WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Kevin Cramer (R-ND) joined Senator Jim Risch (R-ID) on a bicameral letter to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in support of their proposed rule to reduce roadblocks created by the Cottonwood decision and help spur responsible forest and grassland management and conservation projects on federal property.
“We write today in support of the proposed rule published on January 12, 2021 to amend the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service (the Services) interagency Section 7 consultation regulations under the Endangered Species Act,” the senators and congressmen wrote. “The proposed revision would clarify consultation obligations for finalized forest and land management plans. We urge you to finalize this rule in order to preserve the land planning process, re-establish consistency within land management agencies, remove any ambiguity that could be exploited in litigation, and ensure the Services’ time and resources are not further diverted from critical wildlife conservation work.”
In 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court ruled in Cottonwood Environmental Law Center v. United States Forest Service that the U.S. Forest Service needed to reinitiate consultation with FWS at the programmatic level following the 2009 designation of critical habitat for the Canada lynx. As a result, courts halted projects during the consultation process throughout the 18 national forests inhabited by lynx. In 2018, a partial legislative fix was achieved, but “new information” claims under the Cottonwood ruling continue to have damaging implications for lands across the west.
The proposed rule published last month by FWS and NMFS would, if enacted, release the Forest Service from reinitiating consultation with FWS on ready-to-go land management projects every time “new information” is found about possible impacts on endangered species, reigniting a cycle of red tape and activist litigation.
Senators Cramer and Risch are joined on the letter by Senators Steve Daines (R-MT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), and John Barrasso (R-WY), and Representatives Matt Rosendale (R-MT), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Russ Fulcher (R-ID), Dan Newhouse (R-WA), Yvette Herrell (R-NM), and Jim Baird (R-IN).