Our vision of the future is one in which our unborn grandchildren have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. Future generations will glimpse a wolverine running up the side of a mountain and bison roaming freely. Our vision of the future consists of renewable energy, pristine wildlands and glaciers that are growing again.
Instead of wondering when the next vacation is, we set up an organization that we don’t want to escape from.
Our approach is multi-disciplinary. We use the law, our hands, and public outreach to preserve and restore what’s important to us all. We help fund videos of people recreating in our last wild places. We write guest columns in newspapers. We file lawsuits against the government to protect our public lands and wildlife.
Cottonwood works with biologists from the Forest Service, MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and other NGOs to monitor threatened species like Canada lynx and wolverines and restore sensitive species like bighorn sheep in Montana.
Cottonwood has won two Endangered Species Act lawsuits that have brought the public closer to gaining access to over 16,000 acres of land along the Continental Divide Trail. The Federal Government runs the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in the Centennial Mountains on the Montana/Idaho border. The area is closed to hunters, hikers, and backpackers. Cottonwood has entered into a settlement agreement that precludes domestic sheep from being grazed until the government prepares an Environmental Impact Statement, but the federal land is still not open to the public.
Commissioners for the MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks have sent a letter to U.S. Senator Steve Daines asking him to open the area to the public. The lead researcher has said that grazing in the area is not necessary because it controls other lands in Idaho. Senator Daines has passed two appropriations riders that continue to keep the land closed to the public.
Please contact Senator Daines and tell him to open up the 16,000 acres of land to the public. (406) 587-3446
Cottonwood has filed a lawsuit to strike down a 2009 law that limits the amount of renewable energy that can be generated in Montana.
The 2009 Electric Utility Industry Generation Reintegration Act violates provisions of the Montana Constitution that provide for a clean and healthful environment because it prevents renewable energy from competing with fossil fuels. The unnecessary burning of fossil fuels contributes to climate change and violates the Montana Constitution.
For nearly 30 years, the farmers and ranchers of the remote and stunning Tongue River Valley in southeastern Montana have struggled against the proposed Tongue River Railroad. On December 29, 2011, after more than twenty years of court battles, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals finally rejected plans to allow construction of the $550 Million dollar project.If built, the railroad would have had huge consequences. The Powder River Basin contains some of the largest coal reserves in the world. The Tongue River Railroad Company, owned by a multinational corporation, proposed building a railroad across numerous Montana ranches to develop new coal mines in the reserves. If built, the train would have been the first link in a transportation system that would have hauled millions of tons of coal per year to coal-fired power plants in China where there are few environmental laws in place to safeguard the public from toxic air emissions or climate change. In addition to the devastating global impacts, the railroad would have ruined farms and ranches. The pristine air and water in the Valley would have been fouled. Numerous wildlife species such as pronghorn would be killed or their migratory patterns permanently disrupted.The Tongue River Valley retains a traditional Western culture, where cows outnumber people, ranches are passed down through families for generations, and the landscape remains relatively unchanged since the area was homesteaded in the late nineteenth century. The Valley contains a rich palate of flora and fauna, supporting over 250 species of birds, 76 species of mammals, 9 species of amphibians, 14 species of reptiles, and 20 species of rare plants. Cottonwood is pleased to have helped protect the people, air, water, and wildlife in the Tongue River Valley.
On May 5, 2014, Cottonwood Environmental Law Center and Montana River Action settled a lawsuit against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality that requires the agency to update and issue more than 40 expired Clean Water Act permits.The Clean Water Act and Montana Water Quality Act require polluters to obtain a permit before discharging pollution into Montana’s waterways. The permits are valid for five years. After the permits expire, polluters are required to apply for new permits. When a polluter applies for a new permit, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality must determine whether there is better available technology to treat the pollution.Instead of issuing new permits and requiring polluters to use the best available technology to treat pollution, the Department of Environmental Quality is allowing polluters to continue discharging pollution under expired permits. In some cases, the permits had been expired for more than ten years. This settlement agreement will clean up Montana’s waterways by ensuring that more than 40 polluters across Montana, including oil refineries, coal-fired power plants and other polluters, are in compliance with the latest water quality standards and have the best available technology to treat water pollution. Read the settlement.
On May 16, 2013, Cottonwood won a lawsuit in the District of Montana that required the U.S. Forest Service to consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure its management plan does not destroy over 12 million acres of critical habitat for Canada lynx. The Fish and Wildlife Service had previously told the Forest Service that it should prepare new management plans if critical habitat was designated.
The Forest Service appealed the District of Montana decision. On June 17, 2015, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed the District of Montana’s decision that the Forest Service must ensure its management plan does not destroy newly designated critical habitat. The Forest Service appealed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and on October 7, 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court denied the agency’s petition to rehear the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit’s ruling intact.
Cottonwood is hopeful that it can now help the Forest Service monitor and study Canada lynx in areas designated as critical habitat to help create new management plans.
Cottonwood Environmental Law Center
P.O. Box 412
Bozeman, MT 59771
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