HELENA, Mont. – Governor Greg Gianforte expressed strong support for a proposed administrative rule designed to correct the flawed Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. U.S. Forest Service decision.
The proposed rule by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) pertains to consultation requirements under the federal Endangered Species Act for U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USDA Forest Service (USFS) land management plans.
The Cottonwood decision inhibits important forest restoration efforts and imposes unjustified delays in project implementation.
“Those rulings create gratuitous procedural exercises that tie the hands of federal land management agencies and ensure that litigation, not best available science, drives decisions,” Gianforte wrote of Cottonwood and other similar decisions.
In his letter to agency officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Gianforte noted that the 2015 court ruling has led to excessive litigation of forest-management efforts and blocked important projects to manage forest health and reduce wildfire risk in Montana, where 70 percent of all forested land is federally-owned.
Gianforte emphasized the importance of active forest management in Montana, writing, “In addition to improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk, forest management projects strengthen local economies, improve wildlife habitat, increase recreational opportunities, protect watersheds, and support Montana’s forest products industry.”
Gianforte concluded, “When it comes to caring for Montana’s forests, we should be focused on increasing their health and resilience—not on baseless lawsuits that cost our state jobs and resources needed to invest in forest restoration.”
As it stands, emerging scientific analysis that could impact a federally-listed threatened or endangered species requires that the USFS and the BLM return to consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on their existing land-management plans, which already address resource-management objectives, threatened or endangered species and other issues across a broad landscape. On-the-ground management projects, such as a timber harvest that has already completed environmental analysis, cannot move forward until consultation and review of the broader land-management process has been completed.
The proposed rule amendment was published on Jan. 12, 2021. The comment period ends on Feb. 11, 2021.
Read the letter HERE.