Tester, Daines resume effort to overturn lynx decision

Montana senators Jon Tester and Steve Daines have rounded up a lengthy list of supporters for a bill to overturn a federal court decision on lynx protection.

Republican Daines and Democrat Tester join Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, on the bill to reverse the Cottonwood decision, which found that the U.S. Forest Service must do a top-level review of new critical habitat for lynx under the Endangered Species Act.

The decision name refers to the Bozeman-based Cottonwood Environmental Law Center, which won the case before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals last year. The ruling was essentially confirmed when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a Forest Service appeal in October.

“This bipartisan legislation enjoys the support of diverse stakeholders and will protect Montana jobs and common-sense collaborative forest management projects that have been harmed by this court decision,” Daines wrote in an email.

“The Cottonwood decision could lead to endless red tape for folks working on timber projects, trail maintenance and conservation efforts,” Tester added in the same email. “To restore certainty for Montana mills and folks who work in the woods, we need to eliminate these hurdles created by the court and get this bipartisan bill signed into law.”

“I wish they had consulted me first,” replied John Meyer, the lead attorney at Cottonwood Environmental Law Center. “They are seeking to completely overturn or deform part of the Endangered Species Act. That should be of concern to all Americans.”

The list of 33 supporters includes 10 timber products groups such as the Montana Woods Products Association and Washington Contract Loggers; eight conservation groups including the National, Montana and Idaho Wildlife Federations and Wildlife Management Institute; and three agricultural groups including the Montana Stockgrowers and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. It features a number of hunting and fishing groups, such as Trout Unlimited, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Boone and Crockett Club.

Tom France of the National Wildlife Federation in Missoula added that the legislation was a product of widespread consultation. He disagreed with Meyer about how much change it might impose on the Endangered Species Act.

“Both Daines and Tester have been very careful in crafting a very targeted bill,” France said. “The conversations we’ve had with them are very responsive. And when you see a bill that really proposes significant changes in the ESA, you will know it. It’s not going to sneak up on anybody. The National Wildlife Foundation is very concerned about weakening protections and we’ll oppose that.”

The Cottonwood decision found that the Forest Service has to take a big-picture look at how it protects lynx critical habitat across 12 million acres touching 11 national forests. It grew out of a controversial mishandling of lynx policy dating back to the predator’s original ESA listing in 2000.

A 2006 critical habitat map left out all national forests, but an investigation found that former George W. Bush administration official Julie MacDonald improperly excluded millions of acres of federal, state and private lands. MacDonald resigned and FWS redid its lynx habitat analysis, increasing the cat’s critical territory from 1,841 square miles to about 39,000 square miles.

Daines’ office consulted with the Obama administration Justice Department in crafting the bill, which takes the same position the Forest Service argued before the 9th Circuit. The agency claimed it was more effective to address lynx habitat concerns on a project-by-project basis, rather than redoing full consultation with the FWS.

“When they say they’re upholding the Obama Forest Service, that’s different than the Obama Fish and Wildlife Service,” Meyer said. “And the Fish and Wildlife Service told the Forest Service if new critical habitat is put in place, you need to consult at the agency level.”

Not quite, according to American Forest Resource Council attorney Lawson Fite. While he acknowledged that the critical habitat maps from the original consultation were flawed, the on-the-ground protections for lynx remain in place. Those include checking snowshoe hare prey populations, winter snowpack levels, potential denning sites and the matrix of habitat connectivity.

“Any project that might affect lynx must be analyzed for effects on those elements,” Fite said. “That’s going to happen whether or not you do plan-level consultation. The bill basically insures that those procedures are still followed, but made in way that you don’t do things that don’t have meaningful conservation benefit.”

The Forest Service estimates 80 forest projects are on hold because of legal challenges based on the Cottontwood decision in Regions 1, 2 and 4. Region 1 challenges include the East Reservoir Restoration Project in the Kootenai National Forest and the Colt-Summit Restoration and Fuels Reduction Project in the Lolo National Forest.

Those Region 1 challenges in lynx critical habitat accounted for about 29 percent of the planned fiscal year 2017 timber harvest volume, amounting to 95.3 million board-feet of lumber on 17,764 acres.

