Cottonwood works to secure public access to over 16,000 acres of land along Continental Divide Trail.
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Cottonwood protects Canada lynx in U.S. Supreme Court.
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Cottonwood files lawsuit to increase renewable energy development in Montana.
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Cottonwood is a group of free-thinking rabble-rousers dedicated to protecting the people, forests, water and wildlife in the West.


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 write guest columns in newspapers, help federal and state agencies monitor and reintroduce wildlife, and file lawsuits against the government to protect our public lands and wildlife.


Cottonwood works to open access to over 16,000 acres of federal land along the Continental Divide Trail

The federal government operates a research facility known as the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station in the Centennial Mountains on the Montana/Idaho border. The Sheep Station land in Montana  is closed to the public because of the domestic sheep grazing. 
The lead researcher for the Sheep Station has said that grazing in Montana’s Centennial Mountains is not necessary because it can graze sheep in Idaho. Cottonwood has won two lawsuits that have brought the public closer to gaining access to over 16,000 acres of this land along the Continental Divide Trail. 
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. Senator Daines has passed two appropriations riders that continue to keep the land closed to the public. 
Please donate to Cottonwood to support our efforts to open this area to the public and contact Senator Daines and tell him to open up the 16,000 acres of land to the public. (406) 587-3446

Cottonwood files lawsuit to increase renewable energy development in Montana

Cottonwood has filed a lawsuit to strike down a 1999 law that limits the amount of renewable energy that can be generated in Montana.
The 1999 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.

Cottonwood petitions to permanently protect 35 miles of the Gallatin River

Cottonwood is leading is the way to protect the Gallatin River from the Yellowstone Park boundary to Spanish Creek as an Outstanding Resource Water. The Gallatin River is an important ecological and recreational resource for southwest Montana. Unfortunately, the community of Big Sky’s rapid growth is threatening the river with wastewater disposal. Designating the Gallatin an Outstanding Resource Water will protect it from degradation and wastewater dumping for time immemorial. Show your support by donating and signing our petition here .

Cottonwood is working to protect bighorn sheep in southwest Montana

Cottonwood is working to restore bighorn sheep in the Gravelly Range of southwest Montana. Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has said that it cannot reintroduce bighorns back into the Beaverhead Deerlodge National Forest because the Forest Service permits 15,000 domestic sheep to graze the area. Domestic sheep carry pneumonia and other diseases that kill bighorns. There is currently a small population of bighorn sheep in the Gravelly Mountains that are negatively impacted by the domestic sheep. At least one dead bighorn sheep was found in an area where the domestic sheep were being grazed. Cottonwood is working in court to prevent private interests from privatizing our public lands and killing our wildlife.

Cottonwood using science to let our Bison roam free.

Millions of bison used to roam freely across Montana. Today fewer than 5,000 bison are confined to Yellowstone National Park and a small area outside of the Park.
Cottonwood is using science in court to eliminate arbitrary boundaries and allow our national mammal to roam freely again on public lands.

Cottonwood helps stop coal railroad from being built in Montana

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. Read the court opinion.

Settlement agreement helps restore water quality to more than 40 rivers and streams across Montana

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.

Cottonwood wins lawsuit for Canada lynx

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.