Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, September 12, 2022


Chris Bugbee, (305) 498-9112,

Agreement Reached to Protect Endangered Species From Livestock in National Conservation Area in Arizona

PHOENIX— A federal judge approved an agreement today to protect critical habitat for threatened and endangered species from cattle grazing in southeastern Arizona’s Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area.

Today’s agreement between the Center for Biological Diversity, Maricopa Audubon Society, U.S. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service follows similar agreements with the U.S. Forest Service. Those deals will protect more than 150 miles of rivers and streams in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico’s upper Gila River watershed, and more than 100 miles of the Verde River watershed in central Arizona from livestock.

“Cattle grazing has devastated streamside habitats across the Southwest and pushed a lot of vulnerable plants and animals closer to extinction. This agreement will help give some of them a fighting chance,” said Chris Bugbee, Southwest conservation advocate at the Center. “Federal officials should never have let the Gila Box be turned into a feedlot, but that’s what happened. Hopefully it’s not too late to restore these life-giving rivers and streams and permanently protect them from the ravages of grazing.”

Field surveys by the Center have documented widespread livestock damage along the streams that meander through the Gila Box, including designated critical habitat for yellow-billed cuckoos. More than 32 river miles were surveyed, and most of them had significant damage from cows, which are supposed to be excluded from the area because of its federal protection.

Today’s agreement requires the BLM to ensure that the conservation area’s streamside habitats are protected from cattle grazing. The Bureau has agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when they are found by the agency, the Center or the public. The area covers six grazing allotments in the conservation area.

The 21,767-acre Gila Box Riparian National Conservation Area was set aside by Congress in 1990 to protect the streamside habitat along the Gila and San Francisco Rivers, and Bonita and Eagle Creeks, and their numerous tributaries. Weaving through dramatic canyons as deep as 1,000 feet, these streams are home to endangered species including the western yellow-billed cuckoo, Gila chub, Gila topminnow, desert pupfish, loach minnow and spikedace. The BLM describes the area as a “year-round desert oasis” and “a very special riparian ecosystem abounding with plant and animal diversity.”

In the desert Southwest, livestock grazing harms threatened and endangered wildlife and is the primary driver of riparian ecosystem degradation. Removal of livestock from riparian areas is a critical component of adapting to climate change.

Cows along Bonita Creek on the Johnny Creek Allotment. Photo credit: Center for Biological Diversity Images are available for media use.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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