Elk NetworkRMEF Plugs Active Forest Management in DC Testimony

General | March 6, 2024

Never. Give. Up.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation again received an invitation to testify before a U.S. House committee about the importance of wildlife habitat and active forest management. The hearing hosted by the House Natural Resources Committee focused on “America’s Wildlife Habitat Conservation Act,” a bill (HR 7408) that would help restore and maintain wildlife habitat and help state wildlife management plans.

“The long-term health of our species is determined by the quantity and quality of habitat that they call home. The best way to recover at-risk species is by restoring their habitat,” said bill sponsor and Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR). “To borrow a phrase from Field of Dreams, ‘If you build it, they will come.’” 

A section of the bill addresses a long-time RMEF federal legislative priority of fixing what’s called the Cottonwood ruling. In 2015, the 9th Circuit Court established new criteria for the U.S. Forest Service to reinitiate consultation on already completed forest plans. In essence, it implemented a duplicative consultation requirement that has no conservation benefit.

As a result, environmental groups file lawsuit after lawsuit to delay much-needed forest management treatment to the detriment of wildlife and wildlife habitat.

“This is costing the Forest Service a lot of time and money that is taking their people away from active forest management across the country and is reducing budgets for needless litigation,” testified Ryan Bronson, RMEF director of government affairs.

RMEF hosted a legislative forum in Las Vegas earlier this year addressing the issue, testified in Washington DC a year ago about the need for a Cottonwood fix, penned an op-ed piece last summer calling for reform and pushed out many other outreach efforts including news releases dating back to 2016. The message remains the same – support a Cottonwood fix!

“Cottonwood case law has already delayed hundreds of projects, leading to catastrophic wildfires that have destroyed lives, property, homes and important wildlife habitat,” Bronson testified.

In 2022, the Hermit’s Peak Fire in New Mexico began as a prescribed fire that got out of control. A Forest Service report revealed a Cottonwood-related injunction delayed hazardous fuel reduction treatment. The fire became the largest in state history, spreading across 341,000 acres, destroying several hundred homes and charring habitat for elk, Mexican Spotted Owls and other wildlife.

“Reversing the Cottonwood decision has bipartisan support. The Obama administration appealed the decision in 2016. The Trump administration proposed a rule to resolve this issue and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee passed the bill by unanimous consent last fall. The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation strongly supports title 5 of H.R. 7408 that would finally resolve this issue,” said Bronson.

Go to 37:30 here to view Bronson’s entire testimony.

(Photo credit: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation)