Alexah Rogge 

WASHINGTON, D.C.  Congressman Russ Fulcher recently introduced the Forest Information Reform (FIR) Act with Rep. Matt Rosendale (MT-Large). Currently, Cottonwood lawsuits threaten common sense forest management by forcing Endangered Species Act Consultation at the forest plan level. This legislation would limit the threat of re-initiating consultation and lower the burden of the forest planning process which was argued by President Barack Obama’s Department of Justice.

Congressman Fulcher commented, “I am honored to join with Congressman Rosendale as a sponsor on this critical legislation. While our economy continues to recover, it is important that federal land management agencies be allowed to provide robust forest management plans outside the constraints of bureaucratic red tape.

Without reform, the Cottonwood requirements increase burdensome paperwork, which hurts rural communities, promotes endless litigation, and kills vital, high-paying jobs. This effort to reduce burdens on beneficial users that utilize Federal Lands will allow for better forest management-- and more forest management. The federal forests desperately need maintenance to avert another fiery summer not endless destructive litigation.”

The Forest Information Reform Act has sweeping support from industry stakeholders:

“We support [Representative Rosendale’s] bill because it removes the ambiguity in current regulations that has led to a wave of resource-damaging lawsuits and reduces duplicative and expensive consultation processes that do nothing to protect endangered species,” said Tom Schultz, Vice President of Resources and Government Affairs for the Idaho Forest Group.

“Resolving the ‘Cottonwood’ issue has been a priority for the National Wild Turkey Federation for many years.  Re-initiation of the consultation process at the forest plan level is redundant, costly, and can result in harmful delays in work designed to improve forest health and wildlife habitat,” said Rebecca Humphries, CEO of the National Wild Turkey Federation. “Repetitive consultation processes has been a tactic used by those opposed to active forest management. We are thankful to Representative Rosendale and his original co-sponsors, for introducing this important legislation to clarify when additional consultation is needed on forest plans.”

“As intergovernmental partners in wildlife and natural resource management, counties have a significant interest in the implementation of statutes like the ESA,said National Association of Counties Executive Director Matthew Chase. “The 2016 Cottonwood decision created a cumbersome and inefficient environmental analysis process, causing unnecessary delays in critical infrastructure and resource management projects on federal lands. Counties applaud Representative Rosendale for introducing this bill, and we call on Congress to pass it swiftly.”

“The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation is grateful for the efforts of Congressman Rosendale to offer a much needed fix to the Cottonwood decision,” said Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation President Jeff Crane. “This legislation will ensure that our nation’s forest managers have the flexibility needed to move forward with their important work to benefit forest health, habitat, and recreation without the ambiguity caused by Cottonwood.”

“Cottonwood lawsuits have undermined the ability of federal agencies to partner with conservation groups to improve forest habitat for big game, game birds, and other wildlife. Increasing management activities on our federal forests will also make them less vulnerable to catastrophic wildfire, insects, and disease,” said James F. Arnold, President of the Boone and Crockett Club. “The Boone and Crockett Club believes a course correction is needed regarding the Cottonwood decision and appreciates Representative Rosendale stepping forward with this bill.”

“Rep. Rosendale’s bill is common sense conservation. The flawed legal precedent in this case has delayed badly needed forest management projects across Montana and across the Western U.S. Currently, litigation groups can block needed projects while forcing the Forest Service and Fish & Wildlife Service to engage in paperwork consultation,” said Bill Imbergamo, Executive Director of the Federal Forest Resource Coalition. “This provides no conservation benefit to species and wastes resources that could be used to reduce fire danger and improve wildlife habitat. This bill wouldn’t change or eliminate any species protection – it merely ensures that species conservation needs get addressed at the project level. We urge Congress to act on it as quickly as possible.”  

“We applaud the work of Representative Rosendale to offer an amendment to the Forest and Rangeland Renewable Resources Planning Act of 1974 and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 to provide that the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior are not required to reinitiate consultation on a land management plan or land use plan when a species is listed or critical habitat is designated,” said Julia Altemus, executive director of the Montana Wood Products Association. “With over 9 million acres in Montana identified as in poor forest health condition, correcting on-going deficiencies created by the Cottonwood Decision is vitally important to ensuring timber harvest and forest restoration projects move forward in a timely manner.”