WASHINGTON, D.C. – Yesterday, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed Congressman Matt Rosendale’s (MT-02) H.R. 200, the Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act. This legislation will amend federal requirements to exempt the U.S. Forest Service from re-consulting with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on new ESA information, ending unnecessary delays.
“The FIR Act is a common-sense solution that will reverse the disastrous Cottonwood decision and stop the perpetual cycle of litigation that surrounds forest management,” said Rep. Rosendale. “Exempting the Forest Service from re-consulting on new information will benefit Montanans and begin a new era of efficient forest management.”
This legislation received a hearing on March 23rd, in which Jonathan Wood of the Property and Environmental Research Center and Ryan Bronson of the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation testified to the impact of the Cottonwood decision on forest and wildlife conservation.
Through the markup process, this legislation was amended to reflect language previously passed out of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Yesterday, that same committee passed companion legislation led by Senator Steve Daines (R-MT).
The FIR Act has wide support from stakeholders in Montana and across the western United States. A letter of support submitted to the committee on behalf of multiple sportsmen’s and conservation groups states, “We appreciate Representative Rosendale’s leadership on this issue and support his Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act (H.R. 200). We sincerely believe that this issue should be resolved in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion.”
· The 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 when a species is listed as threatened or endangered, critical habitat is designated, or new information concerning a listed species or critical habitat becomes available.
· Without a fix to the existing requirements, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that additional consultations could be required on 187 projects across 36 National Forests.
· 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. This temporary fix expired in March.