Senator Daines recently told me (and 37,000 FaceBook viewers) that he wants to make "improvements" to the Endangered Species Act.

As such, the senator has introduced legislation entitled "Litigation Relief for Forest Management Projects Act" in response to a lawsuit that Cottonwood won for biologists and Canada lynx.

The proposed legislation would eliminate a regulation that requires the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on its Forest Plans when new critical habitat has been designated.

Threatened species

The single reason why Canada Lynx were listed as a threatened species is because of a lack of "regulatory mechanisms." In particular, Forest Plans were not protective of Canada lynx. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that new management plans should be created if new critical habitat is designated.

Over 12 million acres of new critical habitat was designated for Canada lynx on Forest Service lands when it was discovered that Julie Macdonald, a high-ranking political appointee that was an engineer by training and had no background in biology, interfered with the original critical habitat designation. After the new critical habitat was designated, Cottonwood won a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court and Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that requires the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure its Forest Plan protects the newly designated critical habitat. The U.S. Supreme Court denied the Forest Service's petition to rehear the case.

To be clear: Daines wants to make "improvements" to the Endangered Species Act by eliminating a regulation that requires the Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of its Forest Plans when new critical habitat has been designated. New habitat was designated after it was discovered that a political appointee had interfered with the designation of critical habitat.

Tester incorrect

Sen. Jon Tester recently told Yellowstone Public Radio that "all the recreational opportunities stop, the tree cuts stop, trail maintenance stops while they redo this forest plan."

That is 100 percent not true. Only individual mines, timber sales, or other activities can be stopped. The Custer Gallatin National Forest is redoing their forest plan right now, and I've been hunting and mountain biking on the Forest with no problems.

Tester went on to state that the Forest Service should "[d]eal with it on a much smaller basis where the problem really exists and continue to implement the forest plan that took decades to write up.”

To be clear: The problem exists at the Forest Plan level. Canada lynx were listed as a threatened species because the Forest Plans themselves were inadequate to protect lynx — not because of any single timber sale or proposed mine. In short, a big picture approach is necessary if we want to conserve lynx.

I have sent Tester emails offering to talk in person about this issue. I have told newspapers that I am willing to testify before Congress on this issue.

I have acknowledged and apologized for being wrong in the past. I hope that Daines and Tester will do the same.

John Meyer is executive director of Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. He worked for the U.S. Forest Service before founding Cottonwood.

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