Source: Missoulian

Daines to Lead Montana Ag Summit 2017

U.S. Senator Steve Daines today announced that he will be spearheading the Montana Ag Summit 2017 in Great Falls this spring.

The summit, sponsored by Daines, will take place in Great Falls on May 31 and June 1, 2017. U.S. Senator Pat Roberts, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry will deliver a keynote address at the summit.

‘The summit will highlight our state’s number one economic driver by bringing together agricultural leaders to discuss how to keep our agricultural heritage strong for generations to come,’ Daines stated. ‘Farmers and ranchers are the backbone of Montana’s economy and I look forward to a Montana family conversation about the future of agriculture.’

Audio of Daines’ statement is available for download HERE.

Chairman Pat Roberts: ‘I am pleased to travel to Montana with one of our Committee’s newest members, Senator Daines, to speak at his Agriculture Summit. I appreciate Senator Daines’ hard work and enthusiasm for promoting and serving farmers and ranchers. His leadership on behalf of Montana’s rural constituents will serve his home state well during the 115 Congress.’

The Montana Ag Summit will bring the nation’s agricultural leaders to Montana’s Golden Triangle. The focus of the summit is on strengthening international relationships for Montana agriculture, showcasing technological advancements, promoting the next generation of farmers and ranchers, and discussing the challenges of federal policies and regulations.

John Youngberg, Montana Farm Bureau Federation Executive Vice President: ‘We are excited that Senator Daines has chosen to host an Agriculture Summit in Montana. Senator Daines understands the importance of agriculture to Montana’s economy and we appreciate that he is bringing this great opportunity to our state.’

Lola Raska, Executive Vice President of the Montana Grain Growers Association: ‘The 2017 Montana Ag Summit offers an exciting opportunity to meet with some of our nation’s key ag leaders, who will be speaking on issues important to the Montana growers who work hard to provide food for their families and for the world’s consumers. We owe a big thank you to Senator Steve Daines for setting a place at the table for our farmers and ranchers and for his recognition of agriculture’s importance to Montana’s economy.’

Errol Rice, Montana Stockgrowers Association Executive Vice President: ‘The Montana Ag Summit will provide a great platform to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing Montana’s farmers and ranchers. The Montana Stockgrowers Association is enthusiastic about participating and thanks Sen. Daines for his ongoing work on behalf of Montana’s ranchers and for bringing ag leaders from across the state and nation to Great Falls for the summit.’

John Rauser, President, Montana Pork Producers Council: ‘Montana Pork Producers are looking forward to participating in the Montana Ag Summit sponsored by Senator Daines. A tremendous portion of pork produced in the U.S. Is exported overseas, including hogs supplied by Montana hog farms. We are a part of the global market, and we want to be a proactive member involved in markets domestically and internationally. The Montana Ag Summit 2017 will be hosted at the Montana ExpoPark Pacific Steel & Recycling Arena in Great Falls.’

Kim Murray American Pulse Association Board Montana Pulse Advisory Committee: ‘Pulse crop acres have increased dramatically in recent years bringing with it new jobs and an excitement for the future of agriculture in our great state of Montana. Having Senator Daines placed on the Senate Ag Committee along with being on the Senate Appropriations Committee is huge for Montana farmers and ranchers. Thank you for hosting the Montana Ag Summit and for all you do for Montana. We look forward to working with you going forward.’

Dave McEwen, President of the Montana Wool Growers Association – Galata:‘The Montana Wool Growers Association is pleased and excited to participate in the Montana Ag Summit, which is set to be hosted by Senator Daines in Great Falls in late Spring 2017. Montana’s agriculture producers are leaders in their communities and in philanthropy , leaders in developing innovative agriculture commodities and land conservation practices, and leaders in producing food and fiber that cloth and feed the world. As such, the Association is particularly excited that Senator Pat Roberts, Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee will be coming to Montana as part of that event to directly hear the legislative priorities of Montana’s agriculture producers and to see our producers in their own fields Since his election to Congress, Senator Daines has been a steadfast supporter of Montana’s biggest economic generator, agriculture, and this Summit is just another way the Senator is making agriculture and natural resources a priority.’

