Cottonwood protects Canada lynx in U.S. Supreme Court.
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Cottonwood wins bighorn sheep lawsuit.
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Cottonwood works to protect endangered cactus in Capitol Reef National Park.
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Cottonwood wins grizzly bear lawsuit.
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© Daniel J. Cox/

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 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 protects endangered cactus from oil and gas development

Cottonwood has filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to stop oil and gas development from jeopardizing the continued existence of the Uintah Hookless cactus in Utah. Read the Notice of intent to Sue.

Cottonwood files lawsuit to protect important grizzly bear corridor

Cottonwood has filed an Endangered Species Act lawsuit on behalf of our members, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians and Gallatin Wildlife Association. The lawsuit seeks to stop the U.S. Government from grazing domestic sheep in the Centennial Mountains of southwest Montana. The Centennial mountains are widely regarded by biologists as one of the most important travel corridors for grizzly bears. The mountain range is unique because of its east-west configuration, allowing grizzly bears and other carnivores to travel between Yellowstone National Park and large wilderness areas in Idaho.Every year the U.S. Sheep Experiment Station grazes more than a thousand domestic sheep high in the Centennial mountains. The Yellowstone Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee has previously sent a letter to the Sheep Station asking it to find an alternative place to graze the sheep.The lawsuit challenges the Biological Opinion for the Sheep Station, which says that there have been no grizzly bear/human encounters at the Sheep Station. Documents we received through a Freedom of Information Act request say that sheepherders have been chased by grizzly bears in the past.In October 2012, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovered the collar from grizzly bear number 726 from a creek in the Summer West allotment. A Fish and Wildlife Service report says the collar had been cut off and was being held in a creek under a rock. Investigators ruled out hunters as suspects. The last live location of grizzly bear 726 is in the same area as where the sheep were grazing. An empty bullet cartridge was found at the sheepherder's camp.Read Secretary Vilsack's Letter to Congress.

Cottonwood works to protect Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Cottonwood Environmental Law Center has filed a lawsuit against the National Park Service for failing to protect two species of rare cacti from cattle grazing in Capitol Reef National Park. Park Service biologists are concerned that trampling by cattle may jeopardize the continued existence of the Wright Fishhook cactus and Winkler’s Pincushion cactus. The two species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Park Service has never completed an Environmental Impact Statement to determine whether grazing is appropriate in the National Park.The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Cottonwood members and Western Watersheds Project, will require the Park Service to protect the Wright Fishhook and Winkler’s Pincushion cacti. It is believed that there are fewer than 2,500 Wright Fishhook left in the world. View photos of Capitol Reef National Park.

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.

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 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.