
“The Cottonwood decision has been weaponized by radical environmental groups to use the Endangered Species Act to prevent proper forest management,” Rep. Rosendale said. “The FIR Act is a common-sense solution that would prevent the Forest Service from facing a perpetual cycle of litigation and allow them to chart a new era of efficiency, which will benefit Montanans and those across the nation.”
The hearing included testimony from Jonathan Wood, Vice President of the Property and Environment Research Center based in Bozeman, MT, and Ryan Bronson, Director of Government Affairs for Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation based in Missoula, MT.
Watch Rep. Rosendale's questions to witnesses.
Jonathan Wood oversees law and policy for the Property and Environment Research Center, a national leader in market solutions for conservation and environmental stewardship.
“The Cottonwood case, brought by self-described ‘radical environmentalists,’ contributed substantially to a 15-year-delay in the project and kept Bozeman exposed to the risk that a catastrophic wildfire would mar our viewshed, scorch wildlife habitat and cherished recreation areas, and leave the city with a mere 3 days of drinking water,” said Wood.
“Allowing the temporary Cottonwood fix to expire and the Ninth Circuit’s decision to go into full effect would be a significant and unnecessary setback for forest conservation. That’s why the Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations have expressed concern about Cottonwood, why PERC and other conservation groups have supported a fix,13 and why legislative proposals to reverse it, like Representative Rosendale’s FIR Act (H.R. 200), have consistently received bipartisan support,” Wood continued.
Ryan Bronson, representing the nationally respected wildlife conservation organization, spoke to the negative impacts of the Cottonwood decision on the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s work to ensure the future of elk, other wildlife, and their habitat.
“The Stonewall project in Montana’s Helena-Lewis and Clark Forest was a proposed vegetative management project that would have benefitted elk and other wildlife, but it was delayed by Cottonwood litigation,” said Bronson. “In 2017, the Park Creek and Arrastra wildfires burned over half of the proposed treatment area with intensities that damaged some of the soils in the area. This was economically and ecologically costly.”
“HR 200, the Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act would close the open loop that the Cottonwood decision created and prevent redundant and costly delays for re-consultation under the Endangered Species Act,” Bronson continued.
Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) also voiced his support for the FIR Act in a letter to the House Natural Resources Committee, saying, “The Cottonwood decision has caused significant damage by delaying necessary forest management work, which has hampered wildfire mitigation efforts and wildfire restoration projects on our public lands and National Forests leading to a higher risk of wildfire.”
“A Cottonwood fix is critical for forest and ecological health and has enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate,” Daines added.
‧ Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act would amend the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 and the Federal Land Policy Management Act of 1976 to provide that the Secretaries of Agriculture and the Interior are not required to reinitiate consultation on land management plans or land use plans.
‧ The Cottonwood decision is a 2015 ruling issued by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service, citing that the United States Forest Service would be required under Endangered Species Act (ESA) regulations to reinitiate consultation with United States Fish and Wildlife Service on Public Lands Management projects on public lands where new ESA information is found.
‧ In 2018, Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which included a partial fix to limit the scope of the Cottonwood decision to projects only in the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. When this expires on March 23, 2023, this regulation will then be imposed on public lands management projects nationwide and will trigger reinitiated consultation on over 100 public lands projects, further delaying projects and opening the door to increased frivolous litigation.