Webb Brown, CEO, Montana Chamber of Commerce: ‘We’re excited to work with Senator Daines to focus on the backbone of Montana’s economy – agriculture. From family farms to high-tech operations, we’ll examine the challenges and opportunities in Big Sky Country. Join us!’

Krista Lee Evans, Executive Director of Montana Agricultural Business Association: ‘Agriculture in Montana continues to face multiple challenges from multiple angles and we welcome the opportunity to meet with our nations key agricultural leaders. The Montana Agricultural Business Association commends Senator Daines and his ongoing support for agriculture and its importance in Montana. We look forward to participating in the 2017 Montana Ag Summit.’

Larry Hendrickson, Liberty County Commissioner, Chair of the MACO Ag Committee: ‘It is very exciting to have Senator Daines hosting the Montana Ag Summit in Great Falls. It is a great opportunity for local Ag producers to have input on the upcoming farm bill. I hope to see you there!’

Daines serves as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry and is the Chairman of the Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

To register and for more information please visit www.agsummitmontana.com.

MSGA Leadership Travels to Washington D.C. to Advocate Top Priorities Facing Montana’s Cattle Industry

Helena, MT – A leadership delegation from the Montana Stockgrowers Association traveled to Washington D.C. April 12-14 to lobby numerous issues with Congress and Federal agencies. These issues included: Eradication of Brucellosis, Country of Origin Labeling for U.S. Beef, stopping the proposed federal bison quarantine facility, federal water regulations, sage grouse, endangered species, Antiquities Act (i.e. monument designations) reform and international trade.

MSGA brought forth tactical ideas to eliminate the threat of Brucellosis expansion beyond Montana’s Designated Surveillance Area (DSA). In a meeting with Dr. T.J. Myers, Associate Deputy Administrator with USDA-APHIS Veterinary Services MSGA requested that Brucella Abortus be removed from the USDA and Center for Disease Control’s select bioterrorism agents list. This would allow for more research to develop a more effective vaccine for bison, elk and cattle. MSGA also requested continued federal funding support for Montana’s DSA implementation but to also develop a renewed Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Montana, Wyoming and Idaho along with USDA and the National Park Service that commits to the elimination of brucellosis from the Greater Yellowstone Area. Montana’s DSA is not a long-term solution to brucellosis management.

MSGA met with senior staff on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, chaired by Congressman K. Michael Conaway (R-TX) to discuss possible industry led alternatives to the recently repealed mandatory country of origin labeling of beef. In particular MSGA has policy to work on the development of a comprehensive, broad-based industry led labeling program for U.S. beef.

MSGA has a strong relationship with Montana’s Public Lands Council and Association of State Grazing Districts to work on federal land grazing matters.  MSGA and PLC met with Neil Kornze, Director of BLM, and requested that BLM reconsider the decision to allow year-round bison grazing on Montana’s Flat Creek Allotment located in Phillips County.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was another top priority for MSGA while in D.C. It was universally felt by Montana’s Congressional delegation that a vote on TPP would not happen until after the 2016 election, however MSGA feels that TPP should be a top priority for Congress regardless of political elections. The TPP will remove tariff barriers in some of our major export markets including Japan – one of our largest beef export markets. The TPP is expected to increase cash receipts and net exports from Montana by $86.9 million and $56.6 million per year respectively.

It is vitally important for Montana’s ranching community to have representation in Washington, D.C. and MSGA was very pleased with the outcome of the many high-level meetings that were held with members of Congress and Administration officials. MSGA would also like to thank Senator Tester, Senator Daines and Representative Zinke and their professional staff for their time and commitment to Montana’s cattle and ranching industry.

house ag committee

L to R back row: Senior House Agriculture Commmitte Staff Christine Heggem; Public Lands Council Vicki Olson – Malta, MT; Montana Cattlewomen Wanda Pinnow – Baker, MT; MSGA President Gene Curry – Valier, MT; MSGA Director of Natural Resources Jay Bodner – Helena, MT; MSGA Executive Vice President Errol Rice – Helena, MT. Front row: MSGA 1st Vice President Bryan Mussard – Dillon, MT; MSGA 2nd Vice President Fred Wacker – Miles City, MT.