Forest Management Bill to Reverse ‘Cottonwood Decision’ Clears Senate Committee

Billed by Montana’s congressional delegation as a top forest-management priority, a measure to roll back a federal appellate court ruling known as the “Cottonwood Decision” has advanced through a key U.S. Senate committee, signaling a potential reversal of the 2015 mandate that critics say has had a chilling effect on dozens of timber projects that would improve the health of national forests.

Proponents of Cottonwood, meanwhile, insist it promotes an enhanced degree of environmental analysis necessary on a landscape reeling from the transformative effects of climate change, including spiking rates of extreme wildfire and drought in protected wildlife habitat.

As a result of the Cottonwood ruling, the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) has been required to reinitiate consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on completed forest plans in national forests inhabited by Canada lynx, prompting some federal courts to halt timber projects during the consultation phase, including several in northwest Montana. Critics of the decision say it creates a never-ending analysis loophole leveraged by “fringe” environmental groups, effectively setting a litigation trap for federal land management agencies.

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