On Monday, Republican Senator Steve Daines joined three other Republicans in releasing draft legislation they say would reverse the so-called Cottonwood decision. Both Daines and his Democratic counterpart, Jon Tester, see it as one way to prevent wildfires, but it’s much bigger than that.
The Cottonwood decision really focused on critical Canada Lynx habitat. The animals are on the threatened species list, and a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling says the U.S. Forest Service needs to review its current management plans to ensure it protects 12 million acres of Lynx habitat.
If the old management plans don’t protect their habitat, the Forest Service has to update it.
But in an interview with YPR earlier this month, Tester said the Cottonwood decision has even more far-reaching impacts.
“Somebody could come in, and it has happened, and say, you know what? We’ve got this species that’s on the Endangered Species List that has some impacts, you need to redo that forest plan that has taken literally decades to write. And everything in that million acres of Lewis and Clark Forest stops. Everything stops. All the recreational opportunities stop, tree cuts stop, trail maintenance stops, everything stops while they redo this forest plan.” he said.
Not quite, says Jon Haber, a former U.S. Forest Service planner.
“The impression that that statement gives you is that it’s a do-over and it will take a long time," Haber says. "First of all, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to change the plan at all. All it means is you have to talk to the Fish and Wildlife Service about it. And if you do need to make changes, they may not be big changes and it may not take long.”
Haber worked on Lynx habitat, on and off, for almost twenty years. He says in most situations, everything doesn’t stop once there’s a lawsuit or a forest is listed as critical habitat for an endangered species.
According to Haber, the new draft legislation would not only reverse the Cottonwood Decision, which focuses on lynx habitat.
“It’s also going to talk about if there’s a new species listed, that you’ll no longer have to consult on an existing forest plan,” he said.
A press release from Daines’ office says the legislation will simplify forest management and help mitigate wildfires. Tester advocated for the Cottonwood Decision’s reversal at a senate hearing earlier this month.
The Senate Committee On Environment and Public Works is scheduled to hold a legislative hearing on the draft legislation on October 25.