For Immediate Release, August 18, 2021

Contact:

Brian Segee (805) 750-8852, bsegee@biologicaldiversity.org
Todd Schulke, (575) 574-5962, tschulke@biologicaldiversity.org

Agreement Reached to Protect Endangered Species From Livestock on Arizona, New Mexico Waterways

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The Center for Biological Diversity, U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reached an agreement today to protect rivers and streams in eastern Arizona and western New Mexico from cattle grazing. This agreement comes more than 20 years after the agencies first promised to keep cows off these riparian habitats to safeguard rare plants and animals.

The waterways are home to numerous endangered and threatened species, including southwestern willow flycatchers, yellow-billed cuckoos, Gila chub, loach minnow and spikedace fish, Chiricahua leopard frogs, and narrow-headed and northern Mexican garter snakes.

“This should finally keep livestock from trampling these fragile southwestern rivers,” said Brian Segee, endangered species legal director at the Center. “Habitat destruction and invasive species have put nearly all the region’s aquatic species at risk. It’s our hope that the simple step of removing cattle from these waterways will give imperiled species a fighting chance at survival and recovery.”

Today’s three-year agreement requires the Forest Service to ensure that more than 150 miles of streamside endangered species habitat in Arizona’s Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the Gila National Forest in New Mexico will be protected from cattle grazing. The area covers 42 grazing allotments in the two national forests.

The Forest Service has agreed to monitor riparian areas, maintain and repair fencing, and remove trespass cattle when detected by the agency, the Center or the public. The agency also pledged to devise ways to address invasive species and other conservation challenges facing imperiled southwestern species.

The rivers covered by the suit include the Gila, San Francisco, Tularosa and Blue rivers.

In a historic 1998 legal settlement with the Center, the Forest Service agreed to prohibit domestic livestock grazing from these and other streamside habitats while it conducted a long-overdue consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service on the impacts of grazing on threatened and endangered species.

Beginning in 2017 Center staff and contractors conducted surveys that found widespread, severe cattle damage — including manure and flattened streambanks — on all major waterways in both national forests, imperiling several rare species.

In January 2020 the Center sued the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife Service for violating the Endangered Species Act by allowing cattle to trample the rivers and streams. Today’s agreement settles that lawsuit.

“We hope this agreement renews the agency’s commitment to protecting endangered wildlife and our spectacular public lands,” said Segee. “The government agrees with us that livestock grazing and endangered species don’t mix. It’s too bad it took another lawsuit to force the Forest Service to keep cows off southwestern rivers, but let’s hope this time it’ll stick.”

The agencies have repeatedly confirmed that livestock grazing in arid southwestern landscapes destroys riparian habitat and imperils native fish, birds and other animals dependent on that habitat. Poorly managed livestock grazing, persistent drought, dewatering, global warming and invasive species have taken an increasing toll on southwestern rivers. This has resulted in the recent federal protection of several additional threatened or endangered species that depend on southwestern riparian areas, including two species of garter snake, the cuckoo and the leopard frog.

RSCattle_Negrito-Yeguas_Center_FPWC-scr.jpg
Cattle in the Negrito-Yeguas Allotment on Negrito Creek, East of Reserve, N.M. 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.