Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, May 25, 2023


Wendy Park, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7138,
Carolyn Campbell, Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection, (520) 629-0525,
David Robinson, Tucson Audubon Society, (520) 260-6994,
Tom Hannagan, Friends of Ironwood Forest, (847) 910-9310,

Judge Rules Arizona Lawsuit Challenging Interstate 11 Will Move Forward

TUCSON, Ariz.— A federal judge has denied a government motion to partially dismiss conservation groups’ lawsuit challenging the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of route options for Interstate 11. The proposed 280-mile highway would run between Nogales and Wickenburg, Arizona.

“This is good news for Arizona’s public lands and wildlife, as well as the state’s climate and water future,” said Wendy Park, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Our precious desert wildlands should be off limits to this scale of destruction to give animals like the desert tortoise a fighting chance of surviving climate change.”

The government argued that it was premature to challenge its approval of the Interstate 11 routes because more detailed environmental analysis was coming. The judge denied the motion Wednesday, saying the agency’s selection of a highway corridor constitutes a final decision that is subject to judicial review.

Building the interstate along the approved routes would destroy pristine Sonoran Desert, damage protected public lands, harm threatened desert tortoises and other wildlife, and worsen air pollution and the Colorado River water crisis.

“We applaud Judge Hinderaker’s decision, which recognized the need for public review of the I-11 plans before irreversible choices have been made,” said David Robinson, director of conservation advocacy for Tucson Audubon Society. “The public has the right to challenge the government’s proposal to site this massively impactful project through some of the most valuable and threatened wilderness in Arizona. This decision preserves that right.”

The agency approved the highway despite postponing an environmental review or deciding between two route options in Pima County.

The west option would have the most pronounced effects on wildlife and public lands. North of Tucson, the highway would run alongside Sonoran Desert National Monument, threatening its wilderness and recreation, severing wildlife corridors, and threatening habitat for the Tucson shovel-nosed snake. The lawsuit says this “approve now, study later” approach violated federal law.

“The federal highway agency decided long ago where it wanted to put the highway, impacts and other federal policies be damned,” said Carolyn Campbell of the Coalition for Sonoran Desert Protection. “The judge rightly saw this for what it was, and our entire lawsuit will go forward.”

The National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Forest Service, Bureau of Reclamation, and the Arizona Game and Fish Department have repeatedly raised concerns that the interstate routes would permanently and severely harm wildlife populations and public lands.

“The Friends of Ironwood Forest is delighted with the judge's denial of a motion from the Federal Highway Administration to dismiss one of our claims,” said Tom Hannagan of Friends of Ironwood Forest. “This particular claim, that ADOT and the FHWA incorrectly decided that the Ironwood Forest National Monument did not deserve to be considered a wildlife preserve, which it certainly is, and that the national monument doesn't involve public recreation, which it certainly does, is critically important. The denial of the motion to dismiss is a significant positive step in stopping the proposed I-11 from harming wildlife and the public's rightful enjoyment of open spaces.”

On Tuesday the Center released a new report, Deadpool Highway, that uses government data to show how the proposed interstate would spur dramatic population growth and water demand that exceeds availability.

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.

center